B Noble Is Pot for Prison Reform, and Fab 5 Freddy's On Board

Bernard Noble and hip hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy.
Bernard Noble and hip hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy. Curaleaf
“The name B Noble just sounded right,” says hip-hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy, “because that’s what people need to hear: be noble. Then, in walked Curaleaf and they said, ‘Let’s make a deal.’”

He’s talking about B Noble, a cause-based cannabis brand founded by Freddy and launched this past summer by Curaleaf, that popular provider of consumer cannabis products. The brand’s two-pack pre-rolls were available on the east coast this past summer and are now available here in Arizona. Ten percent of proceeds from every B Noble purchase will fund organizations that are actively working to end cannabis criminalization and help reintegrate people into society after their release from prison. The Arizona group that will receive those funds is the S.T.A.R.T. Project, a non-profit that advocates against sentencing laws and for improved prison conditions. The group also offers re-entry programs for the formerly incarcerated.

This isn’t Curaleaf’s first trip to the social equity fair. The company’s Rooted In Good initiative has previously funded programs promoting diversity, social equity, and environmental concerns. This time out, Curaleaf is shining a light on the story of Bernard Noble, who in 2010 was sentenced to 13 years in prison for possessing the equivalent of two joints. In 2015, Bernard's case began to draw attention across the country as an example of harsher drug-possession sentences handed down to black people. Noble was eventually released after serving seven years of his sentence.

Freddy first heard Noble’s story when he was working on The Grass is Greener, a 2019 documentary about the American love affair with marijuana and how it inspired jazz and hip-hop and essentially created the war on drugs.

“I set out to make a film that showed the connection between cannabis and American music,” he remembers. “But I started to look at the criminal justice aspect, and when I came across Bernard’s case I just thought, ‘That’s a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with this story: criminalizing marijuana and coming down harder on blacks than on whites.'”

Funneling some of Curaleaf’s profits into raising awareness of systemic racism is a good thing, Freddy says. But it’s not everything.

“The next step is getting informed about what your state representatives are doing to right the wrongs done against targeted communities,” he says. “We’ve got more than two million people in prison for nonviolent cannabis arrests, and a lot more of them are people of color. What are your state reps doing about that?”

Over the years, Freddy says, he’s talked with a generation that grew up sneaking pot as teens and then well into adulthood. He’s sometimes surprised that today one can walk into a dispensary and buy marijuana.

“I’ve listened to people outside the mainstream since I was a wee lad, talking about the health benefits of cannabis,” he says. “And I’ve listened to the lies we were told about marijuana being a gateway drug that leads to heroin addiction. And it was all so much to get over, to get past, that I didn’t really think we’d ever get to this place where we are using it to, you know, give relief to some kid who’s having seizures and all that.”

He’s hopeful that funds from the Curaleaf product will raise awareness about medical marijuana and keep post-prison rehab programs going. Mostly, he hopes the product’s name will keep Bernard Noble’s story at the forefront.

“What happened to him hasn’t stopped happening just because cannabis is legal for adult use,” Freddy says. “I had that on my mind, and then this whole thing came together with the pre-rolls, and I was like, we’re on our way, and we’re going to be noble with B Noble.”
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela