photo credit: Shutterstock
photo credit: Shutterstock

By: Chocolope Chickadee

 

“Will a smell trigger events that could end my life too?”

 

This is a question that lingers in the far reaches of my mind. At times, I have refused my brain to fully formulate anything remotely close to an answer because I am afraid of what the conclusion might be.

The first time I read the reports discussing Philando Castile’s weak-willed murderer smelling “burnt marijuana” during the fatal traffic stop, my mind could not even begin to fathom the intricate web of mediocrity and entitlement that led a twenty-eight year old police officer to believe that his irrational fear of Black people, along with his poor judgement and vivid imagination, warranted or excused his deliberate attack on Castile –– an attack that took a father and a positive masculine figure away from an entire community of children.

I remain apprehensive about discussing my life as a medicating mother because public opinions stay messy. People lose their jobs and face social discrimination, and as great as it is to make people more aware of our plight, it can sometimes cause more harm than good. For decades, people have been fed misinformation about marijuana and the character of its consumers. We are often defined by exaggerated side effects (laziness, munchies, and short term memory loss become a perfect archetype for the “stoner” brand), while our humanity, familial roles, and responsibilities end up being fully disassociated from us. I’ve witnessed discussions between parents dissolve into coded judgement about the use of cannabis while being a parent; all the while, thinly veiled in “open mindedness” about medicinal dosing.

I choose to never ignore the economic inequality facing poor and impoverished people who need cannabis for their illnesses. Those without the means or access to medical marijuana certification, which can cost up to a week’s worth of  income to a person at or below poverty level are most at risk for criminal prosecution and state violence. Unless we care to acknowledge our bias, misinformation, this apprehension will continue for myself and people like me.

I want to be able to be as clear as possible when I say the following:

Using weed, herb, flower, ganja, green, or whatever you may call it, does not make parents inherently unfit. You should not, as an individual in any civilized society, fear for your safety and livelihood of yourself, your partners, or your children for medicating with cannabis.

I’m the mom on the block whose home often smells of burnt cannabis and essential oils or incense. To myself and my family, it is an aroma of comfort and self care. In my deepest thoughts, I wonder, “Is this the smell that was in the air on that warm summer evening?

I’m a mom who loves her children. I’m also a parent who consumes high doses of cannabis and probably always will. Cannabis has saved my life when all the other “right things” left me numb and contemplative of alternatives that would leave me scarred and endangered. In my ten years of medicating, I’ve had to understand and acknowledge the truth: It is not a crime to consume the substance, but it is criminalized behavior. The criminalization of certain behaviors is one of the pillars of our capitalist economy. Simply put: there is money to be made in making things illegal. When the sale and consumption of marijuana becomes just one of the activities necessary to maintain the functionality of this capitalist system, criminality becomes a part of that functionality as well. I become criminal by existing as someone who partakes of marijuana, and my criminalization is equally as necessary to the system as that of Castile’s.

“Though the victim, he was reframed in an instant as a criminal.”

The former Minnesota police officer maintained that he feared for himself and his partner, along with the others in the car  with Castile. This fear was triggered by the blackness of those in the vehicle, the aroma of marijuana and disclosure of a licensed firearm on Castile’s person. Though the victim, he was reframed in an instant as a criminal. Possible Medicinal Marijuana Patient of Minnesota or not, the officer disclosed that he refrained from asking or mentioning the smell…the smell that sparked his distrust of the occupants. Without context and especially when no cannabis was found in the car or in anyone’s possession. Without any evidence beyond broken taillights, those with authority swiftly determined that Philando was a threat from which themselves and others must be protected.

Sometimes, I imagine myself in the courtroom,. Not as the defendant, but as the counsel directing questions to the accused. Sometimes, I’m the judge in this fantasy. Other times, I’m the family representation. In my all black jumper and white blazer, I pace the courtroom, turn on my heels and ask point blank:

“How many officers do you believe are dying out in the field, whose deaths are directly related to marijuana use and distribution, that you had such a fear of being shot during this traffic stop?” I looked for information that would validate this fear. Apart from four deaths involving SWAT officers during “pot raids,” there is no trace of an epidemic of police officers dying because of thug marijuana distributors.

What sticks with me is the thought process of this officer who created an extravagant story of drug trafficking, thuggishness, and danger. How the smell of burnt marijuana automatically signified dangerous “dealer” rather than “patient or care provider,” and why “dealer” is inherently dangerous. What negative connotations are established by using that word. And then I think of myself in my own home. I can smell my house and I know I’m one surprise visit away from being in a similar situation if the officer has anything in common with Castile’s killer, and it is likely that they will. I know that fear that creeps up within me is valid. More valid than the officer’s fear of Philando’s Blackness.

Still, I wonder how an officer like this one, who automatically spirals down a long staircase of irrational fear racism and discrimination, can be considered fit for service..

To further illustrate this vortex of irrationality:

  • Castile and his girlfriend and her child are in a car with a broken taillight
  • Castile complies with officer’s demands.
  • Castile alerts the officer of his legally acquired weapon while the officer requests his license
  • Castile continues to reassure officer that he is not reaching for his weapon
  • Castile is ordered to stop reaching
  • Castile MOST LIKELY tries to put his hands up which completes the motion of movement from his side to fully visible
  • Castile is shot 7 times for non compliance

In my closing arguments to the court, I would ask the jury, “What type of officer has fear at the forefront of their mind day in and day out? What type of officer can create and escalate an interaction based on aroma?”

Only one that fears those whom he “serves.” An officer who sees law over human dignity. An officer fully to blame for his overreaction to his self-created irrational fears. To me, that sounds unfit. That sounds like a person full of everything, but the bravery and tact we as citizens are forced to respect with bowed heads and averted gaze. The medicalization of marijuana has set up a classist system where the poor can’t afford medication by  legal means, and an ableist system where a lack of medical diagnosis de-legitimizes illness, disability, or both. We know that regardless of our demeanor and regardless of our compliance, the vortex of irrationality begins when they see us, in our Blackness, existing as patients, parents, or otherwise, within and beyond the confines of legality set to entrap us.

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