Bruce BarcottOctober 14, 2019

Jurors in New Orleans refused to think about a felony charge for a man holding an ounce of cannabis on Bourbon Street. You can do the similar. (P_Wei/iStock)

‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott’s opinion column on cannabis politics and culture.


handful of jurors did a outstanding factor in a New Orleans courtroom final week. I hope you will feel about it the subsequent time you are referred to as for jury duty.

On Tuesday, Jabar Kensey, a server at the city’s popular French Quarter restaurant Antoine’s, went on trial for possessing an ounce of cannabis on Bourbon Street.

An whole novel could unfold from that premise.

If you have ever dined at Antoine’s—and I have—you know it is a singular New Orleans knowledge. The 175-year-old establishment gives a spectacular dining space fitted with plush green walls, gilded mirrors, and an ancient tile floor. The black-tied waitstaff gives every single diner a legendary level of service. Old New Orleans households type private relationships with Antoine’s waiters that span decades. Years ago when I enjoyed a plate of fresh oysters, gentlemen had been necessary to don a jacket at all instances. If you had none, 1 was offered. As an unprepared young lad, I produced use of a loaner from the rack. (The policy was quietly dropped a handful of years ago.)

C’mon, this is Bourbon Street

So when I say Jabar Kensey went on trial for possession, know that Mr. Kensey is a respected experienced in his residence town.

Know also that Bourbon Street is planet-renowned for its encouragement of minor vices. Vacationers are exhorted to guzzle booze openly in the street. Public nudity is rewarded with cheers and trinkets.

Louisiana, America’s prison state

At the similar time, Louisiana is America’s most notorious incarceration state.

The Orleans Parish D.A. sent Bernard Noble (inset, with daughter) to prison with a 13-year sentence for possessing two joints.

For decades the state’s (largely white) law enforcement establishment has locked up an unconscionably higher percentage of the state’s black population. Cannabis has frequently offered the excuse.

A handful of years ago Orleans Parish District Lawyer Leon Cannizzaro and other state officials had been exposed for their indefensible remedy of Bernard Noble, a middle-aged truck driver sentenced to 13 years in prison for possessing two joints when riding a bicycle. We covered his case extensively right here at Leafly. It was like a thing out of Les Miserables.

Final Tuesday, Leon Cannizzaro attempted to do it once again.

Cruel sentences are all also prevalent

Cannizzaro loves to “triple bill” defendants. He makes use of the state’s medieval 3-strikes law to place low-level offenders in prison with double-digit sentences. Cannizzaro gets away with it in portion mainly because his parish’s public defender workplace is cripplingly understaffed, underfunded, and overwhelmed. Since of two prior non-violent convictions, Jabar Kensey faced a possible sentence of 15 to 20 years in Louisiana’s notoriously brutal prison program.

So into court went Antoine’s waiter Jabar Kensey, his life on the line for holding a item that is legal and offered seven days a week in ten American states.

The trial begins…

Jury choice started. 1 following a further, residents of Orleans Parish appeared prior to a prosecutor, a defense lawyer, and Judge Dennis Waldron.

1 following a further, several of the jurors had been excused. Why? Since they believed it was incorrect for the state to send a man to prison for a decade for possessing an ounce of weed.

By the finish of the afternoon, 20 of 25 possible jurors had been dropped. No a lot more had been offered from the each day pool. Judge Waldron told Matt Sledge, a reporter for The Advocate, that a “significant” quantity of jurors had been dismissed by the prosecutor mainly because they refused to think about a felony charge for cannabis. Waldron mentioned several jurors spoke up about the injustice of Louisiana’s archaic marijuana laws.

Faced with a possible mistrial, the D.A.’s workplace reduce a deal with Kensey. The Antoine’s waiter agreed to serve 12 weekend days in jail and forfeit $100 in money.

‘An suitable solution’

Kensey’s lawyer, Stavros Panagoulopoulos, told The Advocate that the jurors sent a clear message to Cannizzaro. “I feel the District Attorney’s workplace heard [the jury’s] sentiments,” Panagoulopoulos mentioned. “Given the present climate in our nation with regards to marijuana, I feel this was an suitable option.”

If prevalent sense prevails, the Kensey case may well enable close the book on New Orleans’s shameful history of marijuana prosecution and more than-incarceration.

Matt Sledge reports that no defendants had been attempted solely on marijuana charges in Orleans Parish in 2017 or 2018. Bernard Noble was lastly paroled, to national acclaim, in early 2018. Coincidence? Perhaps. But the reality is, Noble’s case produced Leon Cannizzaro’s name synonymous with cruelty and injustice. Why the D.A. would seek to reprise his most infamous case is a mystery. Perhaps it is like the fable about the scorpion and the frog: It is his nature. Luckily, this time the residents of Orleans Parish had been bold adequate to push back.

‘People have the power’ is not just a song lyric

Know this, my fellow jury-eligible citizens: You have the energy to quit the madness.

Regardless of the continuing expansion of legalization, cannabis arrests are really escalating nationwide. Prohibition is sunsetting, and deputies in prohibition states are acquiring their final licks in. Earlier this month the FBI released its annual report on crime. In 2018, law enforcement produced 663,367 cannabis arrests. That is a lot more than 1 each minute. Far more than 90% of these arrests had been for straightforward possession.

For some of us, a jury notice inspires a feeling of dread. Also several people today grab any excuse to get out of it, which is a shame.

I’ve served on a jury. It is fascinating. It is inspiring. If you are reading this, you are a grown-ass adult. You have a duty to make the wheels of justice turn in a righteous path. And as the people today of New Orleans demonstrated final week, you have the energy to quit injustice in its tracks.

Bruce Barcott's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and function projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People today: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.