Why you should care
Because weed shouldn’t make you a criminal, but …
The sun was setting as we drove through the crisp July evening in Madison’s dad’s 1985 Volvo station wagon. Summer was already cooling down up in the Great White North. We’d just spent the best weekend of our lives at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in Canada, dancing in the mud, flirting with boys and buying legal beer for the first time. Turns out, Lucky Lager tastes like the best craft beer money can buy when you’re 18.
I wasn’t a bad kid in high school. In fact, I was quite the opposite. I got straight A’s, I was in the National Honor Society, and I played the flute in band. But I had a hedonistic side too. I liked the rush of staying out past curfew, going to keggers and smoking pot. So when four of my friends asked if I wanted to go to a music festival in Canada, I was all for it. Luckily, Natalie’s mom was also going to the festival, so my parents didn’t put up a fight when I asked permission. Little did they know, she was going separately, and we’d spend approximately zero amount of time under parental supervision.
The drive to Winnipeg was only eight hours from Minneapolis and filled with the excitement of a party weekend ahead, so the time flew by. The drive home, on the other hand, was dragging by like algebra class on the last day of school. Finally, we approached the sobering lights of the U.S. Border Patrol as the sun dipped below the barren plains of North Dakota in the distance.
Seeing the uniformed men carrying rifles, my body stiffened. I suddenly remembered what was hiding in the back of the station wagon.
I felt sick as I realized the gravity of the situation.
While packing up to leave, we decided to ditch the rest of the weed we’d purchased at the festival. “There’s no way we’re taking this back across the border,” I said. “But…” Madison protested. I wasn’t surprised. Madison smoked a lot of weed. She didn’t just want to get stoned on the drive home; she wanted it to curb her anxiety. In 2006, hardly anyone believed marijuana could be used for legitimate medical reasons. But Madison needed it.
Still, we protested. How could we even think about bringing weed across the border? But after she insisted, we caved. We were going to smuggle marijuana across the U.S.–Canadian border.
Now, seeing the bright lights ahead, I was regretting that decision. “But it is really well hidden,” I thought, trying to calm my nerves. We put it inside a deodorant stick, inside a toiletry bag, inside the side panel of the back of the car, which locked with a key. There was no way they’d find it.
We pulled up to the window, and a border patrol agent greeted us. “Good evening, ladies,” he said. “Where are you coming from?”
I didn’t want to lie, so I didn’t: “The festival …” My friends looked at me with daggers in their eyes.
The agent whispered something to his nearby colleague and they turned back toward us. “We’re going to need all of you to please step out of the vehicle,” he said. My stomach dropped. We slowly got out as they brought a German shepherd toward the car. I knew what that meant.
“Shit,” I whispered under my breath as the dog began sniffing his way around the exterior. When the dog got to the back of the car, he started going crazy. “Whose car is this?” the agent asked.
“My dad’s,” said Madison, slowly.
He opened the hatchback. “Is there a key for this?” he said pointing at the side panel.
“I lost it,” Madison lied.
“We have cause to believe there are drugs present in this vehicle, so we’re going to have to break it open.” Within minutes, the agents had the side panel open, pulled out the toiletry bag, opened the deodorant stick and pulled out the silver dollar–size bud we thought was so cleverly hidden away.
“Who does this belong to?” the agent asked us. No one said anything. “Either someone fesses up now or you’ll all be detained.”
Madison stepped forward. “It’s mine.” The agent took her by the arm and led her toward the border patrol office nearby. “Your friend will be detained here until the state of North Dakota decides if they want to press charges for possession of marijuana,” he said. “You can all wait inside.”
We followed suit. I felt sick as I realized the gravity of the situation. I sat with my friends on a cold metal bench in the lobby of the U.S. Border Patrol office in Pembina, North Dakota, while we awaited Madison’s fate. Natalie seemed worried too, but the other two girls were joking and laughing with each other as if nothing had happened. They looked like they were still back at the festival without a care in the world. I rolled my eyes. “Some people have a lot less to lose,” I thought, remembering my college scholarship and untarnished reputation.
After an eternity, the agent came out of the back holding room where Madison was. “The state isn’t going to press charges,” he said. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief. “But,” he continued, “you will have to pay a fine before we can release her.”
The damage was $1,000 — $200 a person. It was more than any of us could afford at the time, but thankfully we were good for it. We spent the next half hour driving around the dark streets of Pembina, looking for ATMs. After making three separate stops (the machines kept running out of money), we made it back to border patrol, paid the fine and got Madison out of holding.
The rest of the drive home was silent. I knew it was idiotic to bring weed across the U.S. border, and I resented Madison for insisting. I wanted her to pay me that $200 back. But I also didn’t really put up a fight. We were all complicit.
It’s been 12 years since that night. Multiple states have since relaxed their marijuana laws, and Canada voted to legalize weed recreationally in October. I can’t help but wonder if we would’ve been stopped for such a small amount today. But over time, I’ve come to another important yet daunting realization about the outcome of the incident: We were damn lucky to be young white girls.