Pubdate: Sun, 22 Sep 2002
Source: Union Leader (NH)
Copyright: 2002 The Union Leader Corp.
Author: Shawne K. Wickham


There was plenty of music, but no discernible aroma of pot smoke, floating 
across Veterans Park yesterday afternoon at the New Hampshire Freedom 
Festival, organized to promote decriminalization of marijuana.

NHORML, the New Hampshire chapter of the National Organization for the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws, sponsored the all-day festival, which featured 
live bands, guest speakers, food vendors offering fried dough, sausages and 
lemonade, and booths selling bongs, tie-dyed T- shirts and "pet" pot 
plants. (They were plastic, but realistic enough to temporarily fool both 
eager customers and concerned police officers.)

Manchester officers on foot and bicycle patrol kept up a constant but 
restrained presence around the perimeter of the park, where about 100 
people had gathered by 2 p.m.

Phil Greazzo of NHORML said there are many issues at stake, from medical 
use of marijuana, to industrial growing of hemp, to personal freedom. He 
characterized the festival as "a peaceful event trying to draw attention to 
the wasted resources of our state."

"I believe that we have certain Constitutional rights in this country that 
seem to be ignored," Greazzo said. "We have people who are sick and dying 
being persecuted. A doctor recommends they use a medication, and the law 
doesn't allow for that."

Greazzo said 73 percent of Americans support medical use of marijuana, and 
said only politics prevents leaders from acting on that. "The people in 
office feel they can't stand up for medical marijuana or industrial hemp 
farmers or any cannabis issue and be reelected," he said.

"Instead, we have police in Dover staging SWAT exercises on unarmed 
students," he said, referring to the arrest of nine McIntosh College 
students in August on drug charges. "If those guys had been doing their job 
properly and focusing on real crime, they might have stopped (Sept. 11 
hijacker) Mohammed Atta as he drove through town."

Among the guest speakers were several Libertarian candidates for state 
office, including John Babiarz, who is running for governor, and his wife, 
Rosalie, running for Congress in the 2nd District.

John Babiarz said Libertarians have long supported decriminalization, 
especially now that there are proven medical uses for marijuana, such as 
alleviating symptoms for cancer and AIDS patients.

"We believe as long as people are peaceful and not bothering anybody, they 
should be free to do whatever they please," he said. "Obviously, you have a 
responsibility not to drive under the influence. But people here are just 
chilling out listening to the music. We believe it's their right and we're 
promoting it."

He said he planned to spend the entire day at the festival, hoping that 
message will attract young and disenfranchised voters to the Libertarian 

Asked if he ever smoked pot himself, Babiarz said, "No, believe it or not."

Not even in college? "I didn't go to college. I went in the Air Force."

Babiarz said he believes New Hampshire is ready to allow medical marijuana 
use. "Why are we saying no to people dying in pain? It's wrong. It's 
morally wrong."

Dan Belforti of Portsmouth, running for Congress in the 1st District, 
addressed the crowd with similar sentiments. "We Libertarians are ardent 
supporters of your freedom to peacefully smoke narcotic cannabis or 
anything else you like as long as it doesn't infringe on the rights of 
others," he said.

Belforti said the solution to many of society's problems, including the 
illegal drug trade, is "more personal responsibility and freedom of choice, 
not increased governmental control."

"The war on drugs hasn't worked. It's time to declare a drug peace," he said.

Accompanied by his dog, Smokey, Steve Sapounas, 53, of Manchester said he 
came to the park yesterday to hear the bands and "just to enjoy the day."

Sapounas said he didn't even know the festival was organized to promote 
reform of marijuana laws, but said he supports the group's efforts. He said 
he smoked pot for years, and said he has suffered from high blood pressure 
since he stopped.

"People drink alcohol, which is legal, and they can't drive, they become 
violent or destructive. When you smoke, you usually don't even go out. 
You'd rather just sit around and watch TV, or hug your mate, and relax."

"If you're doing damage to yourself, it's your own body. Everybody takes 
Valium or Prozac - is that good for you?" Sapounas asked.

Maggie Spicer, a 21-year-old Keene State College student from Portland, 
Oregon, was staffing the New Hampshire Hemp Council table. Wearing clothing 
made from hemp, Spicer said the plant can be grown for fiber, fuel and even 
food, with benefits for the environment and for farmers. "Anywhere you 
would use trees, cotton or petroleum is where hemp can be applied," she said.

Manchester Police Sgt. Shawn Fournier said the crowd had been "excellent" 
for the first several hours of the event.

He admitted he was a bit concerned by what appeared to be pot plants for 
sale at the NHORML booth. "I went over to look at them and confirmed they 
were in fact plastic, not real ones," he said.

Fournier said police did have to tell Greazzo the wet T-shirt contest 
originally planned would violate city ordinances for the outdoor park. 
"Anything that would offend the sense of the community wouldn't be 
tolerated," he said. "After it was explained to him, he understood and 
canceled it."

He also said police would have a "zero tolerance" policy for anyone 
lighting up during the event, and made it clear to organizers that arrests 
would be made. "And so far that has not been an issue," he said.

"We haven't had any problems," Fournier said. "However," he added, "I 
instructed my detail officers not to eat any brownies."
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