Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson has called out her colleagues for upholding an 18-year prison sentence for Gary Howard, who was convicted of possessing 18 grams of cannabis, writing in her dissenting opinion that the term is “ridiculous” for an “inconsequential” possession charge, the Louisiana Record reports. Johnson said that similar sentences will further burden state coffers as it will cost $23,000 annually – or $400,000 total – to jail him.
Seth Bloom, an attorney at New Orleans-based law firm Bloom Legal LLC, said the case “further demonstrates the absurdity of a sentence that is unnecessarily harsh on the defendant and burdensome to the taxpayers.”
“Marijuana charges should not be used to toll against prior convictions whether they are violent or not,” Bloom said in the report. “Our nation is on a path towards the legalization of marijuana and if our poorest states cannot see the moral argument, then they at least need to see the economic argument.”
Johnson wondered whether authorities “overreacted” after a firearm was found in a closet during Howard’s arrest, although he was acquitted of the weapons charge.
Bloom also blasted the for-profit prison model in Louisiana, which boasts the highest incarceration rate in the nation, and its “outdated and costly protocols for drug charges.”
“I’m not an economist, but through a combination of private for-profit prisons and sheriff offices profiting from the prison system, it would seem that the state has made a sustainable business model for both poor parishes, as well as urban areas,” he said.
The Supreme Court majority rules that the cannabis found in Howard’s possession was packaged for sale and not for personal use.