City Committee Refuses to Show Compassion Towards Cannabis & Other Drug Users
The “Planning, License, and Development” committee has “taken as informational” the suggestions from liberty activists that the council send a letter encouraging the legislature to decriminalize cannabis and also to repeal the paraphernalia ordinance. Citing “the children”, the committee ignored the factual, compassionate reasons given by advocates of freedom as to why they should not be arresting their neighbors for their personal, peaceful habits of drug use and instead bought the prohibitionist propaganda presented at the meeting hook, line, and sinker. Here’s an excellent article about the meeting by the Keene Sentinel’s Kyle Jarvis:
Want to discuss rather than just commenting here? Visit the Shire Society Forum.
As states around the country pass laws decriminalizing small amounts or even legalizing marijuana, some residents want Keene to get onboard. But local police, community health leaders and city councilors aren’t convinced it’s the right move.
The Keene City Council’s planning, licenses and development committee voted unanimously last week not to take action on two separate requests, one asking the council to tell the state Legislature it supports decriminalization of pot, and another asking city officials to lift a ban on drug paraphernalia.
Ian Freeman, a council candidate and member of a libertarian-leaning group often referred to as “Free Keene,” asked that the council consider repealing its law against possessing used drug paraphernalia.
“The ordinance hurts poor people the most, and does nothing to stop drug use,” he told the committee at the meeting. “It’s yet another charge police can level against someone they have arrested for drug possession … it’s already devastating enough; adding another charge is not helping anyone.”
David Crawford, also a candidate for council and a member of the group, brought the request for supporting decriminalization to the council last month. Decriminalizing marijuana means possession of small amounts would be punishable by a fine and confiscation, but would not require a court appearance.
“Adults should be allowed to make adult decisions, just like if somebody wants to have a drink they should be able to make that decision,” he said. “Keene is supposedly a progressive city, and I think we should stop harming people’s lives for prosecution of marijuana.”
Another member of the pro-liberty group and candidate for council, James Cleaveland, said, “If someone is really motivated to alter their mental state, there’s nothing you can do about it,” and asked councilors whether other poor personal health choices might lead to legislative action.
“I don’t get enough exercise and I don’t eat right, should there be an ordinance regarding what you can consume food-wise?” he asked.
Not everyone in the audience at Wednesday’s meeting agreed with the pro-pot speakers, including Linda A. Rubin, director of Healthy Monadnock 2020 (formerly Vision 2020), a community collaborative aimed at making Cheshire County the healthiest in the country by the year 2020.
Rubin said New Hampshire and the Monadnock Region rank especially high in marijuana use compared to other states and regions, saying that “not surprisingly, this increase coincides with a softening attitude on marijuana use.”
She referred to a shifting culture throughout the nation as more states lessen or eliminate penalties for marijuana possession.
Recently, the Obama administration announced it will not impose federal laws in states where marijuana is decriminalized or legalized.
Kimberly Diemond of Marlborough recently brought the issue of synthetic drug addiction to the council’s attention, leading it to endorse an ordinance banning those substances. She said she doesn’t see the harm in decriminalizing marijuana, but worries what message legalization would send.
“I would not like to see marijuana signs on billboards promoting it and the local shop down the street selling it, and people openly using it,” she said.
And for those saying it’s wrong to put marijuana users in jail, Diemond said the law is the law.
“If you’re going to do something illegal, don’t expect not to get in trouble for it,” she said.
Keene Police Chief Kenneth J. Meola said police usually treat pot or paraphernalia possession as a violation for a first offense, with offenders often receiving a fine — typically $350 for marijuana possession and $150 for paraphernalia possession.
He said he agreed that “jail cells are not effective for addiction, and we support that as a tactic.”
The recent implementation of the Cheshire County Drug Court, which focuses on treatment rather than punishment, and drug addiction evaluations imposed by police on some offenders are preferable tools to throwing drug users in jail, he said.
But reducing possession to a violation would eliminate the ability of police to impose treatment or addiction evaluation measures for offenders, an option Meola said he’d prefer to keep.
As a parent, Rubin said if her son were caught with marijuana she would want him to pay the consequences of his actions “in hopes that it would send a strong message to him that this is not a good path you’ve started on.”
But Freeman said it’s time the courts focused on violent crimes, rather than drug use, and invited councilors to attend district court arraignments with him during the week so they can see how many young people are charged and convicted for marijuana possession.
In the end, councilors sided with Meola.
“I support the chief,” Councilor and planning committee Chairman David C. Richards said. “Some of the things in that ordinance (banning possession of used paraphernalia) were designed specifically not to let kids get their hands on these things.”
Councilor David J. Curran said he kept thinking of his own children during the discussion.
If those speaking in favor of decriminalization had children, “you might see it a different way,” he said. “I keep hearing conversation from folks that haven’t gotten to that moment in life yet.”
Councilor Carl B. Jacobs said he believes some people can drink responsibly, and that some people can use marijuana responsibly, and seemed unsure about which side to support.
“I think I’m someone who can’t use either responsibly,” he said. “I hope we don’t punish those people simply for their use of these things in a responsible way.”
Jacobs added he was pleased to hear that police handle marijuana and paraphernalia possession cases with discretion, and that the focus is turning to treatment, “so that people like me who can’t use these things responsibly have a chance to be responsible.”The full council will take up both requests at its meeting Thursday night at 7 p.m. in City Hall.
Kyle Jarvis can be reached at email@example.com or 283-0755. Follow him on Twitter @KJarvisKS.