February 10, 2016

How To Talk to an Undercover Cop at a Marijuana Rally

NYC Cannabis Peace March lands in Foley Square on May 7, 2011


He was about 50, heavyset, with cropped grey hair. He wore a button-down short-sleeved shirt, cheap jeans and white New Balance sneakers. His eyes were completely hidden by a pair of knockoff reflective shades – the ‘alien eye’ variety. He had an earpiece with a cable that led to his cell phone. And he was walking along in the NYC Cannabis Peace March, with hundreds of loud pot protestors.

There was one big difference between this man and the rest of the crowd: he was an undercover cop. What happened when I confronted him cuts to the core of why cannabis prohibition must end.

The 2011 New York marijuana march was blessed with inviting sun and 72 degrees of warmth – the first thaw for city dwellers after a long winter. The yearly protest started at Washington Square Park, where about 30 uniformed New York City police officers greeted the gathering marchers.

Participants were told to stand in a box created by sections of metal parade fencing. Although penned and surrounded by police, the marchers were nonchalant, keeping up lively conversation, handing out signs and snapping photos. The uniformed cops were passive, but there was certainly a tense bite to the air.

Marchers gather

My job was to help with the organization of the parade. I took a moment to speak with Jim, the Police Civil Affairs Unit contact. He wore a sweatshirt with an embroidered badge instead of a uniform and a gun, but he was clearly a cop.

Jim cordially explained the route and told us to give them a five-minute heads-up before the start. More marchers arrived along with even more uniformed police. Other activists such as Empire State NORML, NYC NORML and Cures Not Wars brought hundreds of rally signs. In a short time, almost every single marcher had one in their hands.

We gathered the marijuana supporters, started them chanting, “DEA GO AWAY” and began to move onto Broadway.

March moves down Broadway

The route would take us about one mile down to Foley Square and we had to stay on the sidewalk. The marching group was happy, loud and plowing through the crowds of weekend tourists and shoppers. Hundreds of gawkers snapped photos, waved and shouted their support for legalization.

We were only about a block down Broadway, but already there was a single file line of almost 30 uniformed police officers walking in the street parallel to the cannabis march.

Helping to keep up the chants had me constantly running to the front, back, and middle of the parade, occasionally having to weave between the fence posts of black uniforms.

Then someone lit a joint. I didn’t see it; I could smell it. Suddenly the sweet odor was gone. A photographer ran up to me saying “They just got some guy.” I looked back but saw nothing. That was the first time I noticed Mr. Undercover, walking in the cop line.

Things were moving along quickly. In fact, we were walking a bit too fast. It began to feel like the Cannabis Peace Jog. As we tried to slow down the pace, a video documentarian grabbed my arm and said, “They’re arresting another one!”

I turned and saw fleeting images of a scuffle through the crowd. Mr. Undercover and two uniformed cops seemed to be handling a 20-something man. Yelling out another chant, I continued with the march.

The next time I looked back, Mr. Undercover was right in the crowd. This time, he was holding one of our marijuana rally signs too. This flipped a little switch in me and my decision was to address the situation.

I sidled up to him as the peaceful protest continued down Broadway. We were under some scaffolding and in the shade. Catching his attention I said, “Hey man, it sure is great to see you guys marching with us.”

Mr. Undercover cut me off with a thick Gotham accent and a deadly serious tone: “You are not going to bring any at attention to me. Do we understand each other?”

“I’m just here marching,” I said.

“And I’m marching too,” said Mr. Undercover. “But if you bring any more attention to me, this march will be over for you. Do we understand each other?

“Look, I…”

“Walk away from me. You will not bring any more attention to me today. Do we understand each other??

“I’ll just keep doing what I do then.”

Taking a few steps away, I turned around to face the marchers and shouted, “WHO WANTS TO LEGALIZE MARIJUANA IN NEW YORK?”

Noisy cheers.


Louder cheers.

Mr. Undercover glared at me. I had the uneasy sense that he was taking that very moment to decide whether to shoot, taze or arrest me. But instead he moved out of the crowd and marched off to the side.

We were about halfway to our destination. After our little chat, Mr. Undercover spent the rest of the march intermittently holding his sign up at chest level and then down at his side. He kept a smartphone in his hand or at his ear from that point on.

I imagined him calling up the special police unit that stood ready to handle smartass marijuana activists. But after a few minutes, I recognized that we had an uncomfortable détente.

Mr. Undercover was afraid that I would call “NARC” and point to him – certainly a possibility that crossed my mind. Still, this guy was already sticking out like a sore thumb. Clearly he wasn’t a professional undercover officer but a regular cop in plain clothes. This made me feel sorry for him as a human being, but it also intensified my anger at the tactic.

Using police to poorly infiltrate the political efforts to change marijuana laws goes against everything that the United States stands for. Americans should be free to gather, speak out, and confront the government. Surrounding such activities with armed, uniformed police and sending undercover police agents into a non-violent crowd is what we expect out of China, Libya, Syria, Bahrain or Russia.

