Category Archives: 420 on 4/20

Pot On Trial at Mistral

By Molly Coombs

Protesters outside a Back Bay cafe were not on the menu at a fundraiser for Sen. Scott Brown. They were supporting the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann) in its fight against Brown’s proposed legislation to increase fines to $1000  for possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle.

About a dozen people held signs and passed out flyers to raise awareness of the controversial  initiative.

The assembled protesters give flyers to attendees at Brown's fundraiser.

The assembled protesters give flyers to attendees at Brown's fundraiser.

The group leafleted outside Mistral, a small Back Bay restaurant, in mid-April, a more intimate gathering than the thousands who gather for MassCann’s Boston Freedom Rally, held in the fall on the Boston Common.

“There’s a $60-a-plate benefit dinner going on for Scott Brown,” said Bill Downey, president of MassCann NORML, explaining the protest’s timing. “He’s trying to raise money to countermand his constituents and turn pot possession back into an arrestable offense.”

Brown (R-Wrentham) made his proposal four months after Massachusetts voters approved Question 2, a referendum which decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and reduced penalties for this amount to a $100 fine. The ballot question received 65% of the vote statewide, and 66.1% of Brown’s senatorial district, portions of Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex counties, that supported decriminalization.

“He doesn’t feel obligated to give me a reason for this bill,” said Downey. “It must be pretty strong reasoning to go against two-thirds of his constituency.”

Attendees to the fundraiser arrived trickled in, their suits and cocktail dresses a sharp contrast to the jeans and jackets of protesters. Most guests rebuffed the flyers, which featured the text of Brown’s bill, facts about the results of Question 2 as well as a doctored photo of Brown as Italian dictator Benito Mussolini labeled “Fascista.”

One guest exchanges heated words with MassCann board member Michael Crawford from the door of Mistral.

One guest exchanges heated words with MassCann board member Michael Crawford from the door of Mistral.

One man took a flyer from MassCann board member Michael Crawford after exiting his car, only to quickly return it and enter the restaurant, stopping to verbally berate Crawford from the doorway. The protesters laughed off the encounter, continuing their efforts to pass flyers to both fundraiser attendees and passersby on the sidewalk.

“When I read the text of the bill, I was appalled,” said Scott Gacek, a board member for MassCann and professional photographer. In a Facebook conversation with Brown, Gacek asked the senator why he was “trying to subvert the will of 65% of voters in Massachusetts” with his proposal.

“The bill is simply to bring pot in line with the same penalty for an open container of alcohol in a vehicle,” said Brown in the March 20 online conversation. “When laws were passed to clarify where and when you could drink, nobody said they were outlawing booze.”

Gacek expressed reservations over this concept at the protest,

“It’s already illegal to drive stoned out of your mind. That’s driving while intoxicated. Driving with a bag of weed in your car is very different from driving with an open beer.”

Although Brown disagreed in the online debate, he expressed a willingness to discuss Gacek’s concerns at the bill’s hearing.

Yet after requesting that Gacek call off the protest in their Facebook conversation and ignoring them when entering the restaurant, Brown left via the back door at the end of the fundraiser, leaving guests to pass the dwindling number of protesters remaining out front.



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Pot Law Sparks New Proposals

By Elissa Garza and Zachary Lucius

Debate over the legal status of marijuana is burning up on Capitol Beacon Hill. Months after passing Question 2, a measure to decriminalize the possession of marijuana, a new bill has surfaced in Massachusetts legislature which may put a hold on hopes for legalization.

Massachusetts voters chose to make marijuana possession a minor crime with a $100 fine, but now state legislators are looking at proposals to make it a significant offense.

“It’s basically a blanket law that would charge $1000, and if it’s not paid then it would be a criminal offense. Which, to me, is de facto re-criminalization,” said Mike Cann, a financial professional on the board of directors for the Massachusetts chapter of NORML, Amarijuana law reform group.

