Last week, police in Lawrence, Kansas—a bona fide college city where nearly 30,000 students at the University of Kansas are arriving on campus for the fall semester—welcomed the young people whose welfare and safety they are entrusted to preserve with some bizarre yet pointed advice.
Whatever you do, police warned, don’t sell weed. If you do, you’ll be the victim of a violent strong-armed robbery—guaranteed.
“Selling weed out of your apartment may seem like an easy way to make some quick $$$. But you will get robbed. At gunpoint,” the Lawrence Police Department’s official, blue-checkmarked account tweeted on Aug. 11. Cops stuck with this subject for a while. “DON’T SELL WEED OUT OF YOUR DORM/APARTMENT CUZ YOU’RE GONNA GET ROBBED,” another tweet read. “This is not debatable, it is inevitable.”
This puzzlingly strident, utterly baseless admonishment—most small-time marijuana sales go off without the slightest hitch; but if someone peddling a few dollars’ worth of weed does get robbed, are they still a victim, and can they call the cops without fear of arrest for possession?—is a recent example of what’s become a nationwide trend in the marijuana legalization era.
In an age when more than 65 million Americans live in states where marijuana is legal for adults 21 and over, instead of finding something else to do, cops are marking the moment by acting cheeky and trying to sneak a few laughs at the expense of anyone associated with weed.
This “for the lulz” approach began in Seattle in 2013.
Ahead of that year’s Hempfest celebration—the first after voters approved marijuana legalization the previous November—cops distributed Doritos bags affixed with helpful advisories, reminding visitors it was still illegal to be seen smoking weed. The stunt was a viral hit.
Since then, cops’ attempts at weed humor have generally been of the “Dane Cook, but dad jokes” or “dumb jock cousin slugs you in the arm and calls you queer for the 20th time” variety. That is, it’s stale, predictable, almost always at least mildly offensive and always-always at weed users’ expense. And this is the friendliest-possible interpretation—that is, seen from a position of privilege.
In the broader context—as in the context in which motorists are shot and killed by police with the smell of marijuana deployed as an excuse, and when arrests for small-time marijuana crime are still wrecking lives—cops’ widening weed joking is wildly inappropriate and offensive, and a sign of something more troubling: staid law enforcement officers aren’t taking legalization seriously.
In Wyoming, Minnesota, a suburb north of Minneapolis, stabs at exhausted stoner humor have become an annual tradition