If the commodity in which Jennifer Stahl dealt were plastics or pansies, her vicious murder during an armed robbery last Thursday at her place of business would have been only the latest chapter in the city's bloody history of crime; Stahl would have been only the latest shopkeeper gunned down by greedy criminals.
But Stahl sold pot, good quality, high-dollar boutique bud, according to titillated press reports, and because of that fact, the killings of her and two of her guests (two more were wounded) has morphed from the story of just another armed robbery gone horribly wrong into an object lesson on the evils of the marijuana trade. At least, that's what New York City's top police officials would have you believe.
Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik told a press gathering the day after the shootings that marijuana use and sale "is not a victimless crime. Anyone who believes it is should have been in that apartment... and seen those victims on the floor, bound and gagged. These people were executed over marijuana," Kerik informed the unenlightened. Although police investigators said the motive of the murders was robbery, Kerik did not explain how the crime differed from the robbery-murders of other merchants in the city or what quality intrinsic to marijuana spurred the crime.
Bridget Brennan, the city's special narcotics prosecutor, also took advantage of the slayings to do some special pleading. "Marijuana is a highly profitable drug," she explained. "Money is the source of most narcotics disputes. These guys can't settle their disputes in court."
Excuse me, says National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) executive director Keith Stroup. "They are simply making our case that prohibition is dangerous," he told DRCNet. "The whole case demonstrates what is wrong with the black market."
And, Stroup added, the fact that Stahl was in the retail marijuana business does not mean she deserves to be doubly victimized, once by her killers and again by drug warriors with dark fulminations about violence in the marijuana trade. "If she had not sold pot, they wouldn't be trashing the victim," Stroup fumed. "There were no guns in her apartment.
"This was a woman I met. She had her picture taken with me at the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam last year. She was a decent, lovable lady who happened to be a marijuana seller," Stroup mused. "In New York there are a lot of them. In some ways she was the American equivalent of the Dutch coffee shops, but we haven't developed a legal support system for people like her."
Chuck Thomas of the Marijuana Policy Project also took offense at Kerik's remarks. "Does he really think this would have happened if marijuana were regulated like alcohol?" asked Thomas. "There was a time when people were shooting each other over alcohol distribution."
New York police officials, of course, are engaged in a vendetta against marijuana that has resulted in New York City accounting for nearly 10% of all marijuana arrests nationwide. Under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's "quality of life" campaign to clean up the city, New York smokers by the tens of thousands have seen the quality of their lives bruised and battered by day-long stays in city holding cells after misdemeanor possession arrests.
"Giuliani's policies are at fault," says Thomas. "There's an iron law of prohibition: the tougher the laws, the tougher the criminals. To the extent that kinder, gentler hippies are deterred from growing a few plants and a market develops, ruthless criminals prey on that trade. Their own policies created this, and ultimately, they will have to create a nonviolent, regulated opportunity for people to obtain marijuana, either by growing their own or having regulated sales."
Jennifer Stahl and two of her friends are dead and their killers remain free. New York City tokers can rest assured that their political leaders are moving to ensure that the tragedy is repeated.