A bill filed in January by Sen. Scott Brown, would raise the fine to $1000 for possession of marijuana in the passenger compartment of a vehicle, on top of the $100 fine imposed under Question 2. Failure to pay this fines within 30 days would be considered a criminal offense.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re using it or not, whether you’re sober or not, medical user or not,” said Cann.

Cann and other marijuana advocates, argue the benefits of the drug far outweigh its risks, and say it’s unnecessary to impose such a large fine for possessing a substance that helps so many people. He cites Marcy Duda, a smoker who uses marijuana to control chronic, debilitating pain.

“[She’s] a grandmother who’s been testifying for years at the State House to be able to get legal marijuana,” Cann said. “[She] has brain aneurysms. She testified last year that she had two sisters with the same medical condition; neither one of them used medical marijuana and both of them are dead right now. She credits marijuana with saving her life.”

Advocates say the legal debate has the greatest effect on medical users who are forced to turn to illegal action. If Duda were caught with marijuana in her car under this plan, she would face $1000 in fines even if she had a valid prescription.

But recreational smokers may not be as responsible and reformers are less keen to discuss social use of pot.

However, even though social smoking is tolerated, there are other concerns.

“It is currently a violation for a person to possess an open alcoholic beverage container in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle,” said Deputy Chief William Brooks of the Wellesley Police Department. “Apparently, the legislature thought it was a bad idea for someone to have alcohol in the passenger compartment of a car. Why should that not apply to marijuana?”

Brooks, an outspoken opponent of Question 2 and supporter of the new bill, suggests that driving under the influence of marijuana can be just as dangerous as driving drunk.

Brown’s proposal would set an “under the influence” limit but the proposed penalty for marijuana is twice that the current penalty for an open container of alcoholic beverages.

According to Sgt. Glen Garrans of the Wellesley Police Department, a higher fine for drug possession can serve as a deterrent to people who may think Question 2 let’s them take their stash on the road.

Brooks and Garrans said this would be even more important considering police are no longer allowed to search a motor vehicle for marijuana — even when there is reasonable suspicion — now that possession is no longer a crime They claim that decriminalization went too far, too fast.

“The public was hoodwinked,” said Brooks of Question 2’s passage.

Cann agrees that marijuana does have a dark side.
“Obviously, smoking cannabis may not be the best thing for your lungs,” said Cann. “And I think some people have problems with substances, whether it’s chocolate or alcohol or tobacco or marijuana. For some people, it takes over their lives.”

Sen. Brown could not be reached for comment. No date has been set for discussion or a vote on his bill.

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Marijuana Marathon

By Kyle Leathers

One group of smokers celebrates the pot smoking “holiday”

Note: All names have been changed to the aliases requested by the individuals.

“John Madden” takes a purple and yellow “gravity bong” out of his closet in Emerson College’s Little Building, packs in the little weed that he has, and goes down the hall to the bathroom. The cramped, 4×7-foot room is the only spot in the suite without smoke alarms, and far enough away from the front door to keep the smell from wafting into the hallway.

He’s followed by three buddies, “Andy Anderson,” “Chris Benoit Jr.,” and “George Bush,” his regular crew of pot smoking compadres.

Unlike a regular bong, the gravity bong looks like an accordion, which is stretched out while the bong is lit and condensed when the smoker breathes in on the top. The bathroom floor is absolutely filthy, and the sink is covered in resin from previous smoking sessions. Bush sits down on the toilet seat with his laptop in his lap. Tom Petty’s “Last Dance with Mary Jane” plays softly from the laptop speakers as the four decide who gets the first hit.

“George, it’s your weed,” Madden says, holding the bong out.
“No, Anderson threw some in too. He can have the first hit,” Bush says.
All four insist that one of the others should get the first hit of the day.
“It’s all about courtesy,” Madden says, his long blonde hair curling out from underneath a Red Sox cap.

Finally Anderson takes the bong from Madden and lights up. Smoke starts to billow in the pipe as Anderson breathes in.

