Every summer I like to disappear for a while on a cross-country adventure, which I call tokeabout, and spend most of my time in places where there are no computers or TVs. You may know those kind of places… where even cell phones and radios don’t get a signal and if you have become dependent on your electronics, you may feel lost. I will spend weeks in these places, and travel from one to the next in order to cross our country.
These are our national parks and forests, which belong to all of us. Unfortunately, they are controlled and governed by the laws of the United States and more heavily patrolled by their own police force than any cities suburbs I have ever known. These national park rangers are, in some cases, more heavily armed than your average police officer and may not only have a side arm, but some also come with automatic rifles in their vehicles. They are the cops of the National Park and Monuments and they are tasked with enforcing the laws of our federal government. This includes the federal drug laws.
I have spent most summers for the last 50 years or so in places like that, but, on the evening of July 10th of this year I ran afoul of the “law” for the first time.
I was in Virginia in the vicinity of the District of Columbia in order to visit with family and friends in the area. I arrived there on the 7th of July after spending some time in my boyhood stomping grounds in the hills of West Virginia. Luckily, I found a place for me to pitch a tent in Prince William Forest Park, which borders the Marine Corps (Department of Defense) base and the FBI (Department of Justice) academy at Quantico and is itself under the administration of the National Park Service (Department of the Interior).
As is my custom during tokeabout, everywhere I go I wear a NORML, High Times or other cannabis friendly t-shirt and a tan hat with a gold marijuana leaf pin stuck in it. Every night after sunset I sit down with a bowl of that green sticky budly herb, next to my camp fire, and toke it up before retiring into the tent for the evening.
The first night of my stay there, I noticed that it got dark very shortly after sunset. It seems that the park was formerly a few farms that were given to the government for recreational use. The forests there were fairly young and had many trees packed into it, with a dense canopy of leaves that blocked out most of the sunlight during the daytime, and nearly all the moon and starlight at night. It was dark, but I managed to toke without detection by anyone of consequence… at least that’s what I thought.
Think for a moment… The only available light after sunset was a campfire and… my lighter firing my bowl. It was a beacon in the night directly to me. I should have made a time adjustment.
On the second night as I was sitting by my campfire, getting herbally enhanced and wearing my NORML Fight Terrorism t-shirt, the ranger made a stop at my campsite in their vehicle and used their floodlights to see if anyone was there to “tend the campfire”. Rather than wait for them, I walked down to their car and spoke to them. They continued on their way.
Think again… The only available light… hmmmmmmmm. Wearing a Norml t-shirt… hmmmmmmmm. Reeks of herb… hmmmmmmmm. The reasonable suspicions were piling up, but I got away with it again.
The third night, the ranger got a little closer by walking around to me, (soft soled shoes on blacktop is pretty silent) but he turned on his light to read my campsite number, giving me time to dispose of what I had in the open. By the time the ranger got there I had everything hidden. Foiled again.
On the night of the 10th, there was a new moon, or no moon to shine. This time, Mr. Ranger had a partner and used a bit more stealth. At about 10:00 that evening I was sitting there in my chair near my campfire enjoying my evening bowl full of herbal goodness, when out of nowhere a flashlight turned on from a few feet away. It shone directly in my face where I had a bowl to my lips and a lighter about to light it. On the bench beside me was a small jar containing less than 7 grams of cannabis and my grinder. I was busted… no contest.
“Don’t move” he said in a calm, normal voice.
As his partner watched me, Mr. Ranger took my stash and moved it onto the picnic table out of my reach.
Then came the questions. Since I had nothing more in my tent, car or on my person that would be of interest to them, I answered their questions truthfully… except for the two questions they kept injecting time after time.
“Do you know why I am here tonight?”.
I answered that question each time with a grunt and a shrug.
“Do you know that smoking marijuana is illegal?”
I again answered with the grunt and shrug.
These were the only questions Mr. Ranger asked which I thought of as incriminating.
I knew that I would be submitting to a search of my person, and possibly even a search of my tent and the car, but after Mr. Ranger was finished searching me, all my pockets, and my stash bag he asked…
“Can I search your car?”
I was surprised he asked, and I answered, “No, I’d rather you didn’t.”
“Why don’t you want me to search your vehicle?” he asked.
“Because y’all would go through and mess everything up as you searched through my stuff, and after you were finished and gone, I would be stuck repacking the car in the dark.” I answered.
“Fair enough.” he returned.
“Can I search your tent?” he asked.
“No, I’d rather you didn’t.” came my answer.
“Why don’t you want me to search your tent?” he asked.
“Because my granddaughter and girlfriend are sleeping in there and I’d rather that they were not disturbed.” I answered.
“That sounds fair enough to me.” he returned.
Mr. Ranger did not search my car or tent and he did not press the matter any further.
After about 30 minutes of the questions, Mr. Ranger and his partner escorted me on foot, sans handcuffs, to the parking lot at the entrance of the camp grounds where they began making radio communications to their headquarters. After a few minutes of this Mr. Ranger approached me and told me…
“They want me to bring you in cuffs and lock you up, but I think I can persuade them otherwise.”
Then he went back to his patrol car and continued on the radio.
After about 15 more minutes he came back, having settled things with his headquarters and said, “I can offer you two options. The first option is that I can write you a citation for the Commonwealth of Virginia or I can write you a U.S. District Court Violation Notice.”
I asked, “Do any of these options not require me to return to Virginia?”
He answered, “The District Court Violation could be handled through the mail by paying a fine. The Virginia citation would require you to return and go to court.
After thinking it over for about 5 seconds I opted for the District Court Violation Notice ticket. The reasons are these:
1. I am my own boss and this will not affect finding a job.
2. I live on my own farm and need no government help finding housing.
3. I am not going to college and have no worries about government loans.
4. It would cost more for me to travel back to Virginia from Minnesota than the fine on the ticket.
I gave Mr. Ranger my answer and within a few minutes he handed me a United States District Court Violation Notice # 0438### with the option to appear in court on a specific date or pay a fine of $130.00 plus a $25.00 processing fee.
I will pay the fine.
Some of you may be thinking, “Well, why not just stop toking on federally administered lands.” To that I say, shame on you for even thinking that I should not exercise what I believe to be my right! National parks and monuments belong to “We the people”, for our own enjoyment and to protect and preserve the land as much as possible in it’s natural state without inhibiting the enjoyment of them to any great degree.
I consider the parks my yard as long as I am using them and I most certainly would not give up enjoying the herb in my back yard here in Minnesota. I firmly believe that the laws prohibiting me from doing so are bad laws, plainly unjust, and I will do what I believe is right for any red blooded American patriot … disobey the law.
“If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”
- Thomas Jefferson
Here is the real lesson learned. When I visit these parklands, whether they are city, county, state, or federally administered, I will pay attention to the trees and how much light they allow to pass. If they block out the sun they will most certainly block out star and moonlight. I will toke before the sun sets in these circumstances so I can see what is approaching my campsite.
During the time it takes to set up camp and get that first meal served, I will pay close attention to the intervals at which the campground host or, after he is settled in for the evening, the park rangers make their rounds.
It is much better to err on the side of caution than to throw caution to the wind. I will continue my annual tokeabouts, but now I am a little more educated and will be a bit more cautious.
As for next year’s tokeabout… Look out west coast, here I come.