Pot Smokers to Protest Proposed Marijuana Fine Increase

METHUEN, MASSACHUSETTS – Tomorrow night’s City Council meeting might look like a rock concert, and that’s because marijuana is on the agenda. Mayor William Manzi is asking the council to increase the fine for people caught smoking pot in public. The mayor’s proposal has sparked plenty of criticism, including from local rock band Prospect Hill.

The band posted a video on the Web site youtube.com, urging fans to attend tomorrow night’s meeting to protest Manzi’s proposal.

“The bottom line is, we love doing this,” lead singer Adam Fithian said in the video while holding what appears to be a joint.

A posting on bostonfreedomrally.com says that in addition to Prospect Hill, Girls for Ganja — a group that’s creating a calendar showing pictures of girls smoking marijuana — and “concerned residents of Methuen” will be there.

“Party at City Hall,” Prospect Hill drummer Mark Roberge of Lawrence says on the video.

Manzi is laughing. Today, he posted the band’s video on his blog, billmanzi.com, and wrote, “I will bring the potato chips and twinkies. See you Tuesday.”

The mayor said he’s happy to see people take an interest in local politics, even if he doesn’t agree with them.

“It’s good that people get involved, in particular young people, in pushing a viewpoint that they think is important,” he said.

In November, 65 percent of the state’s voters approved easing the state’s marijuana laws, decriminalizing the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. People caught with a small amount will be forced to hand over the drug and pay a $100 fine, while anyone under 18 will be required to complete a drug awareness program or face a stiffer $1,000 fine.

Approximately 61 percent of Methuen voters favored decriminalizing the drug.

Last week, Manzi said he wants the council to pass a local bylaw that will increase the penalty somebody faces if they’re caught smoking dope. The bylaw could either give police the authority to criminally charge people caught lighting up in public, or slap them with a $300 fine, which would be added to the current $100 fine they face under a state law that went into effect this month.

Prospect Hill doesn’t like that idea.

“Sixty five percent of voters said ‘Yes,'” Fithian said. “So and then try to renege on this, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

In an interview today, Manzi said he does not want to instate criminal penalties, and he would like to reduce the proposed fine from $300 to $100, which would mean somebody caught smoking pot would face a total fine of $200 ($100 for smoking and $100 for possession).

Saying he’s trying to compromise with opponents, Manzi said he would look at limiting the smoking fine to people caught using the drug in parks, playgrounds and school property. People caught smoking elsewhere would only face the $100 fine for possession.

“The concern here is that we’re promoting a family atmosphere in our parks,” Manzi said.

The mayor contends that some people got the wrong idea by the referendum passed in November, and they think marijuana is now legal.

Tomorrow night’s meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Great Hall of City Hall, at 41 Pleasant St.

“Now everyone needs to go and show up and, you know, show their support,” Roberge said. “Even if you’re not going to go and speak, just go and be there.”

The extra presence should “help convince them otherwise,” he said.

– Article from The Eagle-Tribune on January 19, 2009.