Thursday, May 20, 2004

Corbin man plans to walk to N.H. to push for 'free state'

Movement backs fewer laws

By Kate McCann
The Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. - The movement to bring thousands of people to New Hampshire to change it into a "free state" with fewer laws and smaller government is attracting all sorts, including a 20-year-old Kentuckian who is walking here in search of a life free from marijuana prosecution.

Randall Wolfe of Corbin, Ky., calls himself a dedicated member of the Free State Project. He drives to his job as a manager trainee at a local Taco Bell with the project's Web site spray-painted on the hood of his 1997 Dodge Neon. The New Hampshire state motto, "Live Free or Die," is along the side. He spends his spare time as a Kentucky recruiter for the project.

Wolfe figures New Hampshire, where project members hope they can grow in numbers enough to influence legislation and policy, is his best shot for marijuana reform. Wolfe began experimenting with the drug at the age of 10 and was smoking regularly at 14. He has been arrested twice for possession.

The project, the brainchild of a Yale graduate student, chose New Hampshire as its laboratory in nationwide balloting in October. Critics in the chosen state have accused the group of wanting to turn it into a haven for drug abuse, lax gambling laws, legal prostitution and gun supermarkets.

Project members dispute that depiction, though they don't deny they want to eliminate "victimless crimes" such as prostitution and personal drug use.

Members have diverse motives and goals, ranging from promoting home-schooling and school vouchers to fighting gun laws. The common thread is that all value independent thinking, project spokesman James Maynard said.

"We've struggled long and hard for freedom where we were, with mixed results. Then suddenly we found there were others thinking and acting for the same goals we were," Maynard said. "Like any wise group, we have a wide umbrella and allow people of different viewpoints to be heard and work with us."

Marijuana advocates seem to have an affinity for free-staters, however. The project was featured in the May-June edition of High Times magazine and supports NORML, a group working to decriminalize marijuana.

All of which is Wolfe's motivation for walking more than 1,000 miles.

To prepare for his journey, he walks about an hour a day and has tried to cut back on cigarettes.

He plans to leave Corbin on Sunday with the $300 he saved up, a week's worth of clothes and a new pair of Nikes. Project members are sending him donations for expenses, he said, and have offered him a place to stay when he arrives.

In New Hampshire, possession of any amount of marijuana is punishable by up to a year in jail. Wolfe said he accepts that he might never live to see legal pot.

"If it takes the rest of my life, it takes the rest of my life," he said. "If it doesn't help me out, it might help the next generation."

His exact plan to lobby for marijuana legalization is vague, but he said he intends to use his time in New Hampshire "voting for the right people" and looking for guidance from Free State leaders.

Around 30 families have moved to New Hampshire since October, joining the 230 project members already living here. Maynard said he expects 300 families this summer.

Wolfe is timing his walk to arrive for next month's Porcupine Festival in Lancaster. Organizers hope the June 21-27 gathering will be the project's largest ever.

Wolfe has taken a month's leave from Taco Bell.

"I pretty much told them, if they didn't hear from me in 30 days, I was either dead or not coming back," he said.

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