MARIJUANA LAWS FACING NEW CHALLENGE

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The420Guy

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Pubdate: Sun, 13 Aug 2000
Source: Union Leader (NH)
Copyright: The Union Leader Corp. 2000
Contact: TheUL@aol.com
Address: P.O. Box 9555 Manchester, NH 03108-9555

Author: Nancy West, Sunday News Staff

MARIJUANA LAWS FACING NEW CHALLENGE

In the long run, they may lose money by shrinking their own criminal client base, but one of
the state's best known law firms is backing the movement to decriminalize marijuana.

The Chichester law office of Mark Sisti and Paul Twomey is the new home base for the New
Hampshire Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a branch of the national
NORML organization.

Twomey, a parent who also serves on his local school board, says he doesn't smoke pot or
tobacco, nor does he drink alcohol. But he does believe it is time to get marijuana users out
of the criminal justice system.

Twomey is quick to point out that he opposes other illegal drugs and certainly doesn't approve
of allowing underage people access to marijuana.

"Making marijuana legal would cut significantly into our income. I honestly don't care. It's
wrong to continue," said Twomey.

He and Sisti have built a well-respected firm representing many high-profile clients, such as
Pamela Smart, as well as many low-profile drug users and dealers along the way.

"I see the tremendous injury done to families and society by the war on drugs," Twomey
said. "This is a cultural war of the '60s. Let's declare the war over and get on with it."

Even prosecutors who disagree with Twomey say they respect him.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney David Vicinanzo said, "This debate has been going on since I
was a kid, but many of the arguments are the same. What has changed is we have 30 years
of research showing marijuana use is generally bad for you and the marijuana is many times
more potent than it was 30 years ago," Vicinanzo said.

Vicinanzo said marijuana investigations at the federal level are a lesser priority than
investigations for crack or heroin.

"In America, there is perhaps no single greater cause of misery and disease than alcohol, so
we already have one evil, why do we want to legitimatize another mind-altering substance,"
Vicinanzo said.

"I disagree with Paul Twomey on this issue. He's a thoughtful, and intelligent lawyer and
decent guy. Reasonable people can disagree. . . ," Vicinanzo said.

Besides the stature brought to the marijuana debate by a firm such as Twomey's, Phil
Greazzo of Manchester, president of NORML in New Hampshire, and other board members
of the fledging chapter, say they will lobby the Legislature in the next session on three major
fronts.

They want to legalize medical marijuana and industrial hemp and decriminalize marijuana in
New Hampshire. While there are a couple of legislators who want to help, law enforcement
leaders are expected to continue to strongly oppose even hemp legalization.

As more and more babyboomers comfortably settle in to leadership positions, many with
first-hand knowledge of what a marijuana joint looks and tastes like, people such as Twomey
and Greazzo see the timing as right to pursue the marijuana agenda.

"I'd like to see people use marijuana recreationally and at most receive a fine, no jail time,"
said Greazzo, 30, of Manchester, who works in the field that manufactures medical products.

"The top issue right at the moment is that every other country in the world recognizes medical
marijuana as medicine for certain people, except the U.S.A.," Greazzo said.

Greazzo said he will testify on a proposal to legalize medical marijuana on Aug. 23 at 10
a.m. in the Legislative Office Building in Concord. National experts on the subject are
expected to testify as well.

"The second top priority is marijuana decriminalization. Let the people decide. A majority of
the people think it ought to be decriminalized.

"As far as the public goes, we have a receptive audience," he said. He said law enforcement
has a vested interest in keeping marijuana illegal to maintain job security and to continue
seizing assets in drug cases.

"I'm not going to lie. I'm the president of NORML (in New Hampshire). I do occasionally
smoke marijuana," Greazzo said.

He makes sure he never smokes around his 4-year-old daughter, but hopes to have a candid
conversation about drugs when she is old enough. What he hates most is the hypocrisy.

