Introduction: James P. Gray is a retired Superior Court Judge of Orange County, California. He was a staff judge advocate and criminal-defense attorney in the US Navy JAG Corps in both Guam and Lemoore, California, and worked as a federal prosecutor for the US Attorney's office in Los Angeles, where he received numerous letters of commendation from federal agencies, and in private practice in civil litigation in Newport Beach for five years. He was appointed to the Santa Ana Municipal Court in 1983 and elevated to the Superior Court in 1989, from which he retired in 2009.
Gray is a sought-after speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). Previously a Republican, Judge Jim Gray was former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson's choice of vice president on the 2012 Libertarian Party ticket and was Libertarian candidate for US Senate in California in 2004.
Gray is the author of several books, including Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment Of War On Drugs, the culmination of his experience as a former federal prosecutor, defense attorney and trial judge. Walter Cronkite wrote of his book, "Judge Gray's thorough and scholarly work, based as it is on his personal experience, should help considerably to improve our impossible drug laws. [His] book drives a stake through the heart of the failed War on Drugs and gives us options to hope for in the battles to come." Gray has also written a musical entitled "Americans All," which he helps people bring to high school and community stages, as well as numerous articles in national publications.
Gray has been a member of the California Judicial Council, the California Judicial Council's Advisory Committee on Juvenile Law, the Advisory Board of the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, the Alcohol Advisory Board to the Orange County Board of Supervisors and a member of the Board of Councilors of the USC Law School.
Jim received his undergraduate degree from UCLA in 1966 and a Juris Doctor from USC in 1971, and served in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica for two years.
About Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP):
LEAP can best be described as a group of police, prosecutors, judges, corrections officials and others who once fought in the war on drugs and now advocate for its end.
LEAP's mission is "to reduce the multitude of harmful consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction by ending drug prohibition" and its goals are "(1) To educate the public, the media and policy makers about the failure of current drug policy by presenting a true picture of the history, causes and effects of drug use and the elevated crime rates more properly related to drug prohibition than to drug pharmacology and (2) To restore the public's respect for police, which has been greatly diminished by law enforcements involvement in imposing drug prohibition."
LEAP works to accomplish these goals via its constantly growing speakers bureau, staffed with knowledgeable and articulate current and former drug-warriors who describe the impact of current drug policies on police/community relations, the safety of law enforcement officers and suspects, police corruption and misconduct and the excessive financial and human costs associated with current drug policies.
Anthony Wile: Thanks for taking time to talk with us today. Let's start with some personal questions and discussion of libertarian principles as related to the US justice system, then talk more specifically about your participation with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and the War on Drugs. Can you give us some background on yourself, how you came to be the 2012 Libertarian candidate for US vice president and how you became a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition?
Jim Gray: I graduated from UCLA and then was in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica for two years in physical education, probably brushing my teeth in front of more elementary school classes than anyone in the Guinness Book of Records. I still view myself as being in the Peace Corps. I still try to make the system work and make things change so that they work better.
I was in law school then at USC and was immediately being drafted. I received my 1-A classification, back in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War, and knew that the military was in my future. So I chose to be a military lawyer and actually went into Navy JAG for four years, did criminal defense work and legal assistance and things like that. Thereafter I was a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles and then in the private practice of law, civil business litigation basically, for about five years. Then at the end of 1983 I was appointed by Governor Deukmejian to the Municipal Court in Orange County, California, and thereafter elevated to the Superior Court.
It became immediately clear to me that the biggest problem we were facing in the municipal court was alcohol-related offenses. We really weren't doing much about it, kind of growling at them, taking their money and then putting them out the door. So I finally decided when I had an involuntary homicide civil case where there was just nothing that could be done – this woman's son had been killed by a drunk driver and she was suing him, and he didn't have any money. All I could think of was I got off the bench and just hugged her and said I'm sorry. And I thought to myself, somebody should do something about this, and decided who better than me, as a trial court judge.
So within six months of my appointment to the municipal court we had up and running probably the first drug court in the United States of America but dealing with alcohol related offenses. It worked pretty well. We were able to keep about 65% of the alcoholics – although we called them high-risk problem drinkers – off alcohol for at least nine months, which is as long as I was able to keep statistics.
So you start looking further and see that alcohol is a mind-altering, sometimes addicting substance just like these other drugs that happen to be illegal. And they're medical issues but we're putting people in jail for having medical problems, and also making the cost of these drugs astronomical, which has, of course, created many more people willing to meet that demand. You must understand that as long as the demand is there it will be met. That's true locally and it's true nationally and it's certainly true internationally. So you can go into Colombia and try to beat them up for selling their largest cash crop and eventually, all you're successful in doing is kicking them out of Colombia and pushing them into Brazil or into Ecuador. So the problem is the demand.
I saw that we were leading the world in the incarceration of our people, both by sheer numbers as well as per capita, ruining people's lives, and I decided the so-called remedy is worse than the disease – namely, of course, drugs can be dangerous but they're made more dangerous because they're illegal so you have no quality control whatsoever, no say over the quantity sold, the place of sale, the licensing, the age restrictions, all of that. You soon learn that the term "controlled substances" is the biggest oxymoron in our world today because as soon as you prohibit a substance you give up all of your controls, in effect, to the criminal element, to the bad guys.
So who should do something about this more than a fairly conservative judge in a conservative county who's never used any form of illicit substances whatsoever? At least by my coming out publicly and stating my conclusions with my background I make people listen to the message. Nobody could accuse me of being soft on crime or whatever. So that's what I did. And in April of 1992 I did something very unusual for a sitting trial court judge. I held a press conference and stated that you couldn't do it worse if you tried, we're going to have to regulate and control these drugs, take the criminal element out of it and then address the drug problems.
For example, there's no question that Robert Downey Jr. is a gifted actor but he's had a lifelong heroin problem. Putting him in jail for his heroin problem is pretty much the same thing as putting Betty Ford in jail for her alcohol problem. That's a medical issue. Bring them closer to medical professional that can help them instead of relegating them to the automatic criminals and pushing them farther away. But if Betty Ford, Robert Downey Jr., you or I drive a motor vehicle while under the influence or impaired by you name it – alcohol, methamphetamines, heroin, marijuana, whatever – that's a crime. What's the difference? The answer to that is that now by your action you're putting our safety at risk and that's a legitimate criminal justice function.
That was certainly one of the reasons I became a Libertarian but I was a lifelong Republican until the passage of the so-called PATRIOT Act. At that point it just did me in because I could not be a part of any group that could condone, much less assist, this direct, frontal attack on our civil liberties. So I gave up my involvement with the Republican Party and it literally took me 13 seconds to decide I really am a Libertarian. In 1999 I'd never heard of the sitting governor of New Mexico but I read the newspapers and thought, wow – who is this Governor Gary Johnson fellow who's a Republican governor of New Mexico? He had launched what he called his own audit and concluded that the war on drugs is not working and has to be changed. So that's the first time I knew who he was.
Within a month he had organized a drug policy form in Albuquerque and because I was involved and pretty well out there I was invited. I met him, got to know him and when he ran for president in 2012 I started calling him the most qualified person that I know of to be president. Well, he became a Libertarian and I guess I said it a few too many times because he asked me to be his running mate and I agreed, on two conditions: The first was that we run to win, which he readily agreed he would do, and the second was, "You have to dress more presidential." He kind of chuckled and said, "Well, I'll try but you may not always like the results." He's really a down-home fellow. When he was in college he actually started his own handyman company, graduated from college and then turned that into the largest construction company in the state of New Mexico and really did quite well. So when he eventually was governor, he left the state with a billion dollar surplus, was financially responsible, socially accepting, worked really well with people and, again, I was proud to be a part of his campaign, our campaign, for president in 2012.
Anthony Wile: So what came of a sitting judge holding a public press conference and stating the war on drugs is failing, that we need to do something else? Any repercussions?
Jim Gray: Honestly, I didn't know what to expect. I expected death threats, actually. I expected that there'd be a recall election (judges in California are elected). I certainly expected someone to run against me in my next campaign. We have a six-year term and I wasn't completely stupid about it; I'd just won a term about five months before that so I had another five and a half years to let the dust settle. But I also didn't know if there'd be an ethical inquiry.
In fact, I told my presiding judge about two weeks before I did this just so I wouldn't blindside him. The next time I saw him was on Channel 11 News, anticipating that there'd be an ethical inquiry about me by the Judicial Performance Commission. Thankfully, the Judicial Performance Commission saw that as well and wrote me an unsolicited letter saying: "Dear Judge Gray, We know that you've seen speculation in the media that we're running an ethical inquiry about you. This is just to let you know that we are not. Sincerely yours." That was well received in my family. I didn't know what to expect.
Honestly, nothing happened. The district attorney didn't like what I was doing and the sheriff didn't like what I was doing, but they're both gone and I'm still here. The bar association passed a resolution not agreeing with me but agreeing that I have the right to discuss this publicly. So I basically was able to get away with it with the overall view that some things are more important than job security and, fortunately for me and my family, I was able to emerge pretty well unscathed.
Anthony Wile: Many people disregarded the draconian nature of the PATRIOT Act when it was first passed and it took them a long time to come to understand – many never have – how significant that really was. Why were you so immediately impacted?
Jim Gray: It is simply not what America stands for. People around the world still love Americans and they love America – they may not be that wild about our government a lot of the time and, honestly, I'm not either. I ask people often, what is it that makes us special? The answer is it's our freedoms and our liberties. They are our soul and our soul is under attack by our government. Not only that, but as I understand it, the act was written and on the shelf prior to September 11, 2001. The people in power at that time simply brought it off the shelf, dusted it off and used 9/11 as the rationale for passing this travesty.
Even with Mr. Obama in power – no one can accuse him of having liberal values – he has embraced the PATRIOT Act as his own and embellished it and gone beyond, from what I can tell, and also signed a National Defense Authorization Act whereby anyone, citizen or not, in our country can be labeled as a terrorist, could be detained – translation: arrested – held without trial forever or even sent off to another country, probably to be hurt or terrorized, in effect. That is now law under the United States. Gary Johnson, if elected president, as I hope, in 2016 will work mightily hard to repeal both of those acts. If we get elected it will be so attention getting that we'll have such a mandate I feel fully confident that we'll be able to do that.
