The one-hitter in my pocket makes me a criminal. All day, every day, the little dugout full of “break glass in case of panic attack”/general hospitality green means that at any time, I could be placed at the mercy of the NYPD. To be fair, this isn’t quite as bad as being accosted by, for example, a Georgia State Trooper, but it’s obviously less preferable than not being accosted at all, especially for something much of the country feels shouldn’t even be a crime.
Because of the one-hitter, anything else that may draw the long attention of the law is doubling down on my criminal behavior and should be avoided. The one-hitter means that to the police, I am more or less beyond consideration: I ask for whatever I get. The kicker is that even though cannabis has been decriminalized in the city for decades, the NYPD has only recently decided to acknowledge this decriminalization. Some precincts have yet to join the party at all. When I break this unwritten “one crime at a time” rule, it’s a rare occasion and generally doesn’t work out well. To wit:
It’s a great day in New York, one of the few every year where the weather is remarkable enough to make up for the trash-smelling, sweat-soaked summers and frozen-fogged four-blizzard winters alike. And because of this rare condition—the outside world not reminding the city of its dominance—a feeling of hubris overtakes me as I begin the mile-ish walk from Dinosaur BBQ, where I’ve just had lunch, back home. I stop in a bodega on 4th Avenue, buy a 16-ounce domestic beer and ask for a paper bag. Then, I start my stroll.
Before the first mouthful of lager has made it all the way to my stomach, the unmistakable bark of authority comes from just behind me. A cop car has turned onto 4th Avenue and is now facing the wrong way, blocking half a lane of traffic and complete with both uniformed officers staring right at me. “Hey! Is that open?”
However this ends, it will be with me browning my nose against the foul-smelling backside of the City of New York in one way or another. The only thing to be determined is the degree. In retrospect, I hesitate to think too hard about what might have happened to any of my non-white or more physically imposing friends in the same situation. In the moment, I’m not unaware of the fact that for a lot of people I care about, the one-hitter could probably be called “possession with intent.” I even manage to feel guilty. In any case, one thing I definitely don’t want to do right away is lie.
“This? No, it’s just an empty can.”
“Come over here.”
During the 15 minutes it takes the officers to run my license, another cop car pulls up to the original one, back to front in that weird cop-car 69 law officers are so fond of. Then another one pulls up and 69s with the second. There are now three cop cars blocking 4th Avenue, and the one-hitter in my pocket feels like a burning ember is stuck inside. The cop in the driver’s seat of the original car looks me over one last time before handing me a $25 ticket and making me pour the contents of the can into the street.
Are you over 18?
The cars go their separate ways and traffic starts moving towards Flatbush Avenue again. I walk South and break the glass in case of panic attack. I’ve dodged a bullet, and all because the officer decided not to put its hands on me, as the NYPD loves to assert its right. I hope that my story is typical, and that all New York smokers, regardless of appearance, are getting away with $25 tickets, but I know that’s not the case.