I spent New Years in Amsterdam, which was freezing cold and overrun with tourists, and as you do, I went to a couple of coffee shops. I had 2 grams of cannabis left over in my jacket pocket upon my return to Marseille. For those who don’t know, that’s the equivalent in monetary terms and buzz-factor of about a 12-pack of beers. When the train arrived at the station I started walking home, then realized that I had forgotten my slippers under my seat. I like to have warm feet you see. So I turned around, walked back, and retrieved my slippers.
Somewhat annoyed at myself for my all-too-common forgetfulness, but glad to have found my much loved sheepskin slippers, I started on my way back home. It was at this moment, having not yet left the platform, that I was stopped by a group of policemen, who had apparently smelt a suspicious odour in the carriage.
They asked me if I had any drugs on my person, which I confirmed, and so off to the police desk we went. I was now properly annoyed at myself, wishing that I had either taken my slippers with me initially, or simply forgotten them altogether.
I showed the police what I had, a zip-lock plastic bag about the size of a box of matches, within which nestled a nice round fluorescent green bud. They asked me repeatedly if I had anything else, made a number of menaces, and then proceeded to search me and my bag. Other officers came, and the searches were repeated, and then repeated again. They could have said, “Uh, we’ve already searched him”, but apparently communication is not one of their strong suits.
I think they were really hoping to find more, and started to get very up in my face. Questions were thrown at me from every direction, I barely had time to answer one before another started.
They had a look at my passport. They checked their computers. They accused me of having been frequently to Amsterdam. Do they really have this kind of information on people? I replied that I had been a couple of times to Amsterdam, perhaps 4 times over the past 10 years, which doesn’t count as particularly frequent in my book. And what was I doing in Amsterdam? Why, being a tourist of course. Smoking cannabis? Well, perhaps, a little, it is legal there after all. Narco-tourism then, they replied. I did not mention that I had also been to the Rijksmuseum which is astounding, the botanical gardens which are quite lovely, and also the science museum which is particularly exciting. That might have been over their heads.
I gave them my address and they asked me why I simply didn’t buy from the council flats down the road, apparently they deal openly there. I have in the past seen gents sitting on street corners of the main roads of Marseille smoking joints openly, so I couldn’t really understand what all the fuss was about.
Then I got to have a discussion with a particularly disagreeable customs official, who suspected me of smuggling cocaine in my intestines. I don’t know what gave him that idea, but it might have been that I was shaking. You would be shaking too, if you had a herd of police officers giving you hell. I’ve always held the police in a dim regard, and this experience only helped to reinforce my convictions. Schoolyard bullies is what they are.
So, I got to pee in a cup, and have my gums swabbed, then the officers struggled to read the test, made me do it all over again, then struggled some more to read the test. Ten long minutes later they came to the conclusion that I had nothing in me besides a bit of THC. In the meantime they threatened to have me X-rayed at the hospital and conduct an internal examination. Sounds like fun.
Next I got to ride in the back of a police car downtown. The elevator was out of order so we had to mount five stories in the stairwell. One of the officers was not particularly fit, indeed his waist overflowed his belt considerably, and he was a little out of breath at the summit.
We then spent four hours trying to fill in the needed paperwork on their antiquated computer system. If you are interested, they are still running Windows XP. They ran out of printing paper, then ran out of ink.
The officers’ anger slowly shifted from myself to their systems and administration. “This country is going to shit,” muttered one. They let me smoke a cigarette out of the window, which was quite generous.
I got to see a few other sorry individuals, brought in shackled in cuffs, red-faced, screaming obscenities, ready to kick anyone or anything. I shifted a few inches down the steel bench, nowhere else to go really. There were also some foreigners without papers, who just sat and cried pitifully in a corner. At least I wasn’t going to be deported. I got out my book of short stories by Garcia Marquez, although it was rather difficult to concentrate on his magical realism while surrounded by so much real realism.
There was no one available to take my fingerprints, so I got to wait an extra hour for free. No toilet, no water, no food, and worst of all, no battery on my iPhone to catch up on Facebook.
As I sat there, I did wonder for a while who exactly the victim was in this affair. Had I insulted someone else? Had I caused injury? Had I killed another person? Had I stolen, or destroyed property? Who exactly was suffering? All that money I’ve paid in taxes, put to good use indeed. All this for 2 grams of weed, honestly.
For my mugshots, I got to sit on a child’s wooden chair with no seat, undoubtedly the most uncomfortable seating arrangement I have ever witnessed. What on Earth?
All my personal details are now in a police computer system, and they’ll stay there for who knows how long, probably forever. The repercussions of this, if any, are as yet uncertain. Perhaps I’ll have to go to court. Perhaps I’ll get a fine or have to pee in cup for the next six months and watch invigorating documentaries about the ills of recreational drugs. Perhaps one day in the distant future I’ll be refused entry into the United States on grounds that I am a known drug smuggler.
The real rub of the whole stupid story is that I didn’t even really want to get high. I’d actually like to quit smoking altogether, tobacco included, and I wasn’t quite sure what I’d do with the weed if anything. Probably just toss it in the bin. Brilliant Patrick, well done my son, you make me proud.
I’m not quite sure what the lesson to be learnt here is, perhaps simply make sure you haven’t forgotten any of your possessions when getting off the train. Happy new year!