I have a friend, she’s a trip: She loves, LOVES, smoking marijuana where she isn’t supposed to. I call her a guerilla smoker, lighting up any time we’re in public no matter who’s around or what we’re doing.
With recreational marijuana now being legal in Massachusetts, I asked her if she’s noticed any difference in how she and other people approach smoking in public. First she laughed, then she said she would show me.
While weed is legal in the state, you’re not supposed to light up wherever you want. Smoking in public is a big no-no. The only places puffing on reefer is allowed is on private properties with the owners okay. Also, you need to be age 21 or older.
My friend, who asked to remain anonymous because what she’s doing is illegal, said smoking marijuana out in public has never been that big of a deal. Though, I think she’s more conspicuous than she realizes.
“Usually people don’t notice, but I get looks,” she said. Later that night, I found out what she meant. Picking up salads at a chain restaurant, I hopped out of the car to retrieve our food, while my friend smoke a joint in the parking lot with the windows rolled down. I could smell her from cars away. But she was right — I couldn’t have been the only one at the restaurant, which had a line out the door, smelling what she was smoking, yet no one seemed to mind. A few people in line sniffed the air longingly, while a few wrinkled their noses.
I asked if she’s ever been caught and she tells me her white privilege is keeping her safe, more or less.
“Almost a bunch of times,” she said, “but I get out of it. I’m a small, white, woman; no one is looking for me.”
That’s shity, but she’s got a point. Marijuana use is roughly equal among black and white people, yet black people are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Massachusetts than a white person, according to the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). And even though possession of an ounce or less of weed was decriminalized in 2008, more than 600 arrests occur annually due to pot possession. Black people are 8 percent of the state’s population, but make up 24 percent of marijuana arrests, the ACLU says.
I asked her where is the most public place she’s ever smoked. She thought about it for a moment and responded the Big E in West Springfield. Where was the most daring place you’ve smoked, I asked. On the street, she said, just walking around. “You never know who you’ll see.”
She said she never smokes a joint when she’s on foot on the street: it smells too strong and basically creates a gray, billowing trail right to you. But she’ll use her bat, a metal one-hitter she keeps in a dugout case (which has room for both bat and a little weed) while walking around.
“If you keep moving, it’s fine. If you stop, people could notice,” she advised.
We went to the Riverdale Road plaza in West Springfield so she could demo her slick smoking skills. The plaza, for those who have not been, is a swamp of small and forever changing retail shops, anchored by Costco, Stop & Shop, Kohl’s, and about five chain restaurants. There were lots of people of various backgrounds and ages walking around. We got out of the car in front of a buffet restaurant and she lit her bat, took a big rip and blew it out. “Come on,” she said. “Keep moving.”
We walked the innermost circle of stores for about 15 minutes, and all the while, she’s puffing away, ashing, and repacking with impunity. We pass a mother with four young children.
“Do you worry about the kids?” I asked.
“They don’t know,” she replied. “And if they do know, it wasn’t me that told them, you know?”
While we were walking around, we didn’t come into contact with anyone else smoking pot, though, we caught a whiff of it in the parking lot.
“I’m not the only one,” she said.
I asked her if she has any advice for people who enjoy a smoke on the streets and here’s what she had to offer: Don’t smoke in a group (you’re too conspicuous), don’t smoke too close to the outside of a concert (lots of cops there), don’t smoke in an alley (too dangerous), and be respectful.
“Only a couple times, people have given me the cough and asked me to stop, so I do,” she said. “I’m not trying to be a dick, I just want to smoke.”
Kristin Palpini can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.