A reader adds to the classic Dish series:
I’m a long-time reader for many reasons. I’m a writer, Anglophile, was raised Catholic, and have a gay ex-husband whom I love dearly. I’ve also been a long-time crusader against the ridiculous war on marijuana. About a month ago, I experienced firsthand the persecution that comes from these terrible laws. I want this story to get out, so that I can help open eyes in any way I can.
For starters, some background. I’m a 34-year-old woman, divorced in 2006, who has since struggled to put my life back together and garner some stability. I feel like I’ve done a pretty damn good job, and quite frankly, in the absence of therapy, marijuana has been helpful in managing stress and thinking through issues stemming from childhood abuse so that I can be a whole and healthy person. I don’t do it in the street, or in cars, or in public at all. I keep it to myself, behind closed doors, in the privacy of my own home. I don’t sell, and only have enough on hand for personal enjoyment.
A few years back, I was able to get my financial life together and go back to school to (finally) finish the BA that has eluded me due to these personal and financial issues, with a plan (still in the works) to follow my ultimate dream: moving to England to get my MA and PhD and make a go at a career as a historian and writer, so I can leave the restaurant industry behind. Well, after 17 years (!!), I graduated with honors in May. I easily worked 80-90 hours per week, with a two-hour commute to school each way, to make this happen. I can’t tell you the triumph I felt walking out of my last final. Too bad it was short lived.
I live in an apartment building in Alexandria, which as a former DC person, you know is the liberal bastion of northern Virginia. Apparently this does not extend to police harassment. In March, I was at home, minding my own business, when I heard a knock on my door.
It was a forceful knock (everyone knows how the police knock) and when I looked through the peep hole, I saw a person I did not know wearing blue who claimed to be “building maintenance”. My father is an attorney, and I interned at the Marijuana Policy Project a few years ago, so the first words out of my mouth were “do you have a warrant?”. It was amazing how quickly Officer “Building Maintenance’s” attitude changed. I was told that he did not need a warrant because he had “plain smell”. I told him that I knew that wasn’t true, and that I was not opening the door without a warrant.
I was then told that if I did not open the door I was “obstructing justice” and that I was “under arrest right now” if I didn’t open the door. I informed the officer that he was violating my Fourth Amendment rights and that I was not opening the door without a warrant, so we seemed to be at an impasse. I also informed Officer “Building Maintenance” (who never identified himself as an officer) that I was not clothed, and he told me to open the door anyway.
I ended up climbing out of my bathroom window to end the harassment, and eventually he went away. I was astounded that this happened, and took steps to contain the smell even better. I started exclusively using a vaporizer and burning candles and spraying absurd amounts of air freshener. I was worried, though, that I became some sort of white whale to Officer “Building Maintenance” because he didn’t scare me into opening the door that day with his threats. I was also disgusted that some busy body in my building couldn’t mind their own damn business. This is MY PERSONAL SPACE and what I do in it should be none of your concern. But my attempts to be as inconspicuous and inoffensive as possible while still living my life the way I choose weren’t good enough for these crusaders.
Fast forward to May, the day after my last final. The week that was supposed to be full of triumph for achieving a goal that had eluded me for half my life, and to celebrate my perseverance. I got home after a long shift at work (after midnight), to an apartment that looked as if a hurricane had blown through it. I honestly thought that I had been robbed (photos attached). Then I noticed that my TV was still there, as was my computer. I was confused.
Then I looked at my wall. There was a search warrant tacked to it with a cop’s card that says “call me”. The mix of emotions that washed over me were overwhelming: fear, anger, relief (that I wasn’t there and that my poor kitty had died a few months earlier before going through that kind of trauma), and what the hell am I going to do?
I texted a friend for support, started attempting to clean up (I’m still not done with that, by the way), and searched the Internet for “marijuana lawyer”. I’ve always known that justice in this country depends upon the representation that you can afford, and I knew that at this point my amateur’s knowledge of the law wasn’t going to cut it. I also wasn’t going to cut any kind of deal with these bastards to rat anyone out for leniency, because I have principles.
Luckily, I have been saving for two years to make my dream of graduate school come true, and what they found was laughably minor (a coaster with literally a pinch of weed on it in my freezer … another part of my attempt to be as unobtrusive as possible). At about 3AM, totally exhausted and stressed, and having not made a dent in the destruction, I knew that I had to get out of my apartment. I had to work for the next three days, and there was no way I would be able to get any kind of rest there. I also didn’t want the police to come back without my having legal representation. So I took pictures of the apartment and the warrant, then packed my bags and walked to a hotel in the middle of the night, with a supportive friend on the phone.
The next day I heard back from the attorney, and spent all of my savings ($3000) to retain her, while at the same time being afraid that I would be evicted. I sent her pictures of the warrant and gave her all of the absurd information about what was “seized”. She told me to be prepared to be arrested at any time (even at work … god what a nightmare) and to keep my phone on me. She told me that she would try to arrange for me to “turn myself in, but that if it went to trial we could probably get the whole thing thrown out”.
I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. I had never even heard of search warrants being obtained for busting up “smoking weed alone on your couch watching Mad Men” rings. And the justification for the warrant was ridiculous in itself. The incident where the officer did not identify himself was cited, and another incident was simply made up. Dirty police work all over the place.
A little while later, I heard back from my lawyer. She noticed that my name wasn’t on the warrant, which most likely meant that the officer’s information was scant and that there was not likely to be a warrant for my arrest without a name. So instead of calling the officer, she emailed him with the attitude of “what the hell”. She immediately heard back, and told me that she thought he was looking for information on me to escalate the situation. She told me if anyone approached me regarding this situation to tell them to speak to my attorney and give them her information. I spent a week living on friend’s couches, mostly because I was scared to go home due to the unbelievable personal violation. What a way to celebrate my graduation!
However, just like I already knew, justice depends on the kind of representation you can afford. My hiring an attorney effectively ended this once they knew they could not intimidate me into flipping on anyone, and that the pinch they found in the freezer would not stand up in court. So this turned out as “well” as could be expected, I suppose. I’m only out my dignity, celebrating my graduation, the savings for making my dreams come true, my sense of security in my own home, and any sense of respect for the police. I also am not free to relax behind closed doors in the way that I choose because some asshole in my building doesn’t like it. Also, they sliced up my bedspread in their “search” (god knows why). That’s being “fortunate” in this type of situation.
So that’s my story. Keep up the good fight. I know that I intend to. I’m going to finally get to England, too.