Friday, Feb. 1, was going to be a great night for Jack Reynolds. He and his wife (whose real names will not be used here) had tickets to see The Who at Oracle Arena. The legendary English rockers were performing Quadrophenia, their lauded 1973 rock opera, on what some fear will be the band's final tour. Reynolds and his wife had pretty good seats, too, at the end of a row in Section 108.
As the lights went down at the start of The Who's set, the couple engaged in a ritual familiar to many Bay Area concertgoers: They lit a joint. They weren't alone — as Reynolds tells it, there were many people around smoking marijuana, quite a few of them older than him and his wife, who are in their mid-40s. But lighting that joint, as it turned out, was the beginning of the end of the couple's night in Oakland.
"Literally within a second of when the first song came on," Reynolds says, two Oakland police officers showed up next to him in the aisle. One of the cops angrily threw Reynolds and his wife out of the concert with no refund — only the cold promise of a citation in the mail. (No ticket has arrived as of press time.) Reynolds even showed the cop an ID card indicating he's a legal medical marijuana patient, to no avail. "[The officer] took our tickets away, and kicked us out the door," he says. "It freaked out everyone around us."
In an ironic twist, Reynolds is a psychologist employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and counsels violent offenders for a living. His wife is also a doctor. Like many music fans, they often smoke marijuana at concerts. And what happened to them on Feb. 1 is essentially a stoner's worst nightmare. The prevailing perception among Bay Area music fans, including Reynolds — until this month, anyway — is that while marijuana isn't exactly encouraged at concerts, it's always tolerated. Most pot smokers believe they can puff away during a show without fear of a cop or security guard kicking them out, much less of getting a ticket.
And in San Francisco, that is pretty much the case.
Ask local concert promoters and major club owners whether they care if people smoke pot at shows, and you'll either get a winking "no comment" or a big hit of straight talk — but only off the record. "I don't give a fuck if people smoke pot," says one S.F. club manager, who of course asked not to be named. "I'd much rather have a house full of stoners than drunks. Pot smokers don't start fights."
Club owners and police are quick to say they'll interfere if a person under the influence of any substance is causing a problem. But if not, city cops working festivals and large concerts have better things to do, says SFPD spokesman Albie Esparza. "This is San Francisco, and SFPD is very accustomed to marijuana floating about," he says, noting that the city has declared pot enforcement a very low priority. "As long as people are behaving and enjoying the venue, it's not really an issue."
Consider this before rolling up your next mega-spliff, though: Under certain circumstances, police officers are hired by event promoters to work as private security. In that case, their enforcement priorities are at the discretion of the people paying them. "If [the promoter] wants zero tolerance ... then that's what they'll do," Esparza says.
Oakland police did not respond to requests for comment for this story, but this seems a likely explanation for what happened to Dr. Reynolds and his wife. As it turns out, The Who singer Roger Daltrey is extremely sensitive to smoke, pot and otherwise. The group will only play in nonsmoking venues, and tries to make sure there's as little air pollution as possible. "The band plays no part in directing any personnel," says its publicist, Bari Lieberman, "but does make the request that the [no smoking] policy be enforced." Onstage in Oakland, Daltrey even asked fans not to light up — which, according to numerous reports, they mostly didn't.
So while we don't know for sure, Reynolds probably just took a big toke of bad luck: A cop watched him spark a joint at the end of a row, saw an easy target, and decided to act. It wasn't enough to keep the doctor and his wife from seeing The Who, though. A week after the Oakland show, they drove south to catch the band in Las Vegas — at a venue called, of all things, the Joint. It was announced at the start of the show that smoke would "tear up" Daltrey's voice. Given the warning, did Reynolds and his wife try to smoke pot at their second Who concert this year? Not exactly, he says: They used a vaporizer.