David Bowie pleads not guilty to marijuana possession

On 25 March 1976, at Rochester City Court in New York state, David Bowie pleaded not guilty to possession of marijuana.

He had been arrested and charged in the early hours of 21 March in Rochester, along with Iggy Pop, bodyguard Dwain Vaughns, and a 20-year-old local woman, Chiwah Soo.

Marijuana possession was a class C felony, which carried a maximum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment.

Rest assured the stuff was not mine. I can’t say much more, but it did belong to the others in the room that were busted in. Bloody potheads. What a dreadful irony — me popped for grass. The stuff sickens me. I haven’t touched it in a decade.
David Bowie
Playboy, September 1976

The tour continued for three more dates, in Indiana, Connecticut, and New York. After the latter show Bowie, Pop, and Vaughns were driven back to Rochester, where they arrived at 4am the next morning.

At Rochester City Court the following day, 25 March, the four defendants all pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal possession of marijuana. The arraignment lasted just 10 minutes, as a crowd of around 200 fans, reporters and police officers looked on.

The case was adjourned to 20 April. Judge Cassetti allowed Bowie to remain free on bail, and continued the $2,000 bonds on the other three defendants.

Before leaving court, Bowie’s mugshot was taken. The photos were salvaged in 2007 from an estate sale of retired Rochester police officer Gary Hess, who hadn’t realised the value of the images.

David Bowie's police mugshot, 25 March 1976

The North American leg of the Isolar Tour ended on 26 March, with a concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The following day Bowie and Coco Schwab set sail for Cannes.

Bowie had reached Europe by the date of the final court hearing. His drugs charge was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanour, which meant the maximum possible punishment was reduced from 15 years to one year in prison.

Last updated: 19 May 2023
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