City Committee Hears Cannabis Decrim Proposal

Pot LeafLocal liberty activist David Crawford recently submitted to the city council in Keene a proposal to have the council send a resolution to the legislators encouraging them to decriminalize cannabis. The city council assigned the issue to the Planning, Licensing, and Development committee and it was given a public hearing this week. Several at the hearing spoke in favor of the measure, and none against, including Ken Meola, who did speak, but only to answer a question about legality. Of course, he wasn’t completely telling the truth when he said this is a “legislative issue”. He knows he has discretion and can choose not to enforce laws at will, as I point out later in my comments.

We also learned that it appears the city people may have dropped the ball on sending a letter to the legislature in 2009, when a similar request was brought forth by, of all people, Fred Parsells! No one could seem to remember all the details so city boss John Maclean promised to research the issue and come back with a more accurate version of past events at the next PLD meeting in two weeks. The issue was given “more time” and will be raised again on Wed, September 11th at 7pm at city hall.

The public hearing on this issue begins at 1 hour, 16 mins in to this video.

Here’s an excellent article by the Keene Sentinel’s Kyle Jarvis about the hearing, with several quotes from those who came to speak out:

A Keene resident wants the City Council to send a message to Concord that it supports the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.

The council’s planning, licenses and development committee Wednesday night discussed a request from David Crawford that the council send a resolution to the state Legislature in support of decriminalization.

“I think marijuana decriminalization would go a long way in preventing the harm that is the concern around the synthetic pot issue in Keene,” Crawford said in a letter to the council. “Keene is a progressive city. Keene can lead in this area.”

The council recently voted to draft an ordinance banning the sale of so-called “synthetic marijuana” in Keene. Synthetic drugs are typically marketed as incense in colorful packages with catchy names like “Black Mamba” and “Orgazmo.” Local health care workers and social services providers have said smoking synthetic drugs can produce dangerous side effects that put the user’s health and safety at risk.

At Wednesday night’s meeting, Crawford told the planning committee that if the council saw it fit to ban synthetics because of the harm they cause, it should also decriminalize marijuana because of the harm caused by the legal consequences of being charged with possession.

Crawford said that although he does not use marijuana, “I don’t think people should get put in jail because of it.”

Decriminalization has been taken up in the Legislature before. Most recently, this session the N.H. House passed a bill that would have decriminalized possession of up to a quarter ounce of marijuana, reducing it to a violation with a fine of up to $200; it was killed by the state Senate in May. New Hampshire also recently became the 19th state in the nation to pass a medical marijuana bill, and soon after Illinois became the 20th state to do so.

To date, 16 states, including every New England state except New Hampshire, have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana.

Crawford is part of a loosely organized group of Keene-area residents that posts on the “Free Keene” website. They protest against what they believe are “victimless crimes” such as drug possession, open containers and seat belt laws.

Ian Freeman, also a member of the group, said, “To me, it’s not just a legislative issue, it’s also a moral issue.”

He chastised the government’s war on drugs, and told the committee he believes that prohibition of marijuana is a major reason why people turn to consuming legal but often dangerous substances like bath salts and synthetic drugs.

“The reason these things exist is because of prohibition,” he said. “It drives harder and harder drugs into people’s hands.”

Garrett Ean, also a member of the group, read from a prepared statement Wednesday night, saying that New Hampshire is “still behind all of our neighbors on the issue of decriminalization.”

“I’m asking you to be ahead of the curve on cannabis decriminalization,” he said, adding that marijuana is “safe, natural, and effective.”

Councilor Bettina A. Chadbourne said she remembers the council drafting a resolution to the Legislature supporting decriminalization several years ago, but wasn’t sure of the outcome.

“As far as I understand it, the communication didn’t occur, because the legislative session had ended at that point, and it wasn’t sent off,” said City Attorney Thomas P. Mullins. “But after that, I don’t know what happened.”

Councilor Carl B. Jacobs said he understands there’s support for decriminalization among law enforcement “because prohibition doesn’t prevent intoxication.”

“They’re frustrated that the things they’re doing are costing a lot of money and aren’t solving the problems,” he said.

The committee voted to delay any action on the matter as it waits for City Manager John A. MacLean to research the issue and possibly round up some experts to address the topic with the council.

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