An ongoing marijuana protest in Keene’s Central Square came to a head Saturday afternoon, as police made their first drug-related arrest since the group started gathering several days ago.
Protesters yelled everything from “Leave him alone!” to “This is how they did it in Nazi Germany!” as police took 40-year-old Richard G. Paul into custody.
Protesters advocating marijuana’s legalization were also joined on the square Saturday by several adults and children who held signs favoring drug control.
On Friday, Paul told The Sentinel he was one of the first people to meet on the square to smoke marijuana every day at 4:20 p.m. — a number identified with cannabis in marijuana subculture.
Lt. Shane C. Maxfield said Paul’s arrest on Saturday was for marijuana possession after he allegedly blew smoke into an officer’s face.
More than 50 rally-goers followed Paul and the officers to the police station at 350 Marlboro St., where at least one shouted protests through the door to the booking room and others sat, smoking, in a circle in a restricted area of the parking lot.
Although many of protesters have said they support legalizing marijuana — and the air above Central Square smelled like pot smoke — numerous people told The Sentinel they haven’t actually been smoking the drug at 4:20.
One man, who refused to identify himself, puffed on a glass pipe in front of a Keene police officer. But after the officer walked away, the man said the pipe was filled with cherry-flavored tobacco.
While sitting on a curb outside the police station, 48-year-old Chaz Munro said he would neither confirm nor deny whether he’d been smoking pot downtown.
Still, he described what he called “fakey bakey,” or substances that look and smell like marijuana.
So why protest pot prohibition by smoking something that isn’t?
“It’ll jam up the system,” said Munro, who wore a bandana over his face. And hopefully, with regards to police enforcement, he added, “It will be more trouble than it’s worth.”
While they moved to let police cruisers pass, the protesters’ smoke circle blocked a portion of the parking lot Saturday afternoon, as officers attempted to go to and from calls.
At one point, Maxfield came out to speak with the crowd and, one by one, fielded questions on everything from the charge Paul faces to whether Maxfield would arrest a cancer patient for smoking marijuana.
Maxfield — who said he wouldn’t arrest the person suffering from cancer — said he personally believes marijuana should be legal. But he told the rally-goers, “there’s a process for getting things changed,” and said that’s where their energy might be better spent.
People can either “yell about (the law)” and “have temper tantrums” or they can work to change it, Maxfield said.
Paul was released at 5:45 p.m. on $1,000 personal recognizance. He is scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 2 in Keene District Court.
By Anika Clark – Keene Sentinel