Why am I passionate about stopping “hi-po” pot?.. It’s a long story but you might find it interesting so save it for when you have a second extra. We drug educators rarely have any free time now. Let me count the reasons why I hate pot…gosh, there are so many. One is particularly poignant and I share this experience to demonstrate even the strongest among us are not immune.
In the late 70s and early 80s’ I was already a well-seasoned Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy. I had come to L.A. County by way of Maryland, where I was a Maryland State police officer for a couple of years. Lured by the weather and beautiful girls on the beaches, even in winter, and the intoxicating, nondrug California way of life I came one February and never left. There was six feet of snow back in Maryland. I was just 23 years old.
I was assigned to a ghetto station called Firestone, in the middle of South Central Los Angeles. As I walked through the back door the first day a suspect jumped over the station counter and began fighting with the counter deputy. The suspect was high on PCP (very prevalent at the time) and was impossible to control. I hadn’t been in the station but fifteen seconds. It seemed the next several years were that way as the proliferation of rock cocaine began its march through the country and we exported our street gangs, the Crips and Bloods along with coke to other states. There wasn’t much marijuana and what there was consisted of low quality 3% THC Mexican garbage. The “good” pot was probably treated with other drugs but the users didn’t know, they just wanted the best high. Today we get as we so eloquently have come to know, the “good” pot, the hi-po pot, as powerful as many designer street drugs…. hey, wait it IS A DESIGNER street drug!
Fast forward to 1988 when I was a field training officer, training new deputies how to be policemen…. and this is where I met XXXX.
XXXX came to me as a new trainee. He had already been in the Army and had done a tour overseas as a paratrooper. He was a very striking man, 6’03’, 220 pounds of muscle, blond hair, and of a proud Scandinavian heritage. I saw that women couldn’t help but find him appealing. He liked the thrill of danger and enjoyed much of his free time devoted to falling out of perfectly good airplanes. I had him for six months on training and he was a very competent recruit. We survived a number of close calls and we forged that durable bond that policemen used to get (it doesn’t happen so much anymore for a variety of reasons). Being someone’s police partner is like being married but way more intense as you know every square inch of the person’s psyche sitting next to you. You have to depend and trust them 100 percent, there is no room for error or weakness. Weakness shown in any amount brings out pack mentality and the person is destroyed very quickly. I used to hand out McDonalds applications to new trainees and remind them it was a choice and sacred public privilege to be a policeman. (I’m sure I would get beefed today for harassment and how times have changed for the worse). Our motto is “A tradition of service” and it is inculcated into every deputy.
XXXX made it off training successfully and moved on with his career, always staying focused on patrol. We lost track of each other as our careers wound into different paths and stations. I went over to our full time SWAT team. I had already promoted to Sergeant but was starting to get emotionally tired and transferred to another station as my “retirement” station. And, after several more good years, I pulled the plug. My injuries and surgeries caught up with me.
XXXX listened to my counsel, followed my lead, and joined the station as his retirement station as well. He was an avid surfer, so for him it was the perfect place to work, surfing in the morning, and working PM or EM shift. By this time he had accrued 25 years, all patrol, and had given up on being promoted, choosing to be a sun worshiper instead. He limped, literally, through the next five years there. The citizens and young deputies loved him equally and his nickname with the locals became the name of the station (I’m withholding that name to continue to protect his identity and spare his family more trauma) and forged many relationships with both movie stars and beach bums alike. The young deputies would refer to him as Dad and I think he liked that and wore it well. His blond hair had become silver with age and his brow furrowed from stress.
No one comes away from a 30 year law enforcement career unfazed or unscratched… no one. Sociologists say for every year a policemen serves they age or live six years experiences compared to that of an average citizen. Maybe that’s true, considering all the bad we see in the world and how it colors our lens. XXXX also had the emotional drain of a couple of career shootings, too many fights to ever count and several car accidents. The car accidents really took their toll upon him. It was something that he and I shared as I had spent a year and half in and out of hospitals from being hit by a 0.32 BAC drunk driver at 100 mph during a pursuit, so I could really identify.
XXXX would call me for advice about retirement and the “next step” and we began to talk every week. As an aside XXXX was very well-off financially and had a very healthy retirement including a nontaxable medical portion. I could tell XXXX was in great pain and that traditional pain management wasn’t suiting him. One day he told me he was going to try “natural alternatives”. Little did I know he was talking about “dabs”, although he eventually revealed this to me ashamed of what I might think. By this time it was legal in California and while I hated it, I tried to be supportive of him. XXXX had been using “dabs” for about a half of year, increasingly heavily. I noticed his behavior changed and became very “dark” and that his depression was noticeable. At one point he began to speak to me in vague passing about suicide as an alternative to life. In retrospect the “cop talk” was a cry for help and I missed the cue. Death is a matter of fact for police and after handling enough homicides you just look at it as another day. In the end XXXX became very paranoid and was calling me about Hell’s Angels stalking him or neighbors shining lights in his windows or vandalizing his property (all turned out to be false). But since I had always known him as stable when drug-free, I believed him…at first. I received a very chaotic phone call from one of his friends telling me he was with XXXX and XXXX was acting so bizarrely that he was concerned for his and XXXX’s safety. I called my former station and asked that Sheriff’s deputies be sent to him on a “check on the welfare call”. Medics and deputies responded and checked XXXX, who would not self- admit for 5150 WIC (danger to self or others, gravely disabled) and were reticent to do anything. What policeman wants to make another policeman, especially one with thirty years on, go to the hospital involuntarily?
I was livid and wrote a detailed 5150 statement asking the department to take XXXX’s gun and badge and direct him, involuntarily, into mental health treatment. XXXX was a danger to self and others at this point. Eventually, this occurred and XXXX was hospitalized for acute THC intoxication and depression. For a while, he got sober and better, but his pain never subsided and he was drawn back to concentrated THC again. The cycle of depression and psychotic behavior reappeared pretty quickly. Because of my reporting, XXXX would never talk to me again and my calls went unanswered. His family did reach out to me to thank me as being the only policemen that ever really cared about him enough to say: you’re over the edge, partner. I took a lot of crap from my fellow deputies for doing what I did and many said I should have just left him alone. I know they didn’t understand what was happening to him.
XXXX was an avid martial artist and had studied a Japanese form for many years, considering himself a warrior. This would play a factor in the end of his life. In many ways I guess he was a warrior living the code of Bushido. He didn’t have a good support system and the girl (a stunning French national) he thought he might marry left him at some point and I don’t think he ever got over that. I reminded him there were no -or at least it was my belief – good women in Los Angeles because of the lifestyle. I begged him to move away. Little did I know this would be my last call with XXXX
And so the sad end…
XXXX laid upon his bed the next day and using a tactical knife cut his own throat, In some weird way I think he felt he was performing ritual Japanese suicide He probably bled out for many minutes before his circulatory system gave out and he died. I can only imagine how painful it was and how psychotic he had become. He was discovered the next day when his family, who wasn’t geographically close, (whom he had begun to threaten while under the influence of hi-po THC), asked for deputies to do a check- on -the- welfare call. I am sure the blood soaked scene was indelibly etched on the minds of those two deputies forever. Who knows at some point they may not be able to deal with it themselves.
The coroner’s report listed the death as suicide and noted that his body tissues were saturated with THC. Suicide is a selfish act and XXXX left many people with a lifetime of pain, but the system also grossly failed him.
He served the citizens for thirty years with honor and distinction receiving many accolades and commendations.
His family reaches out to me on occasion, just trying to connect with who XXXX was as a policeman and the wounds are ripped open anew. Although his death is several years old, it still feels like right now when I think about it and I wonder what I could have done differently. It will always be with me. I have been asked to join a national group on suicide prevention for policemen… and I haven’t been able to do it for I find it too sad to relive his story. XXXX was born in December and so on his birthday I will think of him forever.
I hate marijuana to the core and I will never accept it in any fashion. The government can make it legal and not enforce laws all they want but I will never change. I will work tirelessly for the rest of my life in drug education and activism because I know… if the strongest of us can succumb, anyone can.
Name withheld for security reasons,
Sergeant-Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department-retired