Think living under occupation is tough? Try selling weed in it.
It’s in the tensest times and places that it’s most heroic and most lucrative to sell good medicine. Know how different Jerusalem is from California? Stoners don’t romanticize reefer as “medicine” here in Jerusalem: they don’t have to because it’s a drug that helps you feel good, and that’s more than enough to justify the danger and the need. Americans come to Israel partially because the specter of danger is romantic, vitalizing. That ethos can’t help but affect the cannabis culture in Jerusalem, that haven of Americanism in Israel.
Tel-Aviv is too big to be dangerous; dealers are just party people over there, and Tel-Aviv cops have enough real crime not to bother going after weed dealers… In Jerusalem, and it’s niece Tzfat, the cops have almost nothing else to do. They don’t care about domestic violence, child molestation, or any of those other privileges of a successful war. The powers that be–whoever it is that ultimately dictates police priorities–care only about control and information, and drug control policies are simply the best for that kind of thing. Because stoners always look suspicious; it’s the nature of the chill, alas, to clearly be really chilled out. Or else kind of nervous and paranoid. Either way, you’re conspicuous.
But the police modus operandi in Jerusalem is consistent in this regard: everything is tolerated for a while, and then stamped out once the decree comes in and the police have acquired enough names to think they can round up more information. And, man, police sure do love names! It’s kind of cute the way they keep asking during questioning if you have any names. Names are what cops like; donuts are just how they deal with the frustration of not getting enough names… As such, a useful thing if you’re selling weed in Jerusalem is to remember the name of the person you like least in the community, so in case you get in trouble, you can send the police to them, and have your real connections protected. (If possible, try to hide large amounts of drugs in said hated person’s house, but that much extra shit is a rare treasure. Who has the patience to give it away to someone they hate as petty insurance? Only the slickest amongst us.)
The narc culture is different, too: In New York, selling marijuana ensures that one is going to get to know a progressively more diverse range of people, from progressively more varied walks of life, by dint of who winds up making connections for co-workers and peripheral friends. In Jerusalem, you better fucking not be known by too disparate a set of people. That’s just more strangers who’ll turn you in to avoid turning in their real friends once they get picked up.
Every tightly controlled city is a functioning police state to a certain extent, but some cities are more tightly controlled than others, comrade. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason for this, but, good gravy, is it inconvenient for weed-slanging! As every one in any illegal drug culture knows, when there’s very little around, all buyers become dealers, if just so they can get high with their friends, and maybe turn on a younger sibling or two (and supply their friends). Suddenly, there’s rent money in your hands, and you start to think to yourself “Hmm… how far can I go with this before the full weight of Babylon’s army is called down upon my ass?”
Hopefully, you never have to find out for yourself just how easy it is for cops to come and search your house in Jerusalem. Always. Well, maybe not always. Perhaps I have some kind of magical, secret “rights” that would protect me from the fuzz when they knock on the door, and I get tired of claiming to be in the bathroom, while tossing shit out the window to the neighbor’s aloe garden for the street cats to smoke. One important difference between here and there is that, in New York, you probably don’t have a window facing on nowhere where you can throw your weed when the Cossacks politely ring your bell till the door gives.
The truth is that the two places, New York and Jerusalem, are not so different. They’re both Jewish enclaves with the range from pseudo-sophistication to silliness inherent in the range of Jewish identities, especially in light of the expatriate cultures back and forth. One is likely to see and hook-up the same people both places. Both have their Holy sites and pilgrimage holes, places that are safe and compelling to smoke and sling, if only seasonally, or at special occasions, if only for special sacred moments. Both places have rich and poor, vying for deals and happy to pay too much for what they couldn’t find anywhere else–blessed are those who don’t have to take advantage of anyone, and can be appreciated for the quality of their wares and honesty.
The Jewish thing is weird/unweird everywhere, strangely natural for the sake of convenient and authentic affinity, and easily slipped into coded languages full of convenient assumptions of certain brotherly solidarity, and, if you’re very lucky, sexual reliability. Sacralization of relationships is inevitable, in it’s own funny way.
In Jerusalem, instead of Jamaicans or Mexicans being the connection for the cheaper bulk greens, it’s Arabs, and they’re significantly less motivated to keep their shit clean than New York dark-skinned peoples, certainly much less pleased by the honor of doing business with you. Jerusalem’s medicinal marijuana counter-culture grew mostly out of physical disgust with the poison unapologetically being mixed into the Hashish once it passed through the West Bank, notably wrapped in large bundles with eagles emblazoned on the seals, with the slogan, written in Arabic “We are the victors!” I never got to see them–my resourceful ex-gangster/ex-yeshiva friends would just recount the story of picking up large bundles from Lod. But I was really excited about the sense of positivity in the slogan (“1, 2, 3,4, we won the drug war!…”) until it was brought to my attention that “we” was not to include me under any circumstances.
There’s no such urge to identify with the Bedouin hash dealers; no matter how friendly they are, too many close friends have been turned in by their dealers for us longterm cannabis pirates to feel kinship with them. But if you can’t forgive the people who give police your name under pressure, who do you have left to deal with? Your goddamn friends, and absolute strangers who don’t know how to find you ever again, that’s who. Not foolproof, and rather dangerous, but alas, the natural end of the weed business–all your career identified friends get arrested, and the only ones who don’t are the ones working too small-scale or too large-scale (that is, with tacit permission to deal in exchange for feeding the cops’ name hunger.) That’s the closest thing to safety cannabis dealers have in this cursed exile–be a big enough asshole for immunity, or a hidden enough (Jewish) saint.
New York, on the other hand, seems to welcome greater foolhardiness on the part of dealers. Maybe NYC society is just more sophisticated. I’ve certainly had more advanced and intelligent conversations with NYC cops than I ever had with Israeli ones–Notably one detective who wanted to talk about paradigm shifts and evolving cultures at a particularly drug-soaked engagement party. He was there looking for an apparently kidnapped Hasidic kid who had actually just run away with some other kids. Walking past the table full of contraband being rolled into proper joints, he said “Hey, that doesn’t look like something police should be able to see…” and strolled on, looking for who was in charge. The cop wanted to know why none of the Hasids or Hipsters at the party would tell him anything as basic as “Who’s in charge here?” I could only laugh and say the traditional answer for the oldest of Jewish/Dionysian party riddles: “How could anyone be in charge here?”
In both places I’ve seen extraordinary grace and kindness. Baggies ignored and tossed, searches done with undue discretion and politeness. Such is the nature of the enforcement of absurd and unjust laws, that inevitably there is space made for one human being to simply let another human being be. That’s the attitude that finally topples injustice, and it’s the only attitude that leaves our people free to chill as our better angels would rather we do.