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Spontaneous 420 Protest Blossoms in “Live Free or Die” State

By admin | September 25, 2009


Keene: Smoke ’em if you got ’em

Gathering of marijuana smokers, advocates on Central Square is growing

By Casey Farrar
Sentinel Staff
Published: Friday, September 25, 2009

Proponents of marijuana gather on Central Square in Keene
Thursday afternoon. Some, who wished not to be named, lit

What began earlier this week with two friends smoking marijuana in Keene’s Central Square has become a steadily growing group that drew a crowd of more than 70 people Thursday afternoon.

Some of those gathered called themselves protestors for the legalization of marijuana, others said they just showed up to join in and smoke marijuana. Several said they plan to be back on the square this afternoon — at 4:20 p.m.

The number 420 is used in the drug subculture to represent marijuana smoking.

The crowd Thursday began trickling in shortly after 4 p.m. Several people carried handmade signs in favor of legalizing marijuana with phrases such as “My body my choice: Legalize drugs,” and “Leaf Us Alone.”

At 4:20 p.m., 40-year-old Rich Paul of Keene switched on a megaphone and said, “We smoke this in remembrance of lost liberties.

“To a time when people don’t fear the government because the government fears the people.”

As lighters clicked and smoke floated into the air, people stood in small groups near the fountain in the square, passing around glass pipes and what appeared to be marijuana cigarettes.

“Smoke ’em if you got ’em,” said Paul, who called himself one of the originators of the gathering.

Paul said he and his friend Noah Wood started coming to the square together earlier this week to smoke marijuana and more people just started showing up.

The group, he said, had grown from two to six, then to 16, and Wednesday about 30 people turned out.

Paul said he is a member of the Free State Project who moved to Keene from Florida.

The Free State Project is an effort to convince 20,000 people to move to New Hampshire and participate in activism and run for local and state office.

It is unclear how many of the protestors are part of the project. Several said they knew about the project, but were not members.

Paul said he knew the police were aware of the protest Thursday and he expected to be arrested.

“I’m carrying a copy of the Constitution, an empty holster and no ID,” Paul said, adding he hadn’t decided if he’d tell the police his name if he was arrested.

But there were no arrests.

Shortly after the protest began, two police officers stopped and talked to protestors near a crosswalk on the edge of the square for about 20 minutes.

Officer Timothy Peloquin said he’d been sent by his supervisor to check on the protest. He said while he saw people smoking clove and tobacco cigarettes, he didn’t see anyone smoking marijuana and he didn’t smell it.

Some protestors shouted at passing police cars and others stood near intersections calling out to stopped cars — at least one person called Keene police to complain about harassment.

A handful of protestors also helped to push a disabled vehicle out of the traffic circle.

“I think it was Keene’s first hemp-powered car,” Paul later quipped.

Chaz Munro, who lives in the Keene area and said he’d been coming to the square every day since Monday, gave a hand to the stranded motorist.

He said the group’s willingness to help proved that most of those gathered in the square were “just regular people exercising our right to be here.

“You know, you don’t have to have bouncers here,” Munro said of the police presence. “We don’t (need to) have any security going on.

“You know, folks that smoke marijuana, for the most part, are folks that are peaceful. They’re not hurting anybody.”

While the crowd quickly thinned to a couple dozen people, several sign-toting protestors marched around the perimeter of the square, drawing honks and hoots from some passing motorists.

Seventeen-year-old Kyle Robinson of Keene carried a sign that said, “Leaf Us Alone: End This War,” on one side and “Keep off the grass” on the other.

It was the second time he’d come to the square to protest for the legalization of marijuana — medicinal and otherwise.

“Marijuana is used by some people as medicine,” he said. “It’s like all of the other drugs out there and I think that people should be able to use it without worrying about getting arrested.”

The Keene City Council next week may reconsider a previous vote to draft a resolution urging state lawmakers to decriminalize minimal quantities of the drug. A similar vote on sending a letter supporting the legalization of medicinal marijuana failed.

Last week Rich was arrested at the gathering:

Casey Farrar can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or

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