It was in this prohibitive climate that The Friendly Market - a bohemian lifestyle shop in Norman, Oklahoma - found itself defending the legitimate uses of smoking accessories in an epic legal saga. The story is studded with every classic courtroom flourish: loveable defendants, ambitious prosecutors, a no-nonsense judge, and plenty of dramatic irony. The accused - better known now as The Friendly Market Four - didn’t set out to become champions of justice. But none of us can hide from destiny.
Of course, like any pipe, glass bubblers and pipes can be used to smoke tobacco. Or white sage, to relax and improve your mood. Or blue lotus, to feel euphoric. Or mullein, to ease anxiety. Or … Unfortunately, the Cleveland County District Attorney, Greg Mashburn, was unaware of the nuances of smokable herbs and their legality. And while one might assume that a complete understanding of the legality of things should be a prerequisite for District Attorney, that’s not the case. In 2015, DA Mashburn had his sights set on becoming Assistant U.S. Attorney for the entire state of Smokelahoma Oklahoma and wanted to foster a reputation for being tough on crime. To that end, he encouraged Norman law enforcement to go after head shops, and Detective Rick Newell answered the call.
Det. Newell was inspired to target The Friendly Market by a citizen’s report. Later, during trial, that citizen was revealed to be a fellow police officer. Newell approached Cox and threatened him with arrest if he continued to sell so-called paraphernalia. Cox complied but sought a second opinion. Once again, he consulted lawyers and politicians to get a truthful, wholly truthful, and nothing but truthful interpretation of paraphernalia law.
Because in order to be deemed paraphernalia, items have to be sold in a certain context. Otherwise, perfectly innocent objects like metal spoons or chemistry sets could be labeled paraphernalia, and we’d all be at risk of arrest. Paraphernalia, among other considerations, needs to be in a context where narcotics are being consumed, or displayed in a way suggesting it should be used with narcotics, or to come with instructions that reference narcotics, etc. Once all the criteria were taken into account, Robert Cox believed he wasn’t selling paraphernalia.
It was during this second round of consultation that Cox met Norman City Councilman, Stephen Tyler Holman. The two quickly became friends, and Holman took the post of store manager at The Friendly Market. Cox also met the lawyers Brecken Wagner and Blake Lynch, who had successfully defended holistic shops in the past. Wagner & Lynch went on to represent The Friendly Market Four, and they advised Cox to restock the glass room in his store.
A second raid followed shortly thereafter. More cash and more glass went out the door, and Cox and Holman found themselves charged with multiple paraphernalia misdemeanors and the felony “obtaining proceeds of drug activity.” If they pled guilty to the misdemeanors, forfeited their cash and merchandise, and vowed never to sell pipes again, DA Mashburn would waive the felony charges and commute their sentences.
“Frack that! Fight for your right to be awesome, Friendly Marketeers!” one might be inclined to say. But consider the courage it took in real life to reject the State’s offer. Both men were facing months to years in prison. Stephen Holman could kiss his career in local politics goodbye. Robert Cox would lose his business and the means to provide for his family. They truly felt like they were doing nothing wrong, and when the government punishes you for doing nothing wrong, we call it persecution. It’s every American’s responsibility to resist persecution, but many of us rarely do. We owe a lot to folks like Cox and Holman.
They told the State no thank you. In return, DA Mashburn brought charges against The Friendly Market clerks, Cody Franklin and Max Walters, bringing the number of defendants to the eponymous Four. The State’s case was simple. You can call it a water pipe, you can say it’s for tobacco use only, and you can sell it next to Gandhi posters and bow-tie dog collars - but we all know a bong when we see one.
The law firm of Wagner & Lynch won Max Walters’ case with relative ease. During Cody Franklin’s trial, they had Detective Newell pack a glass pipe with tobacco to illustrate its legal uses. The common sense approach must have appealed to the jurors. Not only did they acquit Franklin, some of them also waited in the hall to ask The Friendly Market team how they could support the cause. All was going well.
But Cox and Holman’s trial would prove more difficult. The prosecution had the most to gain and lose with this last attempt, and they’d developed new strategies to oppose Wagner & Lynch’s rational and compassionate approach. Presiding over the final case was Judge Tracy Schumacher, who decided not to grant the defense an inch of wiggle room. She ruled against them on virtually every motion. Wagner & Lynch brought in an expert in the smoking of herbs, Max Montrose from the Trichome Institute in Denver. They wanted him to demonstrate for the jury how legal herbs could be smoked, either in person or via video footage, but Judge Schumacher refused both. Montrose was, however, allowed to testify.
That’s right. The Oklahoma state flag has a pipe on it. In fact, it’s the only state flag to include a smoking device of any kind. And the Oklahoma State Supreme Court has a calumet prominently displayed in its lobby. If the State were to maintain possession of The Friendly Market’s merchandise, they should certainly seize the Supreme Court’s pipe as criminal evidence. Suffice it to say, DA Mashburn lost again, and on September 12th, 2017 the battle ended and the property was returned.
The Friendly Market is once again open for business and Cox, Holman, Franklin, and Walters can be found there happily making people happy. If you live in Oklahoma or are passing through, give them a visit, buy yourself a 100% legal pipe, and let them know you’re grateful for the two-year sacrifice they laid at the altar of freedom.