Anthony Wile: Is the US judicial system actually aimed at achieving justice or are there other factors involved, especially when it comes to the war on drugs?
Jim Gray: I believe in our system. In fact, I've written an article within the last month and a half in the Los Angeles Daily Journal commending our criminal justice system and commending our civil justice system. Having said that, it certainly can be made better. There are always problems.
To take a step back, government is money. It's a question of from whom they take it and to whom they give it and, of course, they keep a lot of it along the way. So yes, you have numbers of factions that are involved in government or lobbying government to direct money their way, and that includes law enforcement, with regard to the war on drugs.
By the way, why does Mexico continue with its disastrous war on drugs? Sixty thousand people died a violent death in Mexico during President Calderon's war on drugs, having nothing to do with drugs whatsoever as the cause of their deaths. The cause of their deaths was drug money. So why does Mexico continue with this disaster? Because we literally bribe them with something on the order of $20 billion a year of money that they have to use to fight our war on drugs. Similarly, the United States government is bribing local cities all around the country – they call it police grants, namely bribes – but they have to use that to fight the war on drugs. So they are in effect propelling this failed policy because the cities want the money and then they have to continue to pursue it.
So it's money. In any program put in place there are always some winners and some losers, and that's true with education, with healthcare, it's true with anything. I assure you it's true with regard to drug policy. So who is winning today as to that policy? I name six groups.
The first is obviously the big-time drug dealers, the big-time drug cartels making hundreds of millions of dollars a year, laughing at us because no one will say with a straight face we seize more than ten percent of the illegal drugs in our society. So it's just a cost of doing business and they're becoming fabulously wealthy.
The second group is the juvenile street gangs. The biggest source of funding for any juvenile street gang in our country is the sale of illegal drugs, and they appreciate it. Hell's Angels is pretty much the same thing.
Number three is law enforcement. They are continuing to expand their fiefdoms, their money, because they are fighting against the first two groups. By the way, I am not pointing the finger at law enforcement and saying, "You failed us." They're doing a better job now than they've ever done before, with larger seizures, more arrests and longer prison sentences but, of course, we're still farther away from doing what's right than we were before – but law enforcement is winning.
The fourth group is the politicians that talk tough with regard to the war on drugs. Not smart and, of course, it's our problem because we're electing them – but "I'm going to put those drug dealers in prison and save our children" is a rallying cry that gets lots of politicians elected and re-elected, and it's our fault.
Number five is people involved in the free enterprise system who make money because of increased crime. Who is that? People who build prisons, a very lucrative thing to do, and people who staff prisons – the strongest political lobby group in the state of California is the prison guards union and that's pretty much consistent throughout the country, and they're winning – people who sell burglar alarm equipment, people who sell security services, even newspapers that make money because of increased crime. These groups are winning.
The sixth group is really a catastrophe because every terrorist organization around the world gets its primary source of funding from the sale of illegal drugs, to the degree that I call drug prohibition the "golden goose of terrorism." If our country really cared about fighting terrorism they would take away the one thing that makes terrorism fly and that is drug money. There are always going to be bad people around the world that want to do bad things to good people but they're going to be a lot less dangerous if they're not funded.
Let me continue this by asking, who is losing? The answer is everybody else, particularly our children. Why do we perpetuate such a failed policy? The answer to that is twofold: Number one, as I've already said, is money and the second is our children. People realize that they want to reduce the chances that our children will have a lifestyle of drug usage and drug selling so for all of its defects, we'll continue with this failed policy. I've seen it in juvenile court time and again. We're putting our children in harm's way for two extremely important reasons because of drug prohibition. First, ask ten teenagers, what is easier for you to get if you want it, marijuana or alcohol? Each one of them will say it's easier to get marijuana because the illegal dealers don't ask for ID. So we couldn't do it worse if we tried, and that's true with all other illicit drugs, as well.
Number two, now imagine I'm an adult drug dealer. How much risk-taking can I buy from a 15 or 16 year old, in the inner city or anywhere else, for $50 in cash? The answer is a whole bunch. Fifty dollars is nothing to a drug dealer but to a kid, that's a lot of money. So I use them as a cheap source of labor. I'll use them as a lookout or a courier or a gopher at first. Then, and you see this happen in juvenile court every day, as soon as their reliability is established I will trust them to go out and sell small amounts of drugs in their communities. Why? That's easy. They make more money and I make more money.
Ask yourself this question and you will demand the repeal of drug prohibition: If you're going to have a 15 or 16 year old selling drugs in his or her community, who are these young people going to sell to? You and me? Not a chance. They're going to sell to their 14, 15, 16 year old peers, recruiting more children to this very lifestyle of drug usage and drug selling that we say we're trying to keep them away from. This is caused by drug prohibition. You do not see high school kids selling bourbon to each other on high school campuses. They could, but there's no money in it. But they're selling methamphetamines, ecstasy and marijuana all the time because of the money. That's the problem.
Anthony Wile: When you make this compelling and multi-faceted argument, backed up by your years of having seen this firsthand on the bench, why do you think people don't agree that prohibition must immediately be overturned?
Jim Gray: It's money. In addition, we're fighting decades of rhetoric. I was raised to equate heroin, for example, with bad, with evil, with prison. We need to change that mindset. It certainly hasn't worked.
Anthony Wile: On the one hand, you said you believe the justice system is working, that you believe in it.
Jim Gray: Yes.
Anthony Wile: On the other hand, there are something like 27 million people involved in the prison system in the US, mainly for victimless drug-related charges.
Jim Gray: We have about 3.2 million people in prison but 27 million are probably afoul of the justice system, in prison, in jail, on probation, on parole.
Anthony Wile: How do those two things balance, the justice system works yet there are 27 million people paying dearly for a drug-related charge?
Jim Gray: The criminal justice system does not make the laws. The criminal justice system enforces the laws and they are trying to carry out the dictates of Congress in its so-called wisdom. It's a political issue and the politics is changing, fortunately. I mentioned I held a press conference in 1992 and I'll tell you how cloudy my crystal ball was. I guaranteed to anyone who would listen that by the year 2000 we would have a materially different drug policy in our country – and I believed it. Obviously, I was wrong.
But now, with Colorado and Washington having passed their regulate-marijuana initiatives in 2012, probably Alaska passing one in 2014 and very likely Oregon as well, and then California in 2016 and other states, marijuana prohibition is on its way out. We can see that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel because people now are beginning to get it. And as soon as marijuana prohibition goes out people are going to take a much stronger, harder look at the prohibition of these other drugs and start whittling away at these various things, for example, heroin. All the drugs are different and have different effects on different people. In fact, you and I both know probably 30 people who use cocaine on a pretty regular basis. We just don't know who they are. They use it pretty much responsibly. I think it's a stupid thing to do but, then again, a lot of people drink alcohol irresponsibly and that's kind of stupid, too.
Switzerland, since the late 1990s, has had a very good, successful program working to bring heroin-addicted people into the medical community. They get prescriptions for their heroin, they're filled at pharmaceutical prices, they're injected under medically controlled circumstances at the clinic and they lead pretty much normal lives. And the price of heroin itself is downright cheap; even the heaviest heroin-addicted person can satisfy their habit for $10 a day, which pretty much everybody can afford. You take them out of the life of crime, they start taking care of their family and themselves, they're off the dole and they're getting jobs and leading pretty much normal lives. So we'll probably go into that for heroin-addicted people.
Others, like methamphetamines and cocaine, scare me a lot, but bring them under the medical doctors, too. That's what we will do. Gary Johnson said brilliantly during the campaign that of all the so-called drug problems, about 10% are caused by the drugs themselves – and I'm not underestimating them and they can be serious – but 90% of them are drug prohibition problems, drug money problems, political problems. You can overcome an addiction, though it may not be easy, but what you cannot overcome is a conviction. That will stay with you for life in many ways, rendering you permanently unemployable.
So the worst thing about marijuana is jail. That's very clear and we need to get away from that. Hold people accountable for their actions but not what they put into their bodies, which is, of course, a very big libertarian issue. You and I, if we want to, tonight after work can go home and drink ten martinis – not smart, certainly medically not healthy but not a violation of law unless you hit your spouse or drive under the influence. The same should be true with regard to any of these other mind-altering substances, as well. It's a question of responsibility and it's a question of liberty. When it comes down to it, the government has no more right to control what I as an adult put into my body than it does what I put into my mind. It's none of their business – flat out none of their business. Get them out of there.
We'll eventually go back to that. The criminal justice system was designed to protect us from each other but not from ourselves. If you hit my car or you hit me in the head or you rob my stuff, I'm a victim and I'm going to turn you in, I'm going to testify against you, I'm going to call the police. But if you sell me $100 worth of marijuana, I'm getting what I want. I'm not going to turn you in and you're not going to turn me in, either.
So as a prosecutor, in order to interfere in that mutual transaction you've got to stoop to lower levels. The government, the police, have to start wiretaps or hire informants, have undercover officers, have snitches – all of that sort of unsavory stuff – and as prosecutors, if you get down in the gutter with dogs you're going to get up with fleas. And that's the problem that we have with paying these snitches, these bad people, lots of money. Of course, they're lying and they're causing other troubles. "I don't like you so I'm going to say that you're involved with the drug trade" or "You're my competitor so I'm going to turn you in so I make more money." That's what we've stooped to and that's what we've rewarded ourselves with.
Anthony Wile: What must be done in the political process with the Controlled Substances Act and the scheduling of these drugs to bring about the changes you're advocating?
Jim Gray: Repeal it. Repeal it. Flat out repeal it. Richard Nixon is a villain. You can quote me on this. Richard Nixon, according to his own attorney general, Kleindienst, knew in the early 1970s that drug treatment worked and drug prohibition did not. He knew that. They said that in their cabinet meetings. But they understood that going into drug prohibition, passing the Controlled Substances Act and really ratcheting up drug prohibition, would bring enormous political benefits. He later said that it was unbelievable, that they'd gotten many more benefits than even they expected. That was the decision that was made, the political power that went into drug prohibition and declaring the war on drugs as public enemy number one – all for political reasons and he knew full well that it wasn't going to work.
