Pubdate: Sun, 23 Sep 2012
Source: Union Leader (Manchester, NH)
Copyright: 2012 The Union Leader Corp.
Note: Out-of-state letters are seldom published.
Author: Shawne K. Wickham


Some lawmakers who support liberalizing the state's marijuana laws 
say the recent acquittal of a Barnstead man who grew marijuana in his 
back yard for personal and religious use will advance their cause.

State Rep. Timothy Comerford, R-Fremont, cosponsored a bill to 
legalize and tax marijuana that the House killed earlier this year. 
He also voted for a decriminalization bill that passed the House by 
one vote but failed in the Senate.

The recent jury nullification case in Belknap County Superior Court 
will advance the conversation about decriminalizing marijuana, 
Comerford said. "It's going to be slow and take a long time, but I 
think eventually our laws are going to catch up with the public's 
view on this issue."

Rep. Mark Warden, R-Goffstown, who cosponsored both the legalization 
and decriminalization bills last session, called the jury 
nullification verdict "a fantastic outcome."

Warden expects the acquittal of 59-year-old Douglas Darrell will be 
cited whenever the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety 
Committee, of which he is a member, debates marijuana bills in the future.

"This shows we need to start being more open-minded and start 
reflecting the ideas of our constituents," he said.

Warden said the case points up a "disconnect" between the Legislature 
and the general public. "The people of New Hampshire ... don't think 
growing your own marijuana plants is that big a deal, yet we continue 
to put blinders on year after year and keep it a criminal offense."

Police and substance abuse experts say decriminalizing marijuana 
would send the wrong message to young people about a drug they say 
can lead to addiction and other substance abuse.

But Warden said large percentages of teens and adults use marijuana 
recreationally. "These people aren't criminals," he said. "They're 
making their own personal decision, and we need to get the state out of it."

Comerford said he thinks what happened in the Belknap County case may 
"sway" some lawmakers who were on the fence about the issue.

"It shows that the citizenry at large is seeing that this law is 
unjust, and they're taking heed of what the Constitution says ... and 
they're not going to put up with prosecutors railroading peaceful 
people who aren't harming anybody else."

Comerford, who belongs to the New Hampshire Liberty Caucus, said the 
verdict "actually gives me a lot of hope that the people of New 
Hampshire are really paying attention to liberty."

Defense attorney Mark Sisti, who successfully raised the right of 
jury nullification in Darrell's case, said the verdict creates "a 
whole new paradigm."

"The laws prohibiting marijuana that were created in the '30s and 
'40s have to be scrutinized again," he said.

That's what happened during Prohibition, when jurors refused to 
convict bootleggers, Sisti said: "People decided not to be hypocrites anymore."

Jury nullification also thrived during the Civil War, when Northern 
juries declined to convict those accused of harboring runaway slaves, he said.

Sisti thinks the general public likewise is ahead of lawmakers when 
it comes to marijuana laws. "In all honesty, what are we doing?" he 
asked. "We're prosecuting people for having plants that are naturally 

Sisti said some polls show at least half of New Hampshire residents 
support decriminalizing marijuana possession. And he predicted, "I 
think you'll see that reflected in jury verdicts."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom