CANNABIS CULTURE – “There are certain figures in the history of marijuana that loom large—that no one is aware of. I want to make sure that they are not forgotten,” says Nico Ponce de Leon Dios, Co-Founder of Foxy and Executive Producer of the short film, The Pope Of Dope: The Story of NYC’s First Delivery Service.
But the homage was perhaps too short. The film’s length of six minutes and thirty-four seconds is not nearly enough to fully capture Cesar’s contribution to the cannabis industry.
Moreover, his contribution to a community.
Clayton Patterson, Artist, Documentarian, and friend to Cesar, told Cannabis Culture that, “Mickey was very generous. And he had all these sort of crazy ideas, like people could have healthcare and stuff.”
He added that Cesar “made a lot of money on pot. And he spent a lot of money on people.”
The First Cannabis Couriers of NYC
Cesar ran his popular cannabis delivery service in the city’s Lower East Side at a time when people who enjoyed some green every now and again were as at odds with the police as people who pushed heroin.
According to Patterson, “Even in those f—in’ days, Mickey [Cesar] sold to everybody. The mayor might not be talkin’, but he probably might be smokin’.”
By the time Cesar was advertising his on-call service on the Howard Stern Show, everyone in New York City knew they could dial 1-800-WANT-POT, to summon a bike courier with an envelope full of cannabis.
Not only did Cesar provide the citizens of NYC access to a convenient and dependable delivery service, but he also gave some of the city’s castaways good, solid employment—with health and dental insurance.
A Living Sacrament?
According to Best-Selling Author, Award-Winning Journalist, and Founder of The Sager Group, Mike Sager, Cesar’s level of dedication to his cause was unparalleled. “He made his body a living sign. He lived his beliefs.”
Sager embedded himself into drug cultures all over the US, including the Lower East Side of New York, to write the collected works in Stoned Again. He spent a great deal of time with Cesar and his group, and he spoke of that time with intense fondness:
“Mickey had a sense of humor. But he also had an approach of othodox that only he and his small band of freaks and weirdos adhered to.” He added, “He was so loveable and so perverse. He said these things that nobody really accepted, but it was the word of law.”
On the other hand, Patterson described Cesar as someone who was just having a lot of fun. “Mickey talked religion and pot. But he was kinda full of shit. He just liked pot,” he said.
Doing the Work
Cesar was committed to helping the world through cannabis, with an absolute sense of conviction.
Throughout the AIDS crisis, he gave the people in his community support and free cannabis; and he let people stay in his apartments and phone centers rent-free when they were struggling.
In a 1990 Howard Stern episode transcript published by High Times earlier this year, Cesar said “There are people out there suffering, people who are dying who need grass.” He begged the question, “What kind of government is this who doesn’t give a good goddamn what happens to its citizens?”
He eventually started a church, called it The Church of the Realized Fantasy, and appointed himself the Pope.
While this may seem like an obvious grab for attention, Ponce de Leon Dios noted that “Plenty of modern celebrities flaunt their use of cannabis, enjoying lots of attention for it; but they aren’t ideologues the way Cesar was.”
He pointed out that, “One of the reasons Mickey was out there and in your face, is that he truly believed in the power of cannabis.”
The Darker Side
When you love everyone, accepting the ne’er do wells of the world without question, you sometimes attract the wrong kind of attention.
Especially if you’re going to have a church. With drugs. In the 1980s.
Daniel Rakowitz, a man accused of brutally murdering ballerina Monika Beerle and feeding her to local homeless people, was associated with The Church of the Realized Fantasies.
Because there was a fascination with—and panic over—“Satanic” cults at the time, the church was at the heart of an investigation. Police suspected “about a dozen devil worshippers” were responsible for the murder of Beele and serveral others, according to a 1992 story in the Baltimore Sun.
Patterson dismissed the notion, saying, “Mickey’s thing was so transparent in a way that it wasn’t complex. And it was obvious that that wasn’t his thing.”
In addition to multiple cannabis-related arrests and a conviction that had him spending many of his last few years in prison, his business suffered the ills of any business in a neighborhood like the Lower East Side.
Patterson said, “There was a street gang on his block called the Hitmen. They wanted him to pay protection money and he refused. So they shot him six times.”
That didn’t stop Cesar. Several accounts claimed he was so big that you couldn’t even tell he had been shot until you saw the wounds oozing.
The Legend Remembered
Mickey Cesar (aka The Pope of Dope) was memorable to everyone who met him, with “joyful” being one of the words most used to describe him.
A towering figure who is shown grinning throughout The Pope of Dope—even (or maybe especially) while handcuffed and being escorted by the police—he was “Jewish, Gay, and really and Anarchist type,” according to Patterson.
Seger noted that Cesar was the kind of person who would say to the police as they were arresting him, “Well if you’re not gonna use my pot I’d like to have it back.”
A friend, John Penley, was quoted in High Times as saying, “No matter what they did to him, he wouldn’t shut his mouth.” Which is likely what led to his business’ downfall.
“He was probably the only dealer I know to complain that he had more pot than what the cops said he had,” Penley added.
However bombastic Cesar was, he cared deeply for his community. Ponce de Leon Dios said, “He gave people a place to exist.”
Mickey Cesar died of liver cancer in 1995.
Images courtesy Clayton Patterson