Repeal it. The answer is, when we finally came to our senses and repealed alcohol prohibition we did not say that now New Jersey or Nebraska or Illinois will serve alcohol. All we said was that the federal government's role would be restricted to assisting each state in enforcing its chosen laws. So some counties are dry. Fine. That's their choice. So if, say, Indiana stays dry and you're going to try to smuggle alcohol into Indiana from Illinois, that's a federal issue. It's a federal crime because it's illegal in Indiana. But restrict it to simply assisting each state in enforcing its chosen laws. We should do the same thing with regard to these various other drugs, as well.
Everyone knows the federal government does not have the answers. When I talk to groups I ask, "How many people here feel that the federal government has all the answers?" All I get are a few chuckles. So let's allow each state to decide how best to serve and protect its people just like we did with alcohol prohibition.
Anthony Wile: Let's talk about LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Your press conference was held several years before the founding of LEAP, in 2002. How did you come to be involved with the organization? Describe it briefly for readers who aren't familiar.
Jim Gray: I got involved when LEAP found me, actually. It is essentially a speakers bureau made up of people who used to be involved in the war on drugs, in one capacity or another, and now speak in favor of the end of prohibition. We have large numbers of, unfortunately, mostly retired people. I was a member of LEAP while I was still an active judge but that is pretty rare. For instance, George Schultz, who was not a member of LEAP but I mention him as an example, only started talking sense about drug policy after he stepped down as secretary of state. With LEAP, a lot of people have banded together as a speaker's group. I have traveled around the country at their behest for weeks at a time to speak at universities and to Rotary clubs and that sort of thing.
The "drug warriors," as I call them, really don't know what to make of us because we have all the credentials: the former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, the former chief of police of Seattle, Norm Stamper, me as a state court judge, Neill Franklin, the executive director of LEAP, was a Major – all these thousands of people. We've got all the guns, we've got all the weapons, we've got all the handcuffs, we've got all the diplomas so we're not soft on crime. People have to listen to our experience, and it's an extremely successful speakers group.
Anthony Wile: How are you and other LEAP speakers generally received?
Jim Gray: We're received extremely well. We all have our different approaches, of course. Mine, which I've used for years, is to begin by asking people a question. I've spoken to the largest Rotary clubs in the country, like in Houston, and I'm often warned just as I'm going to speak: "Oh, Judge Gray, be careful. We're a very conservative group here." I think, yeah, what do you think we are in Orange County? I ask the question, "How many people here feel that we are in better shape today in our country than we were five years ago with regard to the critical issue of drug abuse and all the crime and misery that goes with it?" Nobody raises a hand. We all realize we're not making progress. Then, "What is the first conclusion? The answer is: We have no legitimate expectation of being in better shape next year than we are today unless we change our approach." And now they're with me, now we're all on the same side. We want to reduce drug abuse and all the crime and misery that goes with it.
We may have different views on how to get there but we're all on the same side of the issue. Let's not yell at each other and call each other names but put our heads together and come up with something that works better than what we're doing today – and that wouldn't be hard because, as I say, drug prohibition is the biggest failed policy in the history of the United States of America second only to slavery. That's a pretty strong statement, but I follow it up by saying, "Anyone here, you tell me what issue is closest to your heart and I will show you to your satisfaction how that issue is made worse because of drug prohibition." And it's true. That's my approach. And no one will ever be able to say that I use these drugs or I just want to go out and smoke marijuana and drop out of society. It just simply isn't true. And that's the way it is with almost all of our LEAP people.
Anthony Wile: One argument, which seems to come mostly from a position of genuine fear, is that if drug prohibition is ended abuse by minors will skyrocket. Accurate?
Jim Gray: That's not true and it's valuable to know the experience of various other countries – Portugal, for example. People don't realize, and I fault the media, that Portugal in the year 2001 decriminalized all drugs. And now they show in the statistics that usage of drugs is pretty much the same now as it was before but problem usage has been reduced by 50 percent. Now, if a police officer sees somebody that's under the influence or using, yes, they'll give a citation – but not to come to judges like me but to go see a group of medical professionals. "Hey, Charlie, what's your usage? What can we do to help you?", that kind of approach. Now people are bringing their problems to the government because they're no longer afraid that they're going to be punished. The statistics also show that in Portugal teenage drug usage has declined. Why? I was a teenager once and I understand the teenage mind, which is, "Why should I use these drugs and go see a doctor? That's no fun." So they refrain because it's not so combative or so revolutionary.
The same thing is true in Holland, which decriminalized all drugs in the late 1970s. The minister of health in Holland, and I quote him in my book, Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment Of War On Drugs, held a press conference and said that country only has half the drug usage per capita as compared to the United States, both for adults and for teenagers. He went on to explain why: "We have succeeded in making pot boring." We glamourize it by making it illegal and also by having this unbelievable profit motive to get our children and the rest of us using this stuff.