This is what April 20th is all about to pot smokers. The date has become a kind of counterculture holiday, when pot smokers all over the world celebrate their pastime and light up in unity. Although the origins of the number 420 to stoners are cloudy and uncertain, legends abound just like Christmas or other celebrations. One common story is that students at a California high school would meet every day at 4:20 p.m. to smoke.

Another relates to Section 420 of the California penal code, which governs medical marijuana. Still another clue pops up in the film “Pulp Fiction” where clocks often appear as 4:20.
* * * * * * * * * * *
But for this group of stoners, their holiday festivities were nearly snuffed out before they began.

“Apparently the whole dorm building is dry because of the holiday,” reported Andy Anderson on the evening of April 19th. Anderson pushes his long black hair away from his face in frustration.

It’s the first time anyone in the group has seen him stressed. Frantic phone calls to all their friends produced the same news: No one had any weed.

“Everyone’s dry in Bennington, Vermont?” Benoit Jr. says over the phone, surprised. “Vermont?

The group was set to begin smoking at 4:20 a.m. on 4/20, but Anderson informed them around midnight that his dealer couldn’t get any until well past sun up.
Listening to Bright Eyes via iTunes to cope with his temporary lack of marijuana, Caden paced idly around his room. Tall, with short, brown hair, Caden becomes worried that 4/20 may not be as stress-free and smoke-filled as he had hoped.
“Better get some sleep now,” he tells me. “The adventure will have to wait until tomorrow.”
* * * * * * * * *
The next morning, Caden knocks on my door to let me know the group’s plans. Caden received a tip that a friend of a friend in Brookline had some weed and pot brownies to sell. As he left to go pick them up (and I went back to bed) I heard another knock on the door. This time it was Madden, Anderson, Benoit Jr., and Bush, who had held back a small stash of weed “for emergencies.” I followed them to Madden’s dorm bathroom, for the first smoking session of the day.

While pot smokers are often depicted as dopey idiots, this group breaks the stereotype withconversations while smoking ranged from plans for after college to what they’ve learned in classes. Benoit Jr., an acting major, had just completed a week-long run of a play the night before, and Madden and Bush had recently completed filming and editing a short film for a local film festival. Anderson, meanwhile, has been focusing on his classes. As a Writing, Literature, and Publishing major, he’s had a lot of papers to write before the end of the semester.

As the group disperses for a few hours to do homework, they tell me to meet them in the Public Garden at 4:20 p.m. for another smoking session before the Beatles Laser Show at the Museum of Science.

At the appointed hour, there are small groups of college students covering the grass throughout the Public Garden, smoking joints.

“It’s decriminalized now,” Madden says. “No one is worried about getting in trouble.”

Madden, Benoit Jr., Bush, and Matthew Yak, who met the others in the Garden, pass around a freshly-rolled blunt by the pond. As the blunt shrinks, the group begins to walk toward the Boylston T station — ready for the laser show.

“Turn off your mind, relax, and float down stream…” John Lennon sang at us, psychedelic lights swirling above our heads.

The group laughs loudly and sings along with the songs, getting strange looks from the disgruntled families sitting around them who have taken their children to the show. Fifty minutes later the show ends, and the group takes the Green Line back to Emerson.
“Hold on,” Caden tells me. “I’ll be right back.”
Benoit Jr., Yak, and I hang around Emerson’s Little Building for 10 minutes before Caden returns.
“I just ate a pot brownie!” he announces excitedly. “Now let’s go get Chinese!”

As the sky becomes darker, the group walks to Chinatown, searching for the perfect restaurant. A light drizzle begins to fall and a steady breeze makes Caden wish he had worn a jacket.

The choice of cuisine is as much life imitating art as the need for nutrition – after the three smokers finally agree on a restaurant in Chinatown, the scene resembles the recent stoner comedy “Pineapple Express.” In its conclusion, three friends who have smoked more than normal, discuss their day over a big meal. The boys are well-behaved, swapping stories about 4/20 experiences from past years and mentioning the most memorable parts of this year’s celebration.

“This isn’t just about smoking pot,” Caden says. “This is about having an excuse to be around good friends and have fun. There just happens to be an illegal drug involved.”


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