The Peace Deal

Entry by: JHK

16th February 2015
The mayoral office was hot, the air close and moist. Greta squirmed uncomfortably in her wool suit. In nearly twelve years as mayor, she had never managed to persuade her councillors to let her install air conditioning. As men, they could all wear chinos and polo shirts in the summer months. She felt she owed it to herself to look smart, whatever the weather.

Well, she wouldn't have to put up with it her stuffy office for much longer. In two months' time, on September 1st, there would be a mayoral election - and, for the first time in almost two decades, Greta Dunne would not be standing. This was her last working day before the summer recess. Once the elections were done, she would finally be free to tend to her cottage garden, recently neglected, and perhaps take a few more visits up to London to see her grandchildren.

But first, and unpleasant decision lay before her. On her desk was a proposal, just over fourteen pages long, for a mayoral decree. It had been concocted by her councillors; only last night had she learnt of its content.

She riffled through the decree's pages once more, taking nothing in. Greta knew its contents well enough. Staring out of the window at the brightly coloured tents scattered on the village lawn, she wondered how it had come to this.

She felt that the local judiciary was partly to blame. As a former solicitor herself, Greta had little sympathy with incompetent or inconsistent application of the law. Normally, the regional officials manning the court were competent enough. However, in March, two judgements has coincided, judgements which might independently have been routine enough, but which in combination cast into stark relief the contradictions and hypocrisies of the law.

The first was a particularly nasty case alleging Grievous Bodily Harm. The defendant was Matt Brooks, a local electrician whose son played for a nearby League One football team. Drunk at a bar in town one evening, he propositioned a younger woman who was visiting their town for a hen party. (Greta herself regretted that these raucous gatherings so regularly availed themselves of her town's amenities, but she had to admit that the hens and stags were good for the local economy.) Rejecting Mr Brooks's advances, the woman in question proceeded to tease him about his large bald patch and heavy gut. Her words, transcribed for eternity on the court register, were apparently, 'You look like a sack of shit mate, why the hell would I wanna fuck you?'

Wound up by her words, and sore with humiliation, Mr Brooks smashed a bottle over the woman's head.

The other case was more subtle.

Perhaps a few days previously, Alice Parsi had been preparing for a house party. She had just qualified as a nurse, and had invited a bunch of friends round to celebrate this fact. Some were local lads and girls she had known growing up; others she had met at university, where she had been away studying for the past three years. Her parents had consented to her use of their house for the weekend, and taken themselves away to a B&B in Scarborough, where they had taken their honeymoon a quarter-century previously. In preparation for the party, Alice thought it would be fun to get some marijuana. She had enjoyed smoking it as a teenager, and the older guy she used to buy it from was still around.

She expected the guests to start arriving from about 10pm. At 8pm, a heavy knock came at the door. It was the police. They seized her £200 stash of weed, and arrested her. Nobody had told Alice that her old dealer had become an informer.

These two cases arrived in the town magistrates' court within twenty-four hours of each other.

Mr Brooks pleaded guilty. He had been under the influence of alcohol at the time, and he had been provoked. Not that this was any defence, of course: he regretted his actions immensely. It was well known that Mr Brooks's wife had died after a long battle with breast cancer two years earlier. His son was something of a local hero. He received a six-month sentence, suspended, and returned to work.

Alice pleaded guilty for possession, but innocent of the more serious charge of intent to supply. Yet it was obvious to anyone that she didn't plan to smoke all that dope herself. She was sentenced to ten months in prison, of which she would serve at least six. She was struck off the medical register, within weeks of passing her exams.

The perceived injustice of the two rulings caused uproar. On one hand was simply a young person wishing to have a bit of fun; on the other, was a violent man who had mutilated a woman's face. It was picked up by the local paper, and then the national papers. The story ran for weeks, with new angles regularly discovered: the magistrate in question was a fan of Mr Brooks's son's football team; Alice's dealer had been in touch with police before selling her the weed, which was surely entrapment.

Hippies had flocked in from across the country to protest at Alice's harsh treatment. They had taken over the village green, which had started to take on the appearance of a small rock festival, albeit surrounded by the square's immaculate grade-1 listed tudor buildings.

It was impossible to park in the town for rusting VW Beetles and floridly decorated camper vans. The town's sole music shop, which had been struggling so much recently, was flourishing. The supermarket had begun to stock quinoa and lentils. And every evening, above the campsite, rose a haze of bluish smoke.

And so this. Something had to be done. Instead of throwing these people out with expensive force, the councillors argued, why not make our town a beacon of freedom. This mayoral decree would legalise the sale, purchase and consumption of cannabis on licensed premises, for the first time anywhere in Britain. It had been nicknamed 'The Peace Deal', after the 'peace' signs scattered across the hippies' tents and cars.

Greta sighed deeply. Weed had been around when she was at university, of course, and she had smoked it once or twice. She didn't care for it much, the lightheadedness, the loss of control. A friend of hers had once had a severe psychotic attack that haunted him for years. And she found the hippies embarrassing: paunching, white-haired men with their shirts open to the belly, homely women with deeply lined faces and sparkling eyes.

But here was an opportunity to stand up for freedom, for people's right to do what they wanted, as well as for Alice, whom Greta thought had been terribly hard done-by.

This was not the easy path. Greta would be required to defend this highly unusual decree in court, and perhaps before Parliament. It would not be the quite retirement she had planned.

She sighed deeply, and flicked to the final page. She inked her initials in assent, for the last time. G.D. There.

Outside, a young girl and her brother squealed with laughter, as they chased a pink kite around the square.