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My New York Marijuana Arrest Story: Like Shooting Phish Phans in a Barrel

This is exactly how it looked when Ed and I were busted outside Madison Square Garden in 2012. (NY Times photo)

Now that New York's marijuana-arrest crusade is coming to an end, many of us who got caught in NYPD's net can tell our stories. I'm one of the many thousands of New Yorkers who were busted for weed. Here's my story.

It was New Year's Eve, 2012. I usually go see Phish on New Year's Eve at Madison Square, if they're playing there. My old friend and Deadhead buddy Ed Bender and I had tickets for the show. He lives in New Hampshire and drove down earlier in the day. We hung out, had a puff and headed in his car to MSG. During the ride we shared a joint. By the time we parked the car on the fourth floor of a garage opposite the Garden on 32 St., the smoke had pretty much dissipated, or so we thought. Seconds after we pulled into a spot and opened the doors, we were surrounded by NYPD, saying they smelled marijuana. Next thing they were searching the car. They found Ed's small stash and pipe and before we knew it we were cuffed, arrested and taken downstairs.

The humiliation had begun. They searched us on the street in front of hundreds of people. During the search, they found several joints in a bag in my pocket as well as a few mushrooms. When I complained that then Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had told the force to lighten up on marijuana arrests, one cop laughed and said, "We run New York."

Sick and twisted Republican politics allowed for successive New York mayors to build their anti-crime reputations on the backs of potheads.

We were placed in a very tight, claustrophobic paddy wagon. Several of the arrestees complained about the cuffs digging into their wrists. Ed and I were separated on either side of the van. After about a half hour we were taken to the local precinct, Midtown South, on 35 St. The cuffs were removed and our belongings were placed in bags, leaving us without jackets and shoes in cold cells. I shared a cell with a dude who was selling Phish pins. He was released pretty quickly.

From the looks of things it was clear that the NYPD were shooting Phish phans in a barrel. Almost everyone in lockup was wearing a tie-dye. For years NYPD have preyed on the Phish crowd whenever the band comes to town and plays the Garden. Hundred of arrests go unnoticed.

The camaraderie was fitting in the jail. We spoke to each other through walls and cell bars. Some discussed previous arrests at places like Bonnaroo. One by one, we were either released or taken to Central Booking at the ungodly named Tombs on Centre St.

I sat wondering what they had in store for us. We both had marijuana priors in states other than New York (mine was in New Jersey, but that's another story). I worried that the mushrooms would place me in a different category, which they did. After the show, more phans arrived for booking. That combined with neighborhood drug dealers and prostitutes filled up the cells. At 2 am we were finally taken for fingerprints and photographs (I'd love to see my mug shot). At 4 am, we were released with DATs (desk appearance tickets). We stopped at a diner for breakfast, still in shock at what had just happened. Ten hours before we were about to celebrate New Year's Eve. Instead, thanks to New York's "ridiculous" pot-arrest policy, as Mayor de Blasio later called it during his 2013 campaign, we spent nine hours in jail.

Thanks to New York's 'ridiculous' pot-arrest policy, as Mayor de Blasio later called it during his 2013 campaign, we spent nine hours in jail.

While Ed was hit was a marijuana-possession charge, I was nailed with possession of a controlled substance. We hired Ed's cousin's law office to handle our court appearances, which were scheduled on the same day in the first week of February. We were both fined (I forget the amount) and I had to attend three treatment classes. Of course, we also had to pay the attorney. Stay out of trouble for a year and the charge would be wiped clean from my record.

The classes were pretty painless. I took the position that I shouldn't be there because marijuana is decriminalized in New York. When I checked the law, I realized "in public view," which is how the arrests happen, also means the odor of marijuana. The cops smelled pot coming from our car and did what the law allowed them to do - arrest us because it was in so-called "public view." Many in the classes were there for the same reason - busted at the Phish show. There were others with real substance-abuse problems and it was interesting to hear their stories. The counselors reminded us to think about risk-taking and the circumstances that led to our arrests.

In our case, we had smoked in the car. Since then, I've stopped that practice. More people get arrested for marijuana in their vehicles than any place else. If you're stopped for a traffic violation and the cop smells weed, you're screwed. I've learned the hard way to not give them that chance. You should do the same. Smoke at home, or at friends' places, or in a very private area.

Getting arrested for marijuana in this country is often the first step toward becoming a drug-law reformer. For me, I had already taken on that role. But it reminded me of the sick and twisted Republican politics that allowed for successive New York mayors to build their anti-crime reputations on the backs of potheads.

I've railed against the rising tide of marijuana arrests in New York for many years. For the longest time no one was listening. But that has finally changed. Thanks in large part to Queens College Prof. Harry Levine's Marijuana Arrest Project and the Drug Policy Alliance, New Yorkers will not have to go to jail for possessing small amounts of marijuana anymore. No more cuffs and stinky cells. No more smirking cops. Until New York legalizes it, we'll have to be content with tickets rather than arrests, which is a big step in the right direction.

Were you busted during New York's marijuana-arrest crusade? Please let us know and share your story.

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.