By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
"If you have a DARE sticker or a Say No to Drugs sticker, that alerted me to you," he says, tailing a car on the interstate. "You would not believe the people I arrested with those types of stickers on their cars. Cops do not trust people, period. Because they get lied to every single day."
Number One: Don't put any stickers on your car. Nothing. Supporting law enforcement, belonging to a frat, being a Vietnam vet -- all of these make the fuzz notice you, and your primary mission is to blend in. That means no reckless driving, no overly safe driving. Blend.
Number Two: Add a woman to the mix. Nothing says "stoners" like a carload of sausage.
Number Three: Hide your pot in food. It won't fool the drug dogs (they're too smart for that) but it might confuse the handlers (no comment).
Number Four: Roll in the rain. No one likes to get wet, not even cops.
Number Five: If you're only holding a small amount of weed and a cop wants to search your car, give him consent. That's right: Give him consent. "When an American exercises his constitutional right to refuse consent to search of a vehicle, that is a huge reasonable suspicion to a cop," says Cooper. "A hundred percent of the time when somebody refused consent, I always found something they didn't want me to see." If the police want inside your car, they will get inside your car, even if that means hanging out on the side of the road until a warrant or a dog arrives. Give consent, and they probably won't look very hard. After all, you've got nothing to hide.
Cooper realizes some of his tips would also work for other contraband, but he says it's "no different than when you order a DVD on how to shoot a handgun accurately. That trick you learned, somebody can take it and use it to murder somebody. That doesn't make the DVD bad." He wishes coke, smack and meth could be wiped off the planet, but even if folks do use his video to traffic the hard stuff, he says they don't deserve to go to jail for the drugs. "The police say, 'Well, these drug offenders are violent.' I say, 'Put 'em in jail for the violence.'"
He's now tailing a gray sedan, his windshield speckled with drizzle. "Louisiana tags, rolling west. Two young white males. This would be a money load. I'm thinking they're carrying money to Dallas to buy drugs to carry back to Louisiana. Now get a good shot of these two," he says, revving his Suburban. He's about to elaborate on why these dudes are high-profile targets, but he gets distracted. "He is rolling a joint in his lap right there!" he yells, and the dudes look at him, at the camera, and speed off down the road. "Now, see, that's a good example of what not to do. Do not roll down the highway rolling a joint."
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Marihuana Tax Act, which effectively outlawed pot across the nation. It happened four years after that noble experiment, the prohibition of alcohol, had been declared a failure. Texas was actually ahead of the cannabis curve, criminalizing the stuff in 1919. One of the main reasons cited was that marijuana made Mexicans crazy. That rationale has been tweaked over the years, but the war goes on. In 2005, almost 700,000 arrests were made in the United States for marijuana possession, another 90,000 for dealing, according to FBI statistics.
"I realized long ago that when uniformed officers arrested a robber or a rapist, the rate for that particular crime went down," former cop Jack Cole says in a speech he shared with the Houston Press. "But when I arrested a drug dealer, the crime rate didn't go down. I was simply creating a job opening for a long line of people more than willing to risk arrest for those obscene profits." Cole was a New Jersey cop for 26 years. He's now the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization of former officers who want an end to the drug war. Barry Cooper joined LEAP shortly before news of his DVD got out, but the org quickly backed away.
"While LEAP is in sympathy with millions of people who have their lives damaged or destroyed by the failed policy of prohibition, LEAP in no way endorses the violation of the law, or any efforts to frustrate the hard work of those sworn to uphold the law," says the organization in a release. "The only reason people listen to us is because they believe we are unbiased and present the truth about the war on drugs. Much of that belief is based on the fact that we are not a moneymaking organization."
Cooper is definitely profiting from his video -- no doubt about it, although he won't discuss exact figures. But the cash is what gives his mission that extra kick. Plenty of former drug warriors have come out against prohibition, but nothing says "look over here" like a former cop actually making money off helping stoners hide their sacks. And Cooper is custom-made for the attention. He's not a fried-out hippie. He's not the stiff military type. He's a dude, tall and proud and loud.