Who Will Save the City?
By Paul DeRienzo

High Times: November 1997 #267

NEW YORK CITY-Jerry the Peddler sits down in his Lower East Side backyard and expertly splits a Philly and rolls a trademark New York-style blunt. Just a couple of weeks earlier last July, Mayor Rudy Giuliani–chief inquisitor of so-called "quality-of-life" offenses — had been embarrassed by screaming tabloid headlines announcing that marijuana had been discovered (by tabloid reporters, somehow) growing in nearby Tompkins Square Park. Jerry says he didn’t personally sow the seeds that produced the 18 pot plants that were found there, but declares with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, "I know who did."

A few pot plants growing in a park where some young people can be regularly seen shooting heroin, in a city where hundreds of thousands casually smoke herb, may seem a little inconsequential. But if this is no ordinary park, neither is it an ordinary mayor. Rudy Giuliani is a former federal Prosecutor who was the number-three man in the Justice Department when Ronald Reagan revved up the War on Drugs in 1981. He is also running for reelection, and though he is widely expected to win, the park plants have opened the possibility for embarrassment, as chasing pot people out of the city’s Parks is one of the short-fused mayor’s big cosmetic issues. In May the annual Cures Not Wars marijuana rally was banned from historic Washington Square Park, with more than 60 arrests.

Jerry the peddler is no stranger to controversy. He’s been a key figure in New York’s annual pot rallies for more than 20 years. In contrast to the more conventional demonstrations Organized across town by Yippie party chief Dana Beal, Jerry and friends have put on annual 11 pig Toasts" in Tompkins Square, wherein full-size roast porkers-adorned on the sizzling turnspit with police helmets-are fed to the homeless. At the last event hundreds of appetite—enhancing joints were distributed as local bands wailed, to no publicity at all.

Still, the luridly publicized discovery of the pot plants was the last straw for irascible Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, who pledges that any plants henceforth found in city parks will be "deracinated," a fancy term for uprooted. But the controversy was really fueled by the commissioner’s initial denial, along with police brass, that the plants were even marijuana at all. Stern at first told incredulous reporters the plants were "ragweed." That statement prompted local papers to enlist a professional horticulturist, who confirmed that the Plants were indeed cannabis sativa.

In fact, according to Jerry and his friends, they were indica. Smiling, Jerry says he congratulates the city for finding the pot patch, but adds, "They’ve got a dozen more to 90."

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