"Man has been involved with marijuana since 8000 BC and it has never caused a single
death," Greazzo said. "Nobody is going to champion the cause for legalizing heroin, but we
do need sensible drug reform. They (drug addicts) need treatment. This is a health issue.
Why do we have military generals running the issue?" Greazzo asked.

Col. Gary Sloper, commander of state police, said he wasn't surprised to hear of NORML's
New Hampshire presence because of recent efforts in the Legislature.

"We wouldn't support changing any laws regarding marijuana or any controlled drug. All you
have to do is look at the history of substance abuse.

"I'd hate to see us cave in because a number of the lives that are destroyed through drugs. I
know there are arguments pro and con, but the Legislature is wise to continue to make it
illegal. I wouldn't want to change the drug laws," Sloper said. "The '60s came and went. I
don't want to see a resurgence or do anything to make it more available to people who don't
use it because it is illegal. If those people are encouraged to start using, I wonder if more
would slip through the cracks," Sloper said.

Rep. Derek Owen, D-Hopkinton, is the sponsor of legislation to legalize industrial hemp,
which was defeated last year. Owen said he and other farmers want to keep the hemp issue
separate from marijuana decriminalization to increase the likelihood he will some day be able
to harvest hemp. Personally, however, he said he also favors decriminalization of marijuana.

"We should be able to grow a niche (hemp) crop on our property," Owen said.

He said hemp is used for rope, hemp seed oil, paper and clothing and he certainly wouldn't
risk his farm to raise marijuana.

"I'm for decriminalization. I think the war on drugs should be gone. It's like Prohibition. It
didn't work," Owen said.

Rep. Timothy N. Robertson, D-Keene, said he is still pushing to legalize medical marijuana
and also plans to push for decriminalization as he has for several years.

"Personally, I'd like to do away with the drug war and help people deal with addictions. I
don't think putting them in jail is a good place," Robertson said.

The 68-year-old Legislator said he tried marijuana in the 1970s.

"I found it pleasant, but it was illegal and I didn't have the need to get high," said Robertson.

He believes the public will eventually demand more common sense in national and state drug
policies.

"Politicians as are not great leaders; they are followers. Most of them follow voters,"
Robertson said.

"Why did we do away with Prohibition? Because it was bringing the country to a screaming
crime wave. The rich never stopped drinking. The bootlegger where we lived had a route
like a milkman," Robertson said.

He concedes it is still difficult for politicians to speak openly about past drug use.

"This may cost me the election and it wouldn't bother me. It's the principle," said Robertson.

Former Attorney General Jeffrey Howard, who is running for governor in the Republican
primary, said he has never tried marijuana, but acknowledges having been at parties when he
was young where other people were smoking pot.

If legislation passed decriminalizing marijuana, "I would veto it...I know from my days as a
prosecutor that it is a very harmful drug in terms of what it can do to brain cells and the risk
others are put at when they are sharing the road with someone under the influence of
marijuana," Howard said.

There is one exception to his anti-marijuana position, though.

"I believe we should give greater consideration to medicinal uses of marijuana under strict
government supervision," Howard said.

But for Twomey, who routinely represents people arrested on assorted drug charges, it is time
to take action now.

"I don't use pot and wouldn't use it if it were legal. I just see people's lives ruined day after
day after day. They are forced to spend a lot of lot of money for attorneys. When you put it
next to alcohol and tobacco, it is a harmless, benign substance," Twomey said.

"The only stigma is if you get arrested. . . I do favor legalizing marijuana. I personally think
adults should decide what they put into their own bodies. There should be strong penalties
for giving it to children," Twomey said.

He also expressed outrage that the fine for providing cigarettes to children is so small when
cigarettes are so deadly. Marijuana has never killed anyone, he said.

"I'm not urging anyone to legalize any other drugs," Twomey said.

Twomey accepts the fact that people will talk about his latest move and there might even be a
snicker or two behind his back.

"There are a lot of people out there who agree, but they are afraid to speak out," Twomey
said.

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