And because weed is the most common product in the illegal drug trade, there is always an opportunity to make an arrest.
“I'm a big supporter of marijuana,” says West Philly-born rapper Tone Trump, as he and his boy Smutty blaze a sweet-smelling blunt inside a burgundy Acura parked outside the house Trump grew up in near 54th and Market streets. “It’s natural, it’s relaxing. We smoke the Gucci of weed … official fucking purple [haze].”
Trump says the entire weed culture is a lose-lose situation for inner-city blacks. As the demographic most likely to be arrested for pot possession and use, they’ve become both the victims of marijuana prohibition’s policies and the target audience for the drug’s use.
“That shit is a set-up,” Trump says. “Walk into any store in the hood … you’ll see cigars,” says the rapper, looking relaxed in a burgundy Phillies hat, a black T-shirt and baggy jeans. “They got strawberry and blueberry … they’re putting sexy girls and Lil Wayne on the blunt covers. They’re doing so many things to beautify weed … It’s just like when you watchin’ TV, the commercial they show you is for the demographic they think is watching.
“When they put [rappers on wrappers] … they market that shit directly to these kids. If you stand in the corner store for 20 minutes, and think about what the people are buying … Blunts is the common purchase.”
Trump, who was busted last year for possessing less than a gram of weed, believes nobody should be convicted for smoking weed. “We got all these legal accessories for marijuana. And then you can’t smoke it. It’s kinda hypocritical.”
The hypocrisy became abundantly clear just last month, when the state Supreme Court struck down a city ban on cigars and rolling papers, saying that only the state can regulate tobacco products. The ban had quietly been in place since 2007 when Councilman Brian O’Neill pushed through the bill that would prohibit these products, but it was never enforced—the tobacco industry won an injunction almost as soon as the ink dried. The city became aware of paraphernalia in 2005 when local anti-drug activists noticed an abundance of cigars and rolling papers popping up in Sunocos and Wawas in well-to-do neighborhoods, many of which were right next to high schools, and saw this legal drug paraphernalia as a “welcome” sign to kids.
But really, not a whole lot has changed since the war on weed began decades ago. The kids are still smoking.
On a different day outside room 404, black men gather in the hallway near the bench to talk about legalization.
An especially young-looking kid walks out, looking left, then looking right, before he chimes in. He’s younger than the rest but his feelings are the same. “It seems silly to spend all this money [criminalizing] weed,” he says. “Weed should be in the drugstore, like right next to the aspirin.” An older guy chimes in: “It’s not a drug, it’s a plant. The man upstairs put it here.”
The men are alone in the hallway, but every now and then a couple lawyers pass by. They lower their voices temporarily, as if even the mention of enjoying weed will get them arrested.
“If the cops can’t find a suspect, they’ll grab whoever’s outside,” one of them says. As much as the guys outside 404 love talking about weed, they love talking about the cops more. “They’ll take it out on the community.”
Another says: “Yeah, and how did [the undercover narcs] get those clothes? They’re always showin’ up in different uniforms. Starbucks. Comcast. Shit!” The group erupts in loud laughter.
At that moment, a sharply dressed couple walks out. They look out of place—the unofficial dress code in Room 404 is a hoodie, jeans and sneakers. The couple, who use air quotes when they talk about not living a “black” neighborhood, is split over legalization. He isn’t sure. She’s definitely against it: “It’s one thing to be against the arrests; it’s another to be for legalization.”
The other men look at her but don’t comment. They clearly don’t see a difference. As they talk, more men exit—instructions in hand—and join in. They don’t know each other, but in way, they do. They’re brothers in the war on weed.
While pop culture has been connecting women and weed for a few years now—there’s Showtime’s Weeds, of course, and a smattering of articles in women’s glossies with titles like “Stiletto Stoners” and “Marijuana Moms”—the organized campaign to change drug laws has also been bringing women and weed together.
NORML has long considered the widespread acceptance of medical marijuana the clearest path to its ultimate goal—across-the-board legalization of marijuana—so getting a medical marijuana law passed in Pennsylvania is a priority for the PhillyNORML crew. But there was nary a mention of one of the most persuasive arguments out there—one recently adopted by NORML—for the end of marijuana prohibition: That legalization can and should be looked at as a civil rights issue.
If you’re looking for something to help mark the day, there’s a few things going on around town. Note: Some of these events are on the down-low, so you might have to do a bit of extra work on your own to get all the details.
The 2014 Philadelphia Spring Guide
PW's Winter Coffee Tour