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If Only Chicago Police Treated All Marijuana Smokers As If They Were Deadheads

Tens of thousands of fans of the Grateful Dead traveled to Chicago for the final three reunion concerts, which the band’s “core four” musicians will likely ever perform. Police knew numerous fans would smoke marijuana. However, police only made one arrest for cannabis possession in violation of the city’s ordinance against public weed consumption.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported, “Chicago Police officers made only one arrest for possession of cannabis on Friday and wrote only two possession of cannabis tickets Sunday in connection with the concerts.”

“While in most cases cannabis possession is a ticketable offense, as residents would expect CPD’s primary focus was on fighting violent crime and addressing the illegal guns that threaten our communities,” Chicago Police Department communications director Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement emailed to the Sun-Times.

This could be considered common sense policing if it were not for the fact that the Deadheads in attendance were primarily white. Tickets for the “Fare Thee Well” concerts at Soldier Field were not necessarily cheap and ranged from $59.50-$199.50. So, many of the fans were from the middle and upper class.

In March, the Sun-Times reported that blacks were “busted 16 times more than whites for small amounts of pot in 2014—including tickets and arrests. And four every white Chicagoan busted for marijuana, four Hispanics were busted, according to police statistics. Those stats come despite the fact that white Chicagoans outnumber both black and Hispanic Chicagoans by a ratio of approximately 3-to-2.”

Charlene Carruthers of Black Youth Project 100 told the Sun-Times, “It’s hyper-surveillance and harassment for what shouldn’t even be an offense. No one should be arrested for having 15 grams of marijuana or less. Even the cost of a ticket could throw someone into a very difficult situation.”

Citations can range from $250 to $500.

The Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy put out a report in May 2014 that showed all of the neighborhoods in the top 20 percent for marijuana arrests, except for one, was “majority black.”

According to the FBI, Cook County, where Chicago is located, had the “biggest racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests among the 25 most populous counties in the nation in 2010.”

An ordinance passed in 2012 by the Chicago City Council gave officers the ability to issue citations to individuals possessing 15 grams or less of pot. However, police preserved the authority to arrest people on misdemeanor possession charges, which could potentially lead to six months in jail and a $1,500 fine.

Still, only one Deadhead during the entire weekend faced the possibility of jail time and a steep fine for having weed.

To emphasize how this was extraordinary and exceptional treatment, The Weedist highlights the “long history” the Grateful Dead and weed have together. There are strands of weed that are named after the legendary band: Deadhead OG, Sunshine Daydream, Dark Star, and Casey Jones.

According to the Sun-Times, some of these strains may have been smoked on the lakefront bike path or on the lawns by the city’s museums or in the stands of Soldier Field.

The police did not want to disrupt the good vibes and let the Deadhead smokers be. After all, they were not in black Chicago neighborhoods but one of the more white, upper class, developed, and gentrified parts of the Windy City.

Just imagine Snoop Dogg had two concerts planned at Soldier Field with a huge lineup of artists. Let’s pretend it was a kind of farewell event because Snoop wanted to take a break from music. The concerts would have a festival atmosphere and give his fans an opportunity to celebrate his career in music before his hiatus. There is absolutely no way the weekend would end with only one arrest for weed possession.

The reason this would be the case is because a large percentage of the fans would be black and brown. Police would expect hip hop fans (or black and brown people). Officers might be out on horses and have a few police off to the side with riot gear ready for deployment. There might even be a device for crowd control, like an Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), nearby. (Recall what happened with police at Summer Jam in New Jersey.)

Aside from security to control access around the stadium and to “Shakedown Street,” a gathering of merchandise and food vendors which has appeared at nearly every Dead show for decades, police mostly laid back.

Officers let songs—and pot smoke—fill the air.

This should be the policy for marijuana smoking and possession not only when other major events take place in the city but whenever the sun rises. Police should treat white, black, or brown Chicagoans like Deadheads. And not like Deadheads at just any Grateful Dead concert but Deadheads at a weekend-long celebration, which President Barack Obama paid tribute.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."