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Editorial: In Pittsfield, democracy at work

By the time Dan Schroth walked to the microphone for the last time in the Pittsfield Elementary School gym, the town meeting was more than four hours old, and even he seemed to appreciate that those who remained in the crowd of 136 voters were ready to go home. Days later, we are still reflecting on the moment.

At issue was Article 23, placed on the town meeting warrant by Schroth’s petition: “Are you in favor to legalize grass in the good town of Pittsfield? Legalize in this case means no arrest, no penalty, and no tax from the town cops.”

A voice rose from the back: “What kind of grass?” This evoked weary laughter.

Schroth is a fixture in Pittsfield, a persistent fellow with a libertarian outlook who frequently brings issues big and small before the town through petition. At town meeting he was also responsible for Article 22, which called on “the Fire Chief to stop blowing the stupid fire alarm at 9 p.m.” It failed after voters were told that, without the alarm, the town’s youth curfew might be unenforceable.

Schroth felt strongly enough about the marijuana article that he distributed a one-page handout before the meeting. “10 reasons why we should legalize grass,” it began.

“#1 Ron Paul taught me no one has the right to tell me what I stick in my mouth.

“#2 The government doesn’t always get it right.”

Reasons three and four accused the government of dealing drugs, five discussed the war on drugs, and six said this: “Of the dozen or so ways to get through life, grass is probably the safest.”

That brought Schroth to the bottom of the page, where he stopped for lack of room – which brings us to two questions: What are the other ways to get through life? And what were reasons seven through 10?

We couldn’t resist.

7.) The brownies at town meeting might taste that much better.

8.) The meeting would last longer, but who would care?

9.) Some of the selectmen’s official articles were confusing, as was the debate they generated; maybe with a little marijuana in the air, the whole meeting would have made more sense.

10.) Is that a rainbow? Awesome.

Don’t get us wrong here. The issue Schroth raised is serious, and no doubt he was sincere in raising it. At the microphone, he said laws that go unenforced create disrespect for the law, then stated what might just be his life philosophy: What is the point of having democracy if you don’t use it?

You know what? He’s right.

Thanks to those who dedicated their Saturday to attending town meeting, Pittsfield will soon have a new ambulance, the library will benefit from needed repairs, and the town has $3.8 million to conduct its business for the next year.

The meeting’s response to Schroth was polite. Everyone heard him out, a follow-up speaker noted the town couldn’t override drug laws, and his article was defeated. Then, without the benefit of legalized grass, voters spent some additional time asking selectmen how they intended to proceed with one especially tangled matter, regarding the fire chief’s position, and went home.

Those in attendance did not straighten out all of Pittsfield’s issues. Last year was contentious in town, tensions persist, and there may be more contention to come. But they did use democracy, as Schroth would put it, and – messy and meandering as it may be – there’s a great deal to be said for that.

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