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In wake of relaxed pot laws, Dublin passes new ordinance

Union Leader Correspondent

November 12. 2017 9:16PM
DEA agents took a U-Haul truck full of evidence from Keene head shop Phat Stuff in May 2014, part of a nationwide crackdown on the sale of synthetic drugs. (MEGHAN PIERCE/CORRESPONDENT)

DUBLIN — A new town ordinance has been adopted by the Select Board in response to the state’s more relaxed laws regarding marijuana possession.

Proposed by Dublin Police Chief Tim Suokko, it levels a fine for possession of drug paraphernalia — anything used to consume, transport or package illegal drugs, he said.

“It’s essentially the same as getting a parking ticket and it’s a $150 fine,” Suokko said.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill earlier this year that makes possession of under three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana a civil violation instead of a criminal misdemeanor. The law went into effect in September.

For the first and second offense, there is a $100 fine, with no jail time. The fine amount rises to $300 for the third offense within a three-year window. And you can be charged with a misdemeanor for a fourth offense within that three years.

Suokko said the new law is cumbersome for officers out in the field.

“It’s really kind of ridiculous the way they have it set up right now, the practically of it; we’re not out there with scales weighing everything,” he said.

The neighboring town of Jaffrey has had a drug paraphernalia ordinance since 1994.

“Now that marijuana has been decriminalized, I suspect that we may be using the ordinance on a more frequent basis as it is similar in consequence to personal possession of marijuana,” Jaffrey Police Chief Bill Oswalt said in an email.

He noted: “the officer would have to be able to prove that its primary and intended purpose would be for the consumption of illegal drugs. That element can be a bit elusive but, again, it depends on the circumstances of the discovery and a totality of what the officer observes.”

The city of Lebanon adopted its drug paraphernalia ordinance in 1982.

“We do use that particular city ordinance frequently and we will undoubtedly continue to do so. It gives our officers and prosecutors options in addressing violations of this nature,” Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello said in an email.

Phat Stuff raid

Regardless of town and city ordinances, state and federal laws remain in place criminalizing the possession of drug paraphernalia.

Phat Stuff on Main Street in Keene was included in a Drug Enforcement Administration nationwide synthetic drug crackdown in May 2014. The former headshop was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration for among other charges, selling drug paraphernalia. The owner, Panos Eliopoulos, had made his own glass pipes and would often create the glass pipes in the Main Street storefront.

Following the raid, Panos Eliopoulos and his wife, Katie Eliopoulos, were indicted by a federal grand jury on felony charges of one count of conspiracy to offer drug paraphernalia for sale and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Two years later, Panos Eliopoulos pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor “causing misbranded drugs to be introduced into interstate commerce.”

Keene activist Ian Freeman said municipalities in New Hampshire need to repeal drug paraphernalia laws, not create more.

“Apparently the chief (Suokko) and town council just can’t let go of the insane war on drugs and just have to keep pushing to extract more money and obedience from peaceful cannabis users who are our neighbors, co-workers, and friends,” Freeman said.

Public Safety Local and County Government Dublin