Anthony Wile: You've also been very outspoken about the importance of keeping kids in school and even wrote a musical called "Americans All" that deals with this issue. Has drug prohibition played a role in the skyrocketing dropout rates among US high school students? What do you see as the main reason for fewer kids graduating?
Jim Gray: The answer is yes. There are lots of reasons why kids don't graduate but we might as well take out the drug billboards, so to speak, that say: "Hey, you want to make some money? You'll never make this much money in your lifetime!" We all know there are only so many Michael Jordans in the world and the message is, "You'll never make as much money in your lifetime as you can by selling drugs." Sadly, it's true. In addition, people are deemed to be chumps if they don't go out and do it. So this is just leading our children astray.
And now I'm getting into a really critical issue, as well, totally different than what we've talked about before but certainly related. Who is in a better position to decide where and how your children should be educated, you as the parent or the government? I've never had anyone answer that question with anything other than, "The parents." So if you give the parents the ability to dictate where their government money is going to be spent for the education of their child, they will demand excellence and they will receive excellence. There are a lot of really good public schools today but there are also a lot of them that are failing our children, mostly in minority areas – and that's where you find the majority of kids who are dropping out of school.
I used a lot of what I learned in our "Stay In School" programs for my musical. We've gone into a lot of schools to show kids that dropping out of school is a choice with severely negative repercussions. Yes, you can go out and maybe get a job now but over your lifetime, according to the numbers we penciled out, you will earn something on the order of four times what you would have earned had you not dropped out, but stayed in school and gotten your high school diploma. You end up paying yourself something like $117 per hour for every hour that you go to a high school class for four years. What job can you now get to pay yourself $117 per hour? When kids hear this they start realizing it's better economically to stay in school. These are the messages that we try to bring about: You have responsibility for your own life.
In "Americans All," for example, we have a high school teacher talking to girls, saying: "If you want to have a man that will love you and take care of you, be responsible for you and your children, treat your body with respect and then he will treat you with respect. Have you thought of that?" And to the boys it's saying: "A real man takes care of his children. Once you have a child, your life is forever changed and you have responsibilities so be aware. The best, most loving thing you can do for your children is love their mother."
I love musicals and if you're the parent of a high school student, wouldn't you rather have your kid involved with the production of "Americans All," that's talking about values and having a lot of fun along the way, rather than some of the other musicals, which are very well done and enjoyable but promote things we wouldn't otherwise support? It's been very successful where it has been performed. I'd love to see more people be able to perform "Americans All" and would certainly welcome anyone interested to contact me through the contact link at my website.
Anthony Wile: How do you address fear among actively working members of law enforcement when it comes to ending prohibition? What, specifically, are they afraid of?
Jim Gray: Job security is a false concern on their part, as we will never fire police officers. We'll always need police, we'll need judges, we'll even still need jails – we'll need fewer of them, of course, and if you're in the prison business you might be in a bit of trouble. But a problem, which I've seen doing felony preliminary hearings – which is a preliminary hearing without a jury, just with a judge, to decide whether there's probable cause that a felony was committed and this was the person who committed it – is that these undercover officers have to testify as experts, so they'd go through and set up their credentials. 'Oh, I took this class from here and this schooling from there.' It's an amazing institute, or you could call it a cottage industry, that they have. So they're not afraid of losing their jobs. What they're afraid of is that they'll lose a lot of expertise and a lot of horsepower. 'I'm going to have to shave my beard and I'm going to have to drive a police car, keep regular hours and work the burglary detail instead of driving a Camaro, having a beard and hanging out with the folks doing undercover drug work.' That's the difference.
I was in a forum with the chief of police of Palm Springs, here in California. He'd actually read my book and had some good things to say about it, by the way. I asked him how many sworn police officers he had on his staff. His answer was that it was a fairly small department, probably about 50 officers. I asked how many of those 50 were involved full time or major part time on drug interdiction. He said six. I asked how many are involved full time or major part time on burglaries. He said, "Oh, no. We don't do that. We don't have the money." It's a question of priorities.
When I ask a group how many have had their house burglarized, about two-thirds of the people will raise their hands and the story is always the same: They reported it to the police, who came out eventually and then wrote out a report. I ask them then the crucial question: What happened to the report? Was it used to investigate and try to find the perpetrator? The answer is inevitably no, almost never. It's only used for an insurance claim. If we were to take the police away from this undercover work with regard to drug interdiction, which is very expensive, very labor-oriented and dangerous, and put them into a burglary detail, put in sting operations for burglaries or rapes, for instance, burglary and rape will be reduced in a city. You can arrest all the drug dealers you want and it makes no difference because each one just creates a job opportunity for somebody else. The sale of drugs will not go down. That's the difference. We'll put them into white-collar crime investigations and burglary details, robberies, rapes, and all the rest of these crimes will then be more successfully dealt with.
In my book I traced the success rate for prosecuting homicides between 1980 and 1990. In 1980 we were twice as successful nationwide in prosecuting homicides as we were in 1990. Why? Because the Reagan administration ramped up the prosecution of nonviolent drug offenses, taking away a lot of resources into drugs and thus, we were only half as successful ten years later at prosecuting homicides as a result. So the end conclusion is the tougher you get with regard to drug crimes the literally softer you get with regard to the prosecution of robbery, rape and murder.
