The Legalization of Marijuana

The legalization of marijuana has brought back many memories. Let me tell you a story about my life in 1967. I was struggling with heroin addiction and had finally sworn off the stuff. But back then, being clean meant just not shooting heroin.

Marijuana was a nothing drug. Everyone smoked. When I kicked heroin, my parents let me move back into their house, and three or four friends and I would play the stereo in my bedroom and smoke joint after joint to the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Leon Russell, God rest his soul, and all the psychedelic sounds that were popular in the 60s. I had a steady job and was getting promotions.

Yeah, I remember the 60s. I was there. My parents were thrilled that I’d stopped shooting heroin, and it was a no brainer that they could keep me safe from the police by having us smoke in my private sanctum instead of driving around in a car where we were at risk of being arrested for narcotics possession.

You see, that was the strange double standard of the 60s. They called marijuana a narcotic, and it wasn’t anything close to being a narcotic. You could smoke every day for weeks and then just stop and there would be no withdrawal sickness whatsoever.

Marijuana isn’t a narcotic. Not even close.

There was a group of us who always hung out together and rode our motorcycles, danced with the strobe lights at clubs in Greenwich Village, and did we ever smoke. We’d laugh, we’d eat six donuts in 15 minutes and we were always having fun.

No junk sickness—I was healthy and, like a racehorse, I would run three and a half miles almost every day of the week. I thought all my troubles were over.

Then one day this chick that smoked with us periodically came to my house with another woman and asked me if I could sell her pot. I laughed and told her I wouldn’t sell her any reefer, but I’d roll a few joints and we could smoke up together.

But they said they had someplace to be, so if I could sell them some weed, they would be very happy. I rolled up three joints and dropped them into her hand and told them to enjoy themselves—the reefer was on the house.

They said they couldn’t accept the joints for free—like, how much did I want for them? No, I told them to just take the joints and have a good time. It was during the dog days of August 1967, and it was great smoking weather.

But the chicks insisted and asked how much I wanted. I just laughed and said for them to give me a dollar and we’d call it square. I didn’t want the money, but they seemed to feel better if they gave it to me, and I didn’t want to be a bring-down so I took the dollar.

Now, it was summertime and the days passed quickly and everyone was having a good time and the grass was always cheap. But it got us high and made the music dance and that’s all that mattered to us.

So, where am I going with this story? Autumn came and the leaves changed color and it was starting to get cold. It was election season, and in two weeks, people would be voting because it was the third week of October.

I was fast asleep at 5 a.m. in the morning and there was a pounding on the front door of my parents’ house. I looked out my bedroom window and the suburban street was filled with police cars and unmarked detective cars.

My father answered the door but the police didn’t want him; they wanted me. It was the sheriff of Essex County of New Jersey, and they had a sealed indictment for my arrest for the sale of narcotics. They hustled in, picked around my bedroom a little—there was nothing there but some science fiction books—and then clamped the metal handcuffs on me and took me outside.

Flashbulbs were popping, and they walked me to a shiny black unmarked Judas car and stuffed me in the back seat. Altogether, that morning, they made 13 arrests for sale of narcotics, to whit, marijuana.

It was “old home week” at the police station. I knew almost everyone there. My sale was for three joints. The biggest buy they made was two ounces from one of my friends. They set bail at $5,000 and those of us, like me, who couldn’t make bail were trundled down to Newark Street Jail in Newark, New Jersey.

That jail was so dirty, you had to light a piece of newspaper and burn the bugs away from the toilet before you went to the bathroom. Just to let you know the nature of the justice system at that time—there were about 300 people in the jail and more than 280 were men of color. My friends and I were the minority representation, but we were all in for the count of down street.

Little by little, we got bailed out. My parents hired a lawyer and he had the bail reduced to $2,500 and my parents posted bond for me after staying in that miserable hole for four days. Remember, this was for three sticks of marijuana.

They made such a big deal out of it that we were on the front page of the Newark Star Ledger and the Livingston Tribune, which was the local newspaper in the town where I lived. They even did an editorial about it called “Where There Are Users, There Will Be Pushers.” When my boss saw that, I lost my job.

My police record was minimal before that bust, so at court I was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for two years. I had to report to a probation officer once a week.

Ironically, that was when my drug use really took off. I was angry and bitter and decided that if they were going to charge me as a dealer, I was going to become one. I had to be really careful for two years, but after my probation period was over, I went wild.

But it wasn’t the marijuana that turned me—it was the indignity of being arrested and having to register as a narcotics offender back then until that law was overturned as unconstitutional.

When I walked into the voting booth this year, I knew how I was going to vote. Marijuana is legal now and it should be. That major arrest really changed my life and limited the jobs I could find because I was a drug offender. I thank God that marijuana is legal and that people won’t have to go through what I did just because of an innocuous weed. No one ever died from an overdose of marijuana.

Now marijuana and hard drugs won’t travel in the same circles. The legalization of marijuana was the one good thing that came out of this election. I’m not going to deal with the other stuff in this column. Thanks for reading and enjoy the holidays.

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Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper’s poetry editor.

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