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Adrian: High Drama

Under English common law, the crime of mayhem involved maliciously injuring another person so that he would be unable “to defend himself or annoy his adversary.” The colloquial definition of mayhem now entails causing rowdy disruption or confusion. And I would argue that the recently proposed legislation to outlaw alcohol by several members of the Vermont House to underscore the double standard that applies to the sustained proscription of marijuana, comes close to qualifying as political mayhem.

Just to be clear, this was not a simple press conference called to expose the hypocrisy of allowing one substance, while continuing to criminalize the other. Rather, actual legislation was formally proposed and sent to committee.

Vermont has a long and colorful history of political protests, be it the “Winooski 44” occupying Senator Stafford’s office over arms shipments to the Contras in 1984; the more recent groups arrested at Vermont Yankee and Vermont Gas; or the frequent and always colorful Bread and Puppet protests; sometimes it seems like all of Vermont’s a stage – especially when it comes to politics. Like the time in 2009, when several Burlington City Council members, concerned about pending legislation, made numerous points of order, using parliamentary procedure to fire up debate, only to have the police called in by leadership.

In fact, when responding to a memorable performance by several F-35 protestors, former Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss underscored Vermont’s deep connection to political theater by saying “It’s a theater I’m familiar with, because I was in it in the 60s.” But it seems to me that intersection of theater and procedure pales in comparison to the recent pot protestations – which I think reach a new level of meta, until now practically unprecedented under the 14th star.

After the press conference, one of the legislators told a national news outlet that the bill banning booze was proposed “basically to embarrass leadership” to move on the pending bills for cannabis legalization - a clear admission that the law proposed was nothing more than a farce, attempting to draw attention to an entirely distinct, albeit related issue.

And it certainly worked. Coverage on the proposed alcohol ban spanned the blogosphere from the Huffington Post to Wonkette; from The Cannabis to The Daily Chronic to NY Magazine.

But to be blunt, I think this bit of Mary Jane mayhem may have sacrificed the long-term value of the main event for a short-term sideshow – and only time will tell if this joint effort will go up in smoke.