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This Time It Matters,  By DEA Judge James Gray,

For more than two decades I was a soldier in the War
on Drugs. In the course of my career, I have
helped put drug users and dealers in jail; 


Liberty Magazine.
May, 2003


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For more than two decades I was a soldier in the War
on Drugs. In the course of my career, I have
helped put drug users and dealers in jail; I have
presided over the break-up of families; I have
followed the laws of my state and country, and have
seen their results.


At one point, I held the record for the largest drug
prosecution in the Los Angeles area: 75 kilos of
heroin, which was and is a lot of narcotics. But today
the record is 18 tons. I have prosecuted some
people, and later sentenced others, to long terms in
prison for drug offenses, and would do so again.
But it has not done any good. I have concluded that we
would be in much better shape if we could
somehow take the profit out of the drug trade. Truly
the drugs are dangerous, but it is the drug money
that is turning a disease into a plague.

I saw the heartbreaking results of drug prohibition
too many times in my own courtroom. I saw children
tempted by adults to become involved in drug
trafficking for $50 in cash, a lot of money to a
youngster in the inner city, or almost anywhere else. Once the
child's reliability has been established in his roles
as a lookout or "gofer," he is soon trusted to sell
small amounts of drugs, which, of course, results in
greater profits both for the adult dealer and his
prot=E9g=E9. The children sell these drugs, not to adults,
but to their peers, thus recruiting more children into
a life of taking and selling drugs. I saw this
repeated again and again. But like others in the court
system, I didn't talk about it.

More than once, I saw a single mother who made a big
mistake: she chose the wrong boyfriend, a drug
dealer. One day, he offered her $400 to carry a
particular package across town and give it to a fellow
dealer. She strongly suspected that it contained
drugs, but she needed the money to pay her rent. So
she did it, and she was arrested, convicted and
sentenced to five years in prison for the
transportation of cocaine. Since the mother legally abandoned her
children because she could not take care of them,
they all came to me, in juvenile court, to be dealt
with as abused and neglected children.

I tell these mothers that unless they are really lucky
and have a close personal friend or family member
that is both willing and able to take care of them
until she is released from custody, her children will
probably be adopted by somebody else. That is usually
enough to make the mother hysterical.

Taxpayers shouldn't be very happy, either. Not only
does it cost about $25,000 to keep the mother in
prison for the next year; it also costs about $5000
per month to keep a child in a group home until
adoption. For a family of a mother and two children,
that means that our local government has to spend
about $145,000 of taxpayer money for the first year
simply to separate a mother from her children. And
it falls upon me to enforce this result. I do it,
because I am required by my oath of office to follow
the law. But there came a time when I could be quiet about
this terrible situation no longer. I concluded that
helping to repeal drug prohibition was the best and
most lasting gift I could make to my country.

On April 8, 1992, I held a press conference outside
the Courthouse in Santa Ana and recommended
that we as a country investigate the possibility of
change. Since that time, I have spoken on this subject
as often as possible, consistent with getting my cases
tried. Most people listen; some agree, and others
still want to punish me for my attempts to have an
open and honest discussion of drug policy. In that
vein, I remember a short introduction I once received
before one of my talks, which was along the lines
of: "I know you all want to hear the latest dope from
the courthouse, so here's Judge Gray."

During the next few years, I worked on a book to
expose the whole hopeless anti-drug crusade. In
2001, my book, Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed And What
We Can Do About It -- A Judicial Indictment
of the War on Drugs, was published by Temple
University Press. It was the culmination of my
experience as a former federal prosecutor with the
United States Attorney's Office in Los Angeles,
criminal defense attorney in the United States Navy
JAG Corps, and trial judge in Orange County,
California since 1983, experience which had long
before had convinced me that our nation's program of
drug prohibition was not simply a failure, but a
hopeless failure.

In February, 2003, I took another step to end the War
on Drugs. After being a Republican for all of my
adult life, I registered as a dues-paying member of
the Libertarian Party. I realized that the major
parties will never begin the process of ending the War
on Drugs. It takes another party to do that -- one
that holds dear the principles of liberty. I had taken
the "World's Smallest Political Quiz," and
discovered that I was already a libertarian. I was
frustrated and concerned about our country's lack of
principled leadership, the direction of our economy,
and the continued subversion of the protections of
our Bill of Rights. The Libertarian Party is my
natural home. And it is the Libertarian Party's
historic mission to begin the peace process in the War on

Drug Prohibition has resulted in a greater loss of
civil liberties than anything else in the history of
our country. The United States of America leads the world
in the incarceration of its people, mostly for
non-violent drug offenses. Statistics show that all
racial groups in our country use and abuse drugs at
basically the same rate, but most of those
incarcerated are people of color. The War on Drugs has
contributed substantially to the increasing power,
bureaucracy, and intrusiveness of government. And, of
course, the sale of illicit drugs is by far the
largest source of funding for terrorists around the
world. If we were truly serious about fighting terrorism we
would kill the "Golden Goose" of terrorism, which is
Drug Prohibition.


It is important to understand that the failure of
these laws is not the fault of law enforcement. It
makes as much sense to blame the police and the criminal
justice system for the failure of Drug Prohibition as
it would have to blame Elliot Ness for the failure of
Alcohol Prohibition. The tragic results are the fault
of the drug laws themselves, and not those who have been
assigned the impossible task of enforcing

"We the People" are facing radicals at the controls of
the federal government who are insensitive if not
impervious to the harm they are causing. When the head
of the Drug Enforcement Administration
expressly flouts the will of the people as expressed,
for example, by California's medical marijuana
Proposition 215, that is one thing. He is a policeman,
enforcing the law as ordered, even though he is
engaged in the unauthorized practice of medicine. But
what about when the head of the Department of
Justice subverts that will? When John Ashcroft, as the
United States Attorney General, directly acts
against the expressed will of the people in this area,
simply because he disagrees with it, he is not
being conservative. We should call this action what it
is: extremist. And when various officials of the
federal government use our tax money actively to
oppose state ballot initiatives all around the
country, we should call that what it is: illegal.

The Republican and Democratic parties are invested in
the drug war, committed to it. If we wait for them
to act against Drug Prohibition, we will be waiting a
very long time. However, we Libertarians are
singularly in a position to help. I suggest that the
Libertarian Party make the issue of the repeal of
Drug Prohibition the centerpiece issue of all state
and federal political campaigns for 2004. I understand
that R. W. Bradford made a similar argument in
speeches over the past several years, and in an
article in the December 1999 edition of Liberty Magazine, and
so possibly have others. The idea is not original
with me, but it is a good idea.

I am aware that historically the Libertarian Party has
been largely unsuccessful in putting its candidates
into office. But that can change, and in many ways the
voters are ahead of the politicians on this issue.
If we can make it clear that every vote for a state or
federal Libertarian candidate represents a vote to
end the War on Drugs, and we capture only a third of
the votes of people who favor drug reform, we will
get ten percent of the vote. That would be enough to
make us a political force to be reckoned with and
to put the drug war into the nation's political

I want to make this very clear. If we focus our
campaign on the drug issue, people who agree with us
will not worry about "throwing away their vote" on a
third-party candidate. For a change, every vote will
rightfully be seen to matter.

Many Americans have seen and suffered through the
unnecessary harms perpetrated by our failed drug
policy. And many of these people are organized.
Recently I have contacted all the drug policy reform
groups I know, such as the Drug Policy Alliance,
Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Common Sense
for Drug Policy, Families Against Three Strikes, the
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana
Laws, the Marijuana Policy Project, and the Drug
Policy Foundations of Texas, Hawaii and New Mexico. I
am calling their members to join me and become
dues-paying members of the Libertarian Party, and
am requesting their friends and family members to do
the same. Please join me in this critical effort.

The people in these drug policy reform groups are
frustrated by the absence of a tangible national
movement that they can support. In addition, in many
ways they have learned through their
experiences to share libertarian principles and
values. The more people who register Libertarian, the
more public attention will be paid to the issue of
drug policy reform. This, in turn, will attract
additional members, and additional attention. I think this plan
will be successful, because most of the people in
these groups are active; they are committed; they
vote; and they have friends who vote.

Most Americans realize that our country is not in
better shape today than we were five years ago with
regard to the use and abuse of drugs and all the harm
and misery that accompany them. They also are
beginning to understand that since that is the case,
we can have no legitimate expectation of being in
better shape next year than we are today unless we
change our approach. Accordingly, many of our
fellow citizens are beginning to realize that it is
okay to discuss this subject. And, whether they know
it or not, Americans are looking to the Party of
Principle for guidance and leadership.

Our slogan for all state and federal elections in 2004
should be "This Time It Matters." Because this
time it does.

James P. Gray is a Judge of the Superior Court in
Orange County, California, the author of Why Our Drug
Laws Have Failed And What We Can Do About It - A Judicial
Indictment of the War on Drugs, Temple University

and has a website at www.judgejimgray.com.