We're still going to use police officers, judges and prosecutors but we're going to change the focus of what they're doing. Everybody will be safer.
Anthony Wile: Will ending the drug war increase police efficiency, then?
Jim Gray: It will decrease police efficiency for a really important reason. Police carefully look at statistics – number of crimes reported, number of arrests, number of convictions. When a robbery is reported you now have an open case. But with drug deals, those are not reported and brought into the system until someone's actually arrested. So immediately, you report a crime, you arrest someone and you have a high rate of convictions so the statistics go up, meaning the efficiency has gone up. If those low-fruit type of things where the crime is added into the statistics at the same time an arrest is made, the efficiency will actually go down, and they don't like that.
Anthony Wile: Increasing militarization of law enforcement has finally come to the attention of the US public, and even in the US media, given the ongoing police-state chaos in Ferguson, Missouri. Would ending prohibition have an effect on this chilling state of affairs? How so?
Jim Gray: The answer is absolutely yes. I've already responded to that question a little when I mentioned the various grants given by the federal government to the cities. A lot of the time they use those funds to put in SWAT teams, and they dress them like Ninja warriors and they have their battering rams and all of this. And if you have them, you've got to use them; you can only rehearse and practice and prepare so much. So maybe you can use the SWAT team to go in and raid a medical marijuana dispensary. Now they're using them in places like Ferguson and other places around the country as a show of force. You've got it so you've got to use it.
What works instead is community policing and restorative justice, where you're actually having police discuss issues with people instead of throwing their weight around. That's where policing works, building relationships with individual members of the community. We used to tell our kids, if you get lost, find a policeman – he's your friend. How many parents do that now? It's just not true anymore. Police are seen as occupying forces and it doesn't work. We need to bring them back as peace officers instead of drug warriors.
Anthony Wile: Is it a real act of courage and possibly a career killer for someone working in law enforcement to speak out against the war on drugs at this point? Is there any real way for them to do so in a safe manner?
Jim Gray: Let me answer that question this way: Back in 1994 we had three drug policy forums at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, helped by George Schultz and Milton Friedman, two of my heroes. In each of the three forums we had 50 chiefs of police from around the country. As soon as the doors were closed and people started talking, a majority of them spoke the same way I did. But then they'd immediately say, "Don't quote me. I can't speak publicly about this because if I tell the truth I'd lose my job." That's certainly not only true for the chiefs of police; it's also true for their sergeants and lieutenants and deputies because you can't rock the boat. It's not career enhancing. I could do it as a judge because I didn't have any bosses and I knew I'd never be appointed again to a judicial position or anything else anywhere. I was happy where I was so not moving up the ladder, so to speak, which didn't bother me. But if I'm a police officer, a sergeant who wants to make lieutenant, you can be sure I'm not going to broach this subject or tell the truth.
It's not an accident that an overwhelming percentage of the members of LEAP are retired. It's just the way life is at this point. But that's changing. Soon, mayors will be speaking reasonably and intelligently on this issue because they'll see the votes are there. The polls now show over 50% of the high-propensity voters are saying we should legalize marijuana so the astute politicians will start getting on this bandwagon. That's why I say, again, the end of drug prohibition is in sight.
Anthony Wile: LEAP states, "A system of legalization and regulation will end the violence, better protect human rights, safeguard our children, reduce crime and disease, treat drug abusers as patients, reduce addiction, use tax dollars more efficiently and restore the public's respect and trust in law enforcement." Is it realistic to think all those ends will be achieved?
Jim Gray: You could put all of those in all capital letters. That's absolutely correct. What you will not do, and let's not be naive about this – I devoutly wish we had never had alcohol prohibition in our country because it gave the Mafia a major toehold in our country and they've not gone away. To suggest the Mafia or other drug cartels are going to go away when we repeal drug prohibition is not accurate. They're already there, already organized and already into other things as well – extortion, prostitution, etc. But at least they're not going to be selling drugs. They'll do what brings in money and they will continue in these other sorts of things because they're in business, they're organized and they're a criminal element.
Anthony Wile: Tell us about LEAP's political involvement and some victories.
Jim Gray: LEAP was substantially involved in the marijuana legalization efforts in Washington and Colorado. And, of course, LEAP is the media and we try to spread the word on this issue in various ways. One example was the LEAP-organized Caravan for Peace in which victims from Mexico who had lost loved ones as a result of the drug wars were brought to the US and participated in rallies and policy forums around the country. And as a speakers bureau, when LEAP is contacted with a request for someone to speak at an event or for an interview they'll arrange for one of the speakers to participate. We are really trying to work ourselves out of business.
Anthony Wile: Are there other initiatives that you're working on, with our without LEAP?
