The smokers are protesting marijuana laws and say they’ll smoke in Central Square daily until the law changes. Police say they won’t tolerate wanton law-breaking, but have no plans for a crackdown.
Marijuana may or may not spark creativity, but it has long inspired music. Bessie Smith and Willie Nelson have sung its praises, as has pretty much any reggae and hip hop artist you’d care to name. But none of them were in Keene Wednesday.
“Well in my life I’ve learned that serving’s not the point
Give me a toke off that joint, oh yeah
There’s a 420 fest every day in Keene
People being peaceful and free….”
That’s Richard Onley. He moved from Oklahoma last year to join the Free State Project. He says the message of the protests is simple.
“It’s to show the state that we are not going to take it anymore. That their laws are unfair and un-right and even unconstitutional, and do not apply to us anymore.”
Yet not everyone at the gathering, which on this day numbered around 50, considers the matter quite that settled. Amid the plumes of smoke and attendant coughs, petitions urging elected officials to change laws were also circulating.
“(cough) Would you like to sign the petition Sir? (cough). No?
This is his Matt. He didn’t want to give his last name, but did want people to know he works for Tokin Hats and Clothing, or THC, a marijuana-themed apparel company.
“There’s not really a limit to how many signatures were going to get, were just going to keep it going. Eventually the Governor and our Senators and our Congress, and all that. If it gets big enough, maybe to the federal government, too.”
-Legibility can help in these circumstances.
“Yeah, yeah we try, but we don’t have a desk.”
The absence of furniture wasn’t a concern shared by many of the non-protestors in the vicinity.
“I think they are a bunch of foolish idiots, just looking to get arrested.”
Michael Kendall was smoking a cigar on the sidewalk across the street. A few feet away, Steven Cote was taking an afternoon stroll with his wife. Cote said he supports legalizing marijuana, but believes people smoking openly ought to be arrested.
“I think protest is great, but breaking the law is breaking the law –bottom line: you’ve breaking the law. You drink you drive, there’s no grey area. To me it’s a very simple concept; change the law and then do it.”
But others said they were glad that protesters were not being stormed by authorities. Daniel Gomez was about to clock in for his shift as a waiter at Pedraza’s restaurant.
“Well I’m from Los Angeles, California, and I think it’s nice that people can actually express themselves, because if we were to rally for pot in LA we would get beat up first, and dispersed and listened to after; so to see that people could actually do it here and not get anything done to them is a good thing.”
“I would be shocked if this thing continued for another month or into December, but if it does then good for them.”
That’s Keene Police Sargeant Jim Cemorelis. He points out that peaceful assembly is protected by the first amendment, but says police will arrest protestors if there is clear evidence or a crime. So far, Keene Police have made just two arrests, dropping the charges in one case. Sargeant Cemoralis adds police have become convinced that protestors talk a bigger game than they smoke.
“I don’t believe that there are significant about of people down there that are smoking marijuana . They make an effort to make that appear to be what’s going on, but we haven’t seen that.”
Protestors for their part, say they don’t plan on stashing their pipes anytime soon. Richard Onley, says it possible a smoke-ins could soon come to a town near you.
“You hear talk. It’s a risk, but there is no reward without risk.”