HO HO HE WON'T GO: If Constantine loses his case, he could spend seven years behind bars, but he won't take a plea.
Sporting a long, white beard, round, gold-framed glasses, and a crown of marijuana leaves, Weeda Claus looks like a cross between Kris Kringle and Christ — with shades of Jerry Garcia.
Actually, he's the alter ego of Bob Constantine, a 52-year-old Grafton, New Hampshire, man and a strident advocate for peace, personal liberty, and having a good time. If you attended the MassCann pot rally this past fall, you might have seen him, genially repping his own special brand of herb-infused holiday cheer. So, we have to ask, what kind of humbug would want to put Weeda Claus behind bars? The Grinches at the Grafton police department, apparently.
Quoth Constantine's Facebook page: "Weeda Claus is a peaceful, jolly man who hasn't hurt anyone. But the State of New Hampshire wants to put Mr. Claus in a cold cage because he grew a plant that they don't like."
Constantine was arrested on September 4, 2009, for manufacturing marijuana on his rural New Hampshire property — exactly the kind of government interference he moved to Grafton to avoid. "I wanted to be somewhere off the beaten path and kind of be left alone," he says. Now he finds himself reluctantly embroiled in a legal battle, in which he will be representing himself.
The stoner Santa dismissed his state-appointed attorney because counsel's legal strategy didn't quite jibe with his own principles. "Like most lawyers, he advised me to take a plea," says Constantine. "I decided not to, and decided to go through the court process and all that. . . . And I had to think long and hard, because sometimes what they threaten you with can be very frightening for some people."
Weeda Claus won't go down without a struggle. He's filed motions — lots of 'em — and he's planning on seeing the trial (which has been postponed twice and is now set for April 2011) through to the end, no backing down. "If tomatoes were illegal, and I happen to like tomatoes, well, I'm going to grow them," he says. "Because I like them, and my growing tomatoes isn't going to hurt anyone."
He's not alone in his fight. Constantine is championed by Free Grafton, a grassroots group of New Hampshirites who take the "Live Free or Die" ethos very seriously and decry "victimless-crime laws." Supporters have even written songs in his honor. Grafton's Peaceful Assembly Choir put together a collection of "Weeda Claus's Chronic Christmas Carols," anti-aggression odes set to popular holiday jingles ("Drug-War Cops Are Raiding the School" to the tune of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," for example), and have been performing them at rallies and events around the state.
Weeda Claus began as a lark — on a trip to a Spencer Gifts store, Constantine's friends bought him a goofy hat and his now-signature snowy white beard. Constantine put them on, "and that's sort of how Weeda Claus was birthed." But the persona has also helped him to get through some rough days. "People probably look at it and say, 'Oh, here's some old stoner guy.' But when you're in my position, there's a lot of days you wake up and things aren't looking all that rosy," he says.