Jim Gray: Absolutely – California 2016. In 2012 there were four competing factions on the ballot that all wanted to put an initiative on the ballot, which kind of cancelled each other out. California needs 808,000 valid signatures to get an initiative on the ballot, which basically means you've got to hire people to do that rather than use volunteers. Potential funders saw that we were all infighting, so to speak, in 2012 so they didn't come to any of us. But we put our initiative through the attorney general's office, wrote it out and submitted it, and we got back the description by the attorney general of the state of California that would have described in neutral terms what this initiative was, to "regulate marijuana like wine," and ensured its passage. It said this measure will result in the savings of tens of millions of dollars each year in California in enforcement costs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. End of discussion. It would have passed.
We're going to submit a similar resolution initiative to the attorney general in 2016. We already have a consortium now in operation of all of those four groups, inclusive of all of them. We're putting something together that will be on the ballot in 2016. LEAP sponsored it before and I fully anticipate they'll sponsor it again, and it will pass.
Anthony Wile: Let's briefly touch on some business ideas before you go. In the current environment, are investments in marijuana growing or distributing facilities a promising idea, in your opinion?
Jim Gray: Absolutely, yes. It is a billion dollar industry. And we haven't even talked about hemp yet. Back in 1933 when they made marijuana illegal, Congress didn't even know what marijuana was. A lot of them called it a narcotic. They just associated it with "those Mexicans" – it was basically a racist thing – and they had no concept they were making hemp illegal. Hemp is an industrial product with many uses. You can get hemp seed granola, which is very nutritious, for instance. As I understand it the diesel engine was originally created to run on hemp oil. One corn farmer from Iowa told me, against his own economic self-interest, that you can get more ethanol from an acre of hemp than you can from an acre of corn, and corn will clog carburetors while hemp won't. Let's just let the market choose which substance to use for ethanol instead of the government choosing winners and losers. Hemp is a viable, multimillion-dollar industry and I think people would be very smart to get in on the bottom floor right now.
Anthony Wile: Do you consider that also to be the case with the medical marijuana industry?
Jim Gray: Yes, both medical and recreational – meaning, of course, responsible, adult use of marijuana. You know, I recall sentencing several young men for being under the influence of methamphetamines. They each for various reasons had no reason to lie to me during the sentencing process, and would say to me, "Your Honor, my drug of choice was marijuana. I buy my marijuana from the same supplier and one day he sold me some marijuana that was laced with methamphetamines without my knowledge. I smoked it a few times and got hooked." I remember thinking, smoking cigarettes is not healthy, as we all know, but at least if you go to your local mini-mart and buy a pack you're going to know it's not laced with methamphetamines. That's a drug prohibition problem and we've got to get quality under control.
With alcohol prohibition we had the "bathtub gin problem." There were multitudes of people affected by the impurities in the alcohol, including some dying of it. That problem simply went away when we repealed alcohol prohibition. People do not die from heroin; they die from the unknown strength of the heroin and from impurities in the heroin, but they do not die from heroin itself. That's a drug prohibition problem and no one in Switzerland is dying from heroin usage or overdose, they've not gotten AIDS and they've not gotten hepatitis because it's now medically controlled. Those are all problems we've inflicted upon ourselves because of drug prohibition. I could go on and on about this. In fact, I've written a whole book on this and I still didn't get through everything!
Anthony Wile: Any closing comments?
Jim Gray: I am proud to be a member of LEAP. I'm proud to be associated with them. Some of the truly best people I've ever met in my life I have met because of my involvement in drug policy reform and, by the way, some of those have been to prison and some of them are still drug addicted but a lot of them are like me. And it's extremely reinforcing to speak with people that came to these conclusions from a wide variety of experience levels. I do it from the criminal justice aspect but other people are involved with the clergy or medical profession or politics yet they've all arrived at the same conclusion, which is very reinforcing. With what we're doing I guarantee we'll repeal drug prohibition because it's simply the wrong way to go. And I further guarantee that within two or three years of that repeal everybody in the country will join arms figuratively and look back aghast that we could have perpetuated such a failed system for so long.
Anthony Wile: Thanks for your time and your continuing libertarian commitment to this important issue.
Jim Gray: Thank you.
Jim Gray is a courageous man. After a long and successful career, he doesn't need to speak out regarding his opposition to either the war on drugs or the Patriot Act. But he has.
In fact, he mentions in this interview his trepidation and his family's concern regarding his statements on the drug war when he decided to make his views known initially.
The world and especially the US need more Jim Grays. He makes his points clearly and without rancor. He believes in a civil society and wants the US to become the "shining light on the hill" that many hoped it would someday become.
The US and its people are very far from that moment and that light at this point. But despite the laws, wars and economic difficulties, there are still concerned – and admirable – citizens like Jim Gray trying to rationalize an increasingly difficult sociopolitical environment.
If the many difficult trends in the US are to be turned around, or at least ameliorated, it will be because of the courage of individuals like Jim Gray who are both educators and activists.
In past analyses, we've pointed out that the system does not offer many avenues for comprehensive change and that people may be better off doing what they can to prepare themselves and their immediate families and local communities for additional difficulties of all kinds.
But Jim Gray's efforts are admirable and significant and he's certainly on the right side of the issue regarding drug prohibition. We're glad the rest of the country is coming around to his thinking, which must surely be a source of pride and comfort to him. We congratulate Jim Gray on a life well lived and a war well joined.
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