To protest on 4/20 without getting arrested, Pittsfield man smokes real grass

  • Dan Schroth rolls some real grass before smoking it at the Veterans memorial in downtown Pittsfield on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Dan Schroth smokes real grass in front of Pittsfield police at the veterans memorial in downtown Pittsfield on Wednesday. Visit concordmonitor.com for a video of Schroth’s protest in Pittsfield. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Dan Schroth lights up his last grass cigarette at the veterans memorial in downtown Pittsfield on Wednesday. Schroth is a marijuana activist critical of the state’s laws on the drug. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 4/20/2016 7:17:56 PM

A Pittsfield man found a legal way to smoke grass in protest of what he says are harsh laws regulating marijuana on Wednesday, an unofficial holiday for fans of the drug.

Reasoning that he didn’t want to add to the hundreds of thousands of marijuana-related arrests each year, Dan Schroth brought a pack of rolling papers and a baggie of literal grass – hay cut from a farm in Vermont – to his demonstration at a downtown veterans memorial. 

“I call it Vermont third-cut kush,” he said, referencing a popular strain of marijuana.

Schroth, who is a stone wall builder, tried last month to get the residents of Pittsfield to support his petitioned warrant article to legalize and tax marijuana in town, even if it was only a symbolic gesture. When his effort was thwarted at town meeting, he pledged April 20 (or 4/20) as his next stand – a number that’s synonymous with marijuana in certain circles.

And as is customary for other advocates of looser marijuana laws, a crowd of about 50 people also gathered in front of the State House and started smoking about 4:20 p.m. 

Rep. Glen Aldrich, a Gilford Republican, showed up at the Concord protest in a “don't tread on me” hat to take photos.  

Arresting people for marijuana possession, he said, makes it hard for people to get well-paying jobs.

“It’s ridiculous we’re stigmatizing these kids,” he said. 

Neither demonstration resulted in any arrests.

Last week, while Schroth was doing stone work in Chichester, he said he was visited by Pittsfield police Chief Jeff Cain, who told him that he’d be arrested if he smoked marijuana in public. At first, he was ready to accept that fate.

“I told him I’ll make sure I have clean underwear on. I figured I’d be arrested and they’d make me strip, you know,” he said.

But then he thought better of that idea, with the help of some unofficial legal advice from the attorney for whom he’s currently doing stone work. The decision to go with hay instead – which he said has greater health risks than marijuana – shows a side effect for people who are arrested for marijuana possession and subjected to drug tests. They often choose to abuse alcohol or more dangerous drugs that don’t linger in a person’s system and appear on drug tests, he said.

He said he tested out smoking hay before Wednesday to see what it’s like.

“This is tough. After two hits, I’m light-headed. Four hits, my throat hurts. Oh yeah, this is bad,” he said.

He took 60 puffs, one for each American imprisoned for life on marijuana charges, he said.

Schroth served in the Navy between 1975 and ’81, he said, spending most of that time trying to get kicked out.

He was put on “a list of pot smokers” and sanctioned multiple times. He was removed from the nuclear submarine, where he used to sneak into the boiler room and get high, and eventually tried to make himself into a living administrative headache by being caught smoking so many times, he said.

“Finally, I couldn’t take it no more and I went to the commanding officer and I said I want to die, but I don’t want to kill myself. Can you get together a firing squad?,” he said. “Those were the magic words. They sent me home.”

It wasn’t until last year that he became something of an activist, advocating for the relaxation of penalties for marijuana crimes. He said he was shocked to learn that nationwide 60 people were imprisoned for life on marijuana charges and more than 700,000 people were arrested last year.

On Thursday, the state Senate will vote on a proposal to reduce the penalties for possessing up to a half-ounce of marijuana by making it a violation that carries a $100 fine on the first offense.

Twenty states and Washington, D.C., have decriminalized marijuana – including all other New England states – making possession of small amounts of the drug an infraction or a low-level misdemeanor as opposed to a state crime, according to the National Conference for State Legislatures. 

Under current state law, possession of up to an ounce of the substance is a misdemeanor that can result in three years imprisonment and a $25,000 fine.

Even if Schroth can’t change the laws, he said, he could make his voice heard Wednesday to passers-by who honked and brought him Girl Scout cookies.

“Politics is a losing game, so no, I don’t expect to win anything,” he said. “At least we said something.”

(Allie Morris contributed to this story. Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)




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