Highway Robbery is a chapter from the memoir Forty Years Stoned: A Journalist’s Romance, by Tom Huth, to be published by Heliotrope Books on 4/20.
I’m driving around the desert Southwest visiting old friends when, at the junction of two empty California highways out near the Salton Sea, I come to a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint.
Usually I get waved right through once they see I’m just a dumbbell senior citizen. This time the agent stops me to inquire, “Do you have any narcotics in the vehicle?”
“No, sir,” I tell him.
He motions me on toward a second man in uniform, this one being tugged forward by a nosy German shepherd.
He asks, “Do you have any narcotics with you?”
“No, sir,” I repeat, truthfully.
“Do you have any marijuana with you?”
“No, sir,” I lie.
He points a finger. “Park over there in Stall One.”
Sitting on my passenger seat is a well-traveled wooden dope pipe. Next to it is a zip-lock bag with two cannabis-laced cookies given to me by a crony in Sun City, Arizona. In my trunk is a small baggie of that strain of smokeable exhilarant known as Durban Poison.
I park the car in Stall One and bounce out innocently.
“Stop right there!” an officer commands.
He asks, “Do you have any narcotics in this vehicle?”
“No, I don’t,” I swear.
“Do you have any marijuana in this vehicle?”
“No, I don’t,” I swear. Then I remember that I have a trump card with me, and I do a one-eighty. “Yes, I do,” I admit, reaching for my wallet. “And I have a California medical-marijuana license for it.”
I picture him thanking me for my forthrightness and apologizing for the inconvenience and wishing me god-speed in my golden-age wanderings. Instead, he sends me away to a roadside holding pen.
“Sit on the bench!” my captors order. They take my driver’s license and my medical get-out-of-jail card. They ask me to reveal where my stash is, so they won’t have to start shredding the upholstery. “In the trunk,” I confess. “In the toiletries bag. In the front zippered pocket.”
A young agent sidles up to ask me, as if out of mere curiosity, “Do you use it in the car?”
I feign disbelief. Do I drive around this awesome Western landscape of ours stoned? At the age of 71? “Of course not!” I scoff.
Then a Jessica Chastain from Zero Dark Thirty takes me off to a bare chain-link enclosure. I flash back to the waterboarding scene. Are they going to strap me down and extract my THC?
Jessica confronts me: “You have been arrested before for marijuana possession.” It comes out not as a question, but as a declaration of historical fact.
How do they know this? Is it even true?
My mind reels back over the decades. Then I remember, from my earliest hippie days, when I was still writing for the Washington Post. “You’re right,” I tell her. “In 1972. In Reston, Virginia. For holding one roach.”
She has no interest in my early-midlife hijinks, but informs me that my state medical card gives me no right to transport my alleged medicine through a federal checkpoint, even one that’s forty miles from the nearest border. She tells me she’s prepared to fine me $500 on the spot.
“But I will cut you a deal,” she says. “I will let you go if you abandon your marijuana.”
I ask her, just to clarify: “If I paid the fine, you’d still take the dope, right?”
We exchange tight smiles.
“That’s right,” she says.
I nod sagely. “I’ll take the deal.”
Jessica walks me to my car, explaining that I will retrieve the offending baggie, and she will escort me to yonder blue dumpster, where I will personally dispose of it. So I look through my trunk. But there’s no sign of the Durban Poison. Jessica is annoyed to hear this. She calls out to the other officers, “Who’s got the evidence?”
One of them points.
Ah, yes. There on the roof of the car lie the baggie and the wooden pipe, embraced in damning configuration.
I reach up to retrieve them. Jessica offers, “You can keep your pipe.” I like where our relationship is heading.
As we mosey toward the dumpster, she’s gabbing with the other agents. She’s paying zero attention to me. Is she giving the old duffer an opening? Is she inviting me to pocket a couple of buds for the long drive home?
No, I’m just happy to get out of here a free man.
I drive away and get up to highway speed. I chance to look over at the passenger seat.
Oh, happy day!
Those two inspirational cookies I smuggled in from Sun City? They’re still sitting there, unabandoned.