The Plassmann Chronicles: Stirring the Pot
The Ward 3 councilor tells health officials she will submit a stiff new marijuana-smoking ordinance
NORTHAMPTON – Ward 3 City Councilor Angela Plassmann appears to be back on the marijuana war path.
According to minutes from the Nov. 15 meeting of the council’s Committee on Social Services and Veterans Affairs, Plassmann said she remains focused on regulating pot consumption in the city. Her comments came during a discussion about public health operations in the city.
The invited guests that day were city Health Director Benjamin Wood and Donna Salloom, who chairs the Board of Health.
Wood presented the councilors with a report on the Health Department’s operations, and he and Salloom updated the board on ongoing programs and initiatives; the two also answered questions.
Injecting the Pot Issue
During a discussion of tobacco regulation enforcement, Plassmann offered the following comment, according to the meeting minutes, submitted by Executive Secretary Mary Midura:
“Councilor Plassmann stated that she has a strong stand on marijuana fines, and she intends to bring proposed Ordinances to the City Council floor soon. Councilor Plassmann stated that marijuana and drug use is a huge problem in the Northampton schools.”
Besides Plassmann, the committee members were Councilors Eugene Tacy and Chairwoman Marianne LaBarge.
In the past, Plassmann has said the state-imposed fine of $100 for possession of marijuana under an ounce is too low to discourage young people from smoking pot.
After reading the committee minutes in the City Council packet last week, Northampton Media called Plassmann for a comment. She did not reply.
We also asked around to see if Plassmann had submitted a draft pot ordinance. Council President David Narkewicz said he has seen nothing. Chief Sienkiewicz said he has heard nothing from the Ward 3 councilor in recent months. And Midura said nothing like that has yet been submitted for council consideration.
Viral Video and a $300 Fine
Northampton Media watchers will recall the first time Plassmann raised the subject of marijuana fines in the Committee on Social Services and Veterans Affairs.
A videotape of that February 2010 meeting, shot by Plassmann backer Adam Cohen, contained a discussion about marijuana fines up to $300, drug-sniffing dogs, escort ads, and other matters. A short clip from that video, posted by Northampton Media, went viral and caused a stir. Critics protested that the three had overstepped their bounds, one dubbing the group the “Committee on Public Morals.” (see video)
But several of Plassmann’s supporters, such as former city councilor Michael Bardsley and local bus driver Phil Brocklesby (a staple at council meetings) rose to defend the three committee members.
And last summer, Northampton Media filed an Open Meeting complaint after Plassmann and Tacy met behind closed doors with Police Chief Russell Sienkiewicz to discuss a proposed pot ordinance. The Northwestern District Attorney’s office dismissed our complaint, and Plassmann hasn’t spoken with us since. (See Northampton Media’s follow-up story by clicking here.)
At the time Plassmann met with Sienkiewicz, she was talking about $300 fines for pot smokers on public property. Nothing came of that meeting, however.
Prior to our complaint, City Council President David Narkewicz had ordered Tacy and Plassmann to stop talking about drug enforcement at their committee meetings, since it was not within the group’s purview. Apparently, Plassmann felt comfortable raising it at the November meeting.
If freshman councilor Plassmann – who ran in 2009 on a platform that emphasized stricter drug enforcement – has a new ordinance ready to unveil, she better be prepared to withstand a strong public reaction. After all, even her own ward voted overwhelmingly in favor of the successful 2008 ballot initiative that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.
So far, however, Plassmann is running a stealth operation with her marijuana ordinance. We’ll just have to hold our breath on this one.
© 2011 Northampton Media
David Reid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org