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The Splitting Image of Pot

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“Ah, the good old days,” says Richard Gottfried, sitting in his state-assemblyman office on lower Broadway. Gottfried, who was a 23-year-old Columbia Law student when he was first elected as assemblyman from Manhattan’s West Side in 1970 (he’s been there ever since), is the author of the 1977 Reform Act. Hearing what people were saying about alleged police use of the “public view” phrase of the law, Gottfried rubbed at his still red-flecked professorial beard and said, “Why, if these searches are being conducted in this way … that would be a textbook example of entrapment, wouldn’t it?” He seemed shocked, absolutely shocked, that such practices were going on right here in New York City.

In 1997, Gottfried, a largely unsung hero of sane drug policy, wrote New York State’s first medical-marijuana legislation. “It stayed in committee a while,” says Gottfried. “With things like this, politicians tend to be very, very timid.” Nonetheless, Gottfried is confident medical marijuana is on the immediate horizon. It was passed by the Assembly in 2007, and Gottfried says it would have gotten through the Senate this past spring “if June 8th hadn’t happened.”

“Strange as it sounds, I think this is one issue that might actually be nonideological,” says Gottfried. “During the floor debate, these legislators, liberal and conservative, were almost in tears as they told their personal stories about how they and their loved ones had been helped by marijuana, how it brought relief from chronic pain, how it aided family members in last days of terminal diseases. It was quite moving.”

This doesn’t mean we should expect Californication 2 here, Gottfried says. “Medical-marijuana laws differ radically from state to state. There’s California and everywhere else.” In Maryland, you can’t be jailed for medical marijuana, but there’s no provision for obtaining it, which leaves elderly M.S. sufferers in the bizarre situation of having to potentially go out and score like a randy teenager. The New York version of the law will be “modest,” Gottfried says. As opposed to the “doctor’s letter” mills in Cali, permissions will be very carefully monitored, with legal possession limited to two and a half ounces. “The penalties for violating the medical-marijuana laws will be stiffer than regular possession,” Gottfried says.

What really mattered was that my kids understood that just because I used it didn’t mean they should.

If this was the best that could be done at this time, so be it. But why not simply be aboveboard about it? How many medical-marijuana patients are there really, at least compared with those who use the stuff for mental and emotional well-being, not to mention flat-out potheads?

You’re talking about recreational users?” Gottfried asked. “You’re talking about tax-and-regulate legalization?”

“Well … yeah. How do you feel about that?”

Gottfried smiled. “If marijuana had a similar status to liquor in this country, a locally controlled system of distribution, the way some states allow booze in the supermarket and some states are dry—I wouldn’t have a problem with that.” But I shouldn’t hold my breath, the assemblyman said. “We are in a period of transition. It could be a long transition.”

“I’m functioning in the shadow of something that is bound to change, except no one knows when or how,” says Francis R., who has been in the pot-delivery business for almost twenty years.

Mostly a painter “with some music thrown in,” Francis started off as a “runner” for a large Manhattan delivery service during the late eighties, in the wake of the massive drug sweeps like “Operation Pressure Point” that successfully ended the hard-drug street scene in many parts of New York. A gentrifying city had no place for such violence-prone local color. The delivery services, like the bar-based cocaine trade and the banishment of prostitutes from street corners and into “escort services,” where everything is done quietly and by appointment, proved to be a pragmatic compromise between law enforcement, human nature, and the need to keep the nightlife industry going.

In business for himself since shortly after 9/11, Francis has about 180 clients, of which 50 or so are “regular reorderers.” Employing an easy-to-park 250-cc. Japanese bike, Francis works “like 35 to 40 hours six days a week,” starting at around one in the afternoon. For this, he clears an average of about $150,000 a year, or about $1,000 “retail” on a crappy day and up to three grand on “a great day.”

Up until about 2004, Francis got much of his supply from Canada. “It was mostly indicas trucked across the country from Vancouver, then across the St. Lawrence Seaway, or Lake Erie. The first time I did this, I couldn’t believe it. It is totally dark, you couldn’t see ten feet. Then out of fog come these Indians … Indians, in canoes, paddling, like right out of the fucking Last of the Mohicans, bringing in the weed.” Eventually, however, the connection dried up. Some busts were made, but mostly the quality decreased.


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