Buried in last week’s town meeting among hours of fiscal policy and routine business was a proposal that was of particular interest to many High School students: Article 29. The article called for levying a $300 fine for the public smoking of marijuana in addition to an already extant $100 state fine.
All attending High School Students of voting age chose to vote against the measure. One of them, a senior named Henry Lively, decided to take it a step further and spoke about the article to the assembled townspeople. In doing so, he became the first and only High School student to speak during this year's meeting.
After opening with a word of thanks to the town’s police department, he gave the following speech:
“I know that you’re probably thinking that as a teenager, all I care about is marijuana and politics [laughter]. I know that’s the stereotype that I face, and I want to say that that assumption is 100 percent false. I am here tonight as a concerned citizen for the legitimacy of the implementation of this $300 fine.
As many of you know, the voters of the commonwealth voted on question two, a statewide ballot question for the decriminalization of marijuana in 2008. This question passed in the state with 62.8% of the vote, and specifically in Holliston, 5,625 out of a possible 8,270 voted ‘yes’ for the passage of the decimalization measure. That’s 68% of the citizens in Holliston voting for decriminalization with a $100 fine.
These numbers alone should show that the citizens of Holliston, as well as a great number of citizens throughout the commonwealth and in the rest of the United States are in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana. Now you may tell me that my personal perception is wrong, but I find it extremely difficult to believe that this notion has changed drastically in the last four years.
As a result of these figures that I present to you tonight, I believe this proposed fine goes against the will of the voters, who have already cast their vote against large fines for marijuana possession and use. With this said, I respectfully urge you to vote no on Article 29 tonight. Thank you for your consideration.”
Regardless of what one thinks about the article in question (it ended up passing 98-48), it’s refreshing to see a teenager do something like this. The action of going to a town meeting in a suit and addressing hundreds of people about a political issue clashes nicely with the stereotype Henry alluded to in his opening joke.
However, I was disappointed that he didn’t delve deeper than mere numbers, although that was perhaps inevitable given the venue. After all, a group of middle aged and elderly townspeople are more likely to take a teenager seriously if he’s reciting ballot results than overtly questioning the necessity of marijuana laws.
Some of the others who spoke about article 29 did try to tie it in to the larger issue of America’s decades-long war on drugs. Even though this particular fine passed overwhelmingly, it’s undeniable that the political winds on this issue are changing.
Eventually, America is going to have to change the obtuse ways in which it deals with its drug problem. The sheer number of people arrested and imprisoned, the billions of precious dollars wasted, the ever growing human casualties of illicit drug trade, and conflicting federal and state laws make it inevitable.
The generation that Henry and I belong to may be the one that starts this long overdue conversation, one town meeting at a time.