Just a NORML Day – Busted with Keith Stroup, Part 2

Part II: Breakfast…

(continued from Part I)

I distinctly remember feeling relaxed and unintimidated as the young cop led us into a large yellow tent marked “POLICE”. 

Things were just getting started.

The first busts of the day were just coming in and, as we were among them, our gray hair set us apart.

“What have we got here?” The booking officer smiled.  He was seated with another officer behind a long folding table.  The place was crawling with cops.

“Class D possession,” said the undercover. 

You two should know better,” the booking officer cracked. 

He was looking at the hair.  He had no idea who we were.

“We do,” I said cryptically. 

“All right.  Empty your pockets.”

Keith and I were booked simultaneously.  The two seated policemen asked us questions as another cop led a pair of sixteen-year olds into the tent in handcuffs.

“Here’s some more,” he said.

I gave the booking officer my I.D. and he asked me what I do for a living.

I told him.


He looked at me as if I was speaking another language.

“Wait!” I said, “It gets better!”

I turned towards Keith and slapped him on the shoulder and said “I’m the associate publisher of High Times and this guy is the founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws!”

I’m sure I was beaming when I faced to the arresting officer and said, “Oh, and by the way, all of this on the record”

“I don’t give a fuck,” he said.  I took him at his word.

There was one cop with a thick Boston accent who was obviously in charge.

“You gonna write about this?”

“Oh yeah.”

Keith Stroup photo by Scott Gacek

“You know, you guys come here every year for one day and then you leave town.  But every year we bust fifty-sixty kids for drugs here.  Every year.  Now they got a record.  Now they can’t get a job.”

“You think we’re responsible for that?”

“Every year these kids get busted.”

“I’m sure that’s true and I’m sure that’s a tragedy,” I admitted, “but that’s a microcosm.  You want to hear about a macrocosm?  What’s really going on is that 800,000 people get busted for marijuana every year!  And 700,000 of that number is for simple possession — not dealing, no weight, just simple possession.  And 400,000 of that number are under 25 years old!  They’re the ones you’re talking about, the ones that have a record, that can’t get a job, that can’t get a student loan.”

It was my turn to be on fire. 

“And if we just sit back and do nothing that’s going to happen again next year and the year after that, however,” and I slapped Keith on the shoulder again, “if Keith and I do our jobs right today, then maybe next year you guys can go back to arresting criminals.”

“We’re arresting criminals right now!” a superior officer chimed in. “Every year we arrest people on weapons charges. They bring guns into the park.”

“How many do you arrest on weapons charges?”

“One or two every year.”

“You got ten thousand people here every year minimum!” I shot back. “You get ten thousand people together anywhere in Boston, and there’s gonna be a couple of guys got guns.”

A couple of guys with guns and badges grumbled appreciably, which I took as begrudging assent.

“But I’ll tell you what,” I added generously, “I’m being coy here. I’m not making out like there’s no criminal element here.  I’m sure you do catch guys with guns and I’m sure you guys see the worst case scenarios.” 

I turned to the Top Cop. “Let me ask you a question.  How long have you been on the force?”

“Eighteen years.”

“You’ve been a cop in Boston for 18 years,” I repeated.  “You know, I don’t know you but I can say something with dead certainty…” 

I looked him dead in the eye.

“Be honest,” I said, “You know marijuana’s not a problem, right?  You know that pot smokers aren’t the ones out there committing crimes?”

“No, I don’t know that.  We pick up guys with guns.”

“That’s dealing you’re talking about.  Nothing wrong with dealering, but there’s a lot of assholes out there who will sell anything that’s illegal.  You do know that.  But you make marijuana legal, you make pot available, and, like I said, I smoke my pot and you go back to going after bad guys.” 

I smiled.  “Let’s do what we do best.”

“What about cancer,” piped one of the undercovers from back of the table.

I stepped back and turned to my mentor.  “Keith, you want to take this one?”

The founder of NORML stepped forward and said “Well, actually the latest research just came out this year, a new study put out by Dr. Donald Tashkin at the University of California in Los Angeles.  He’s been a leading researcher for many years and he found that it appears…” and I recall Keith repeating himself for emphasis, “It appears, that there is no correlation between marijuana smoking and lung cancer, and that it some cases, they even found that it can actually help prevent tumors from forming.” 

Smooth as silk. 
Tag team activism among the Philistines. 
I was having the time of my life. 

Dr. Lester Grinspoon, Keith Stroup & Rick Cusick Boston Feedom Rally 2014

As Keith did his thing I looked outside the holding tent, beyond the outer gate, and I saw Allen St. Pierre visibly upset, craning to get a look at what was going on.  I caught his eye and mouthed the words, “Okay.  It’s okay” and the undercover kid, the arresting officer, asked me what I was doing.

“Our friend is out there.  See?  He’s worried and I’m just saying we’re okay”

“Don’t make any signs or signals to anyone.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Step behind the line and stay there.”

The booking officer asked me to come back up to the table to recheck my ID.  They thought I was Keith, and Keith was me.  We straightened them out definitively and I observed, “You know, we’re the ones who are stoned here.”

Top Cop was behind the table now.  The paperwork was nearly completed, and it was time to bag the evidence.  He said loudly, “Do we have the contraband here?”

“Right here, Lieutenant.”

The arresting officer held up a large freezer-sized baggie with a zip-lock top. 

Nestled on the bottom was one-third of a smoked joint. 

I swear the room went silent at the obvious absurdity.

The Lieutenant slowly looked at the baggie, looked at me, looked at the arresting officer and said with undue deliberation.

“You’ve Got To Be Fucking Shitting Me!”

I said, “That’s my sentiments exactly!”
as the undercover kid simultaneously barked, “’Quantity is not a consideration!’”

You could hear the quotation marks in his voice, and I got the feeling that the Lieutenant had said those very words earlier that day, when he sent his troops into the smokey field of battle.

The booking officer behind the table said, “You’re not taking this very seriously, are you?”

I bent my finger back on the tabletop so I wouldn’t put it in his face.  I spoke with great deliberation

“I will stand up.  I will sit down.  I will do as you ask because I am in your custody.  But one thing I will not do…”  I sneered, “I will not take this seriously.”

A few of the cops were sympathetic, a few were uninterested, the top cop was a professional and the undercover kid was humorless.  He didn’t give a fuck.

After the booking was done the Top Cop told us we were going to be released in our own recognizance.  He explained, in good faith, that we were supposed to be ejected from the park for the rest of the day, but he smiled and assured us that if we walked around to the other side of the park, no one would stop us from reentering.

We were given summonses to appear in court in three weeks and were sent on our way. We walked out of the tent into the crowd.  We did not leave the park.  The rain had stopped and the Commons was filling up nicely.  It was going to be a beautiful day.

Continue to Part III.

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