There’s a cop in my living room. He’s taller than I am, younger too – badass bald with a trim mustache while I am all hair and too many years. I can tell from smell of him he smokes cigars.
He is in my home on a property matter – nothing criminal – and he has questions. So he knows I rent my home, that I’m separated from my wife and that I live on the mountainside with my young daughter. She is seven and sleeping in her bedroom like a bemused angel. He asks me what I do for a living. I tell him I’m a magazine editor.
I give what I hope is a disarming smile. “Well, under the circumstances, what’s the worst possible answer I could give?”
“Double XL?” he ventures.
“Much worse.” I say.
He looks confused so I tell him.
Now he smiles and suddenly turns thoughtful. “You know, I don’t know how I feel about marijuana,” he says. “I mean, they tell us in training that all drugs are the same, that they’re all bad; but then when you get out on the street and you see the way it really is. You see that’s not the problem.”
Now I’m disarmed. I suddenly see this man for the first time: a young guy with a big heart who became a cop to do some good. Just like my dad. I can see all the years ahead of him and the judgments he’ll be asked to make. I realize if I press him right now I might save scores of young people from getting busted in the future. I have an Irish gift: I can talk ten-penny nails out of pine plank when I feel like it. So I clear my throat, and begin.
“Of course it’s not the problem,” I say. I tell him how may many Americans smoke weed every year, every month, every day; and I tell him how many people get arrested. I tell him how many people use hard drugs and how people die from them each year. I tell him how many people die from alcohol and how many people die from cigarettes. I tell him I’ve seen, with my own eyes, a person shaking with multiple sclerosis quickly becalmed with a few hits of marijuana.
“Then why do you think it’s illegal?”
“Money,” I say without hesitation. “Don’t get me wrong. There’s good people on both sides, but people of good will on your end have bought into a lie told by people who make a lot of money off the way things are.”
“What about the gateway?” he counters. “They say this is where everybody starts.”
“They’re not wrong,” I say. He looks surprised and I laugh. “You thought I was going to say there’s no such thing as the gateway, didn’t you?”
I tell him my own experience as a teenager – how my father was also a cop, and it took me two years to decide to break the law. Once I smoked pot I found out it wasn’t a big deal; but I had still broken the law, and that was a big deal in my house. It took me two or three months before I broke the law again and by then I was ready for everything because I thought that wouldn’t be a big deal either. I was wrong about that.
“There is no such thing as an intrinsic gateway,” I say. “Make it legal and you cut the connection.”
He pulls out his Ace, the card he’s been holding since our conversation began.
“You have a daughter, right? What are you going to say when she says she wants to smoke pot?”
“Good question. I’m going tell her, ‘Don’t smoke marijuana.'”
“Ahhh!” He puffs up visibly.
“I’m her father,” I say. She’s probably going to do plenty of things I don’t want her to do, so I’m going to give the general run down: Don’t do drugs because drugs can kill you and don’t drink alcohol because drinking almost killed me, and you might have the gene. Don’t smoke cigarettes or I’ll kill you myself for being that stupid.” The cop in my living room laughs. “Don’t drink and drive, and don’t get in a car with someone whose been drinking. Don’t have crazy sex. No wait! Don’t have sex! Well – we’ll get to that.” I look him square in the eye and say “If you break the law, don’t get arrested.
“You know, I can protect her from some of that but not all of it. Some things she’s going to learn on her own. Can I choose which ones?” I shook my head. “Honestly, If I could choose, marijuana wouldn’t even be on that list. I don’t worry about weed.”
We speak like this for over an hour and when he finally gets ready to leave I ask him to remember this conversation the next time he has to bust somebody for pot.
“Well, you’ve certainly given me something to think about,” he says cryptically.
It’s snowing outside and I watch through the window as he walks to his cop car, but he doesn’t get in right away. Instead he lights a cigar and stands on the sidewalk smoking and watches the snow fall silently on the mountain. After a few minutes he drives away, and I’m thinking to myself, Maybe…
I light a fire in fireplace and break out the bong. The cop’s question hangs in the air.
“What am I going to tell Dylan?” I wonder aloud. I realize that I don’t have an answer to that question, a question that rises like the fire as my thoughts drift like the snow.