Ian Barry says he wasn’t trying to be a martyr when he lit a marijuana joint this week at Gig Harbor’s Peninsula High School, nor was he trying to pull a stunt.
Simply put, the 17-year-old junior wanted to drive home the message of his persuasive essay: Marijuana doesn’t deserve its negative stigma from society and should be legalized.
On Friday, Barry told The News Tribune that he knew what the consequences would be for his bold tactics, but he was willing to accept them.
After his speech on Tuesday, he was arrested and sent to Remann Hall juvenile detention center in Tacoma. He was ousted from school on an emergency expulsion.
He fully accepts his punishment. He faces misdemeanor charges of unlawful drug possession after police found the container that he carried the joint in and that contained marijuana residue. He also understands this will go on his record.
“I see myself as someone who holds himself to a high moral value,” Barry said via cell phone. “I stand up for what I believe in.”
News of his speech and arrest spread quickly, as local and national media outlets picked up his story.
But more importantly, he said, his story has created a dialogue about whether marijuana should be legalized.
“As Sir Isaac Newton said, ‘Every action has an equal and opposite reaction,’ ” Barry said. “I don’t think there would have been another way I could have gotten this reaction.”
Here is Barry’s account of what happened:
About a month ago, he and the rest of the students in Peninsula’s Rhetoric Revels group were asked to produce a persuasive speech. The group meets monthly to celebrate student work in English classes.
He said a classmate suggested that he present a speech on legalizing marijuana. He said he has smoked pot since he was 12, and the topic made sense because it was something in which he believed.
Barry, who has a 3.7 grade-point average, stressed that he took the assignment seriously. In fact, what was supposed to be a two-page paper turned into 15 pages.
But to prove his point and get the attention of all students, Barry decided to take the now-famous puffs.
On Tuesday, about 150 students gathered in Peninsula High’s auditorium. They had heard about his plans and wanted to see it for themselves.
When it was his turn to speak, Barry said he walked on stage and read the first seven pages.
Then, before he turned to the eighth page, he pulled out the joint that was hidden in his dreadlocks. He said he lit up, took a toke, then read the rest of his speech, occasionally stopping to take a puff.
“There was a huge cheer when I lit up,” he recalled.
Among the topics covered in his speech: marijuana’s medicinal benefits and its undeserved reputation of being harmful. It lasted about 12 minutes.
When he was done, Barry walked backstage, took a few more hits, then ate the little bit that remained of the joint.
One of his friends went to check on him backstage, then the two sat back down in the audience. A school administrator walked to Barry, escorted him out and eventually to the principal’s office.
Barry said a police officer showed up, put him in handcuffs and drove him to Remann Hall.
He was booked, fingerprinted and photographed before being released to his father about an hour later.
In the days since his speech, he’s been both defended and condemned in dozens of online comments on the story on The News Tribune’s Web site.
Barry said he’s been encouraged by some of the comments, but it’s fine if people disagree with his stance. He just hopes people realize that he was simply trying to get his message across and wasn’t afraid of his punishment.
His future is in flux. He will meet with Peninsula administrators to determine whether he should be allowed to finish classes.
He’s also looking beyond high school at college. Barry is considering a career in English or politics.
He said he’s going to take the SAT test today. His first college of choice: “California, probably Humboldt” State University, he said.
Brent Champaco: 253-597-8653