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On State House steps, pot smoked in protest



Last modified: Wednesday, April 22, 2015
A group of activists exercised civil disobedience yesterday by smoking marijuana on the steps of the State House and decrying the war on drugs through a megaphone.

At 4:20 p.m. on April 20, the unofficial pot holiday, about 30 participants huddled away from cold rain under the awning at the front of the State House while the event organizer, Rich Paul, kicked things off.

“We smoke these in remembrance of lost liberties,” he called out, “and in hope for a day when the people do not fear the government, because the government fears the people.”

“Smoke ’em if you got ’em,” he added, tucking his megaphone under his arm and producing a lighter – and a puff of smoke.

This is the sixth year that Paul, formerly a computer programmer, has organized the event at the State House, he said. He began this form of activism after his wife died of cancer “without the benefit of medical marijuana,” he said. Since the first 4/20 rally, he was jailed for selling marijuana to a police informant, he said.

“This event, for me, is being without fear, saying, ‘Okay, you’ve said you’re going to steal my future if I keep smoking weed, well here I am . . . come and take it,’ ” he said, noting that he could be forced to return to jail if arrested.

The police have never interfered with the event in Concord, though Paul has been arrested for similar displays in his hometown of Keene, he said.

“If I do this once a year, I’m not afraid the rest of the year because I’ve already put my head in the lion’s mouth and he didn’t bite,” he said.

Other activists took the megaphone to say their piece, including Chris Cantwell, who criticized the so-called War on Drugs.

“A war usually involves two or more entities fighting each other,” he said. “When you have one entity fighting everybody else, that’s not a war. That’s an assault,” he said.

Carlos Morales, who moved from Texas to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project, spoke from his history working in child protective services, including telling the story of a woman who he said had her newborn baby taken from her because she’d tested positive for marijuana during her pregnancy.

Morales, who wrote a book on the subject called Legally Kidnapped, said between 28 and 35 percent of children removed from their homes for negligence stem from their parents using marijuana.

The protest came while legislation is being considered at the State House to decriminalize possession of small quantities of marijuana.

House Bill 618, which passed the House by a 297-67 vote, would reduce the penalty to a $100 fine for possessing up to a half-ounce of marijuana. That bill has been passed to the Senate Judiciary Committee for review.

While the House has introduced at least nine decriminalization measures in the past decade, none of those policies has managed to pass the opposite chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, said the bill could pass with some editing.

“I think that, similar to medical marijuana, which passed a couple of times in the House before it passed in the Senate, we’re starting to see a bit of a change,” he said.

But the way the House bill is written, with up to four offenses being treated as a violation, Bradley said he didn’t see it passing the Senate or being signed by the governor. His feeling was that it could be amended such that the first offense is treated as a violation, then the second offense treated as it is currently, he said.

“Whether is gets 13 votes, that I don’t know,” Bradley said.

In the meantime, Paul, who also moved to New Hampshire with the Free State Project, said he’s optimistic – and he’ll keep trying.

“Somebody said to me in a personal argument one time, ‘Don’t you know when to quit?’ and I said, ‘I’ve been a libertarian political activist for 15 years – of course I don’t know when to quit,’ ” he laughed.



(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325 or nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickBReid.)