June 8, 2009 – Tacoma Washington – Not many students make the news just for giving a presentation at school, but Ian Barry’s speech was a little different than most. His topic was legalizing marijuana, and to make his presentation more convincing, he smoked some in front of the other students. 260xStory The response from other students at Peninsula High School in Gig Harbor, WA, was apparent from the cheers that arose from the 120 or so students in the audience.

The school administration, of course, was not so excited about his performance. “We believe in freedom of speech and encourage it, but illegal activities are absolutely not going to be tolerated in our district,” schools Superintendent Terry Bouck told the Tacoma News Tribune. Barry was sent to the principal’s office, where a police officer arrived and handcuffed the 17-year old. He was fingerprinted, photographed, and released about an hour later into the custody of his father.

He told the Tacoma News Tribune, “I see myself as someone who holds himself to a high moral value. I stand up for what I believe in.” He is now considering his options- he was expelled, but also just took the SATs in preparation for college. He has a 3.7 GPA and is negotiating with his high school to continue his classes.

The speech that started all the controversy has recently been published by the Tacoma News Tribune. In it, Barry quotes the bible, George Washington, and the 1936 movie Reefer Madness. He gives a history of marijuana laws, goes into medical marijuana, and ends with a quote from Bob Marley: “Legalize it, don’t criticize it”.

Whether his act of civil disobedience will have long term consequences remains to be seen, and a debate rages in the Tacoma News Tribune comments section. My own feelings are mixed on the issue: as a parent, I would not be happy if my child did this, but I also don’t think it warrants heavy-duty punishment. Oh, and if he does manage to get to college after all this, where does he want to go? Humboldt State University in northern California, an area known as a “weed haven.”

To read the whole speech click here.

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