But it looks like we must expect that treatment in New York City as well. This heavy-handed approach to legitimate political change should disgust all Americans.

As a Quaker, I believe in and practice non-violence. In order to meet that challenge in real-life confrontation, it takes one thing: empathy.

Law enforcement officers in New York and around the country are enslaved by our senseless prohibition laws. They risk their lives, often losing them, fighting a futile war against their own neighbors. Ending marijuana prohibition is imperative to the freedom of all Americans. But it will also free our law enforcement officers from the bonds of this tragically failed policy.

Commentary from Editor Chris Goldstein

Read more at Freedomisgreen.com

Questions?  chris@freedomisgreen.com

Chris Goldstein is a respected marijuana reform advocate. As a writer and radio broadcaster he has been covering cannabis news for over a decade. He volunteers with local groups to change prohibition laws including PhillyNORML and The Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey.




  1. Should be titled How To Brow Beat an Undercover Cop…..an understandable tactic, but not one to bridge the gap between pro-decriminalization advocates and law enforcement.

    Isn’t that what’s needed to end the war on drugs?


  2. Kevin says:

    Hey everyone there’s an undercover cop marching with us !! , how are you today officer ..
    He must want to legalize marijuana !!
    What’s your name “Officer” ?
    Thanks for coming out today to support our cause !


  3. Bobby D.Denning says:

    Acknowledgement is support, even if it comes from an unlikely source.


  4. Dan says:

    “NYC Cannabis Peach March lands in Foley Square on May 7, 2011”

    As marijuana enthusiasts our copy editing skills need to be tighter than your average writer’s because of the scrutiny that our argument faces. Tighten it up.



    Corrected. Thank you. A cannabis peach march might be a tasty prospect for next year. – Chris


  5. Wow, im surprised they decided to intervene like that. In Madison every year, we have the Midwest Marijuana Harvest Fest and about 100,000 people show up and listen to speakers and then march to the Capitol. Im not aware of any arrests ever. People in the crowd can clearly be seen standing around smoking pot with one another and listening to the speakers. Then we march to the Capitol and smoke on the lawn and listen to bands and more speakers. Its great.


  6. Dan says:

    Alert Georgia Norml! They should plan an annual march in/on Centennial Olympic Park. Everyone in attendance would get a peach with two holes pre-drilled. I think you really stumbled onto something here brohiem.


  7. Ben Stone says:

    Great story, and well handled. Shows a lot of self restraint and that helps keep these situations from getting out of control.


  8. Denis says:

    @Eric … I grep up in Wisconsin and went to UW-Madison. Attended many of those Harvest Festivals. But I never saw ANYTHING like what I see now all the time in New Hampshire, since I moved here as part of the Free State Project.
    Activists here have been known to smoke pot… wait for it … *in the police station lobby itself!!*

    You haven’t seen “protest” till you’ve seen the Free State, baby.


  9. abah says:

    even in malaysia our law is much more worst than yours…join and help us to reform in malaysia..


  10. Mara says:

    wow. brilliant and well-written article. thank you.


  11. Pegasus Rex says:

    I don’t think “bridging the gap”, deference, or passing out Dunkin’Doughnut gift certificates to Police will in any way placate “the Man”. The war on drugs has to be changed legislatively or else it hasn’t changed. Obama snookered many a Progressive voter, and made matters worse with keeping Bush era anti-cannabis zealots in positions of power. Blame Obama: Promise Change once-shame on you. Promise change twice-shame on me.


  12. jeff says:

    Excellent article and well played.

    However, I have to disagree with this statement:
    “Law enforcement officers in New York and around the country are enslaved by our senseless prohibition laws.”

    I don’t feel that the majority of LEOs are “enslaved” by prohibition but rather embrace it as it provides them an abundance of non-violent easy targets and allows them to waste more of our precious tax dollars in their often over zealous battle against “that evil weed”.


  13. Texas 8road says:

    Narc! Holla!Holler! Like Dubya said “if you ain’t for us you are against us” Only fascist states interfere in activist demonstrations. Call him out as the pig he is. Either get with us for real or get your cointelpro ass out of my peaceful activist demonstration. Peace out!


  14. Zen Quagga says:

    What a disappointment. In Philadelphia’s May 21st march, the police behaved themselves. I didn’t see anyone who looked like a UC, unless they were reeeeally good. Much love to my friends who did “Cop Watch” work, but everything was really amicable. I think the 30 grams rule helped. There was certainly a joint or two lit, and as best as I could tell, no one got popped. Of course the protesters themselves were well-behaved–loud, opinionated, perhaps a little smoky, but they didn’t provoke or harass the police (we always hope we can get a passing cop car to honk in support–the taxis and Septa buses often do!). Pot’s been decrimmish in NY for years, why pick on protesters?


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