Welcome Jason Ryan and Host, Neill Franklin (LEAP)

Jackpot: High Times, High Seas, and the Sting That Launched the War on Drugs

Host, Neill Franklin:

For those who have very little insight into drug smuggling and would like to know more, Jackpot is a great book for you. Jason Ryan is a South Carolina journalist and former newspaper reporter who has done his homework. And because of the painstaking effort he put into many interviews, this piece of work is spot on. Let’s peer into the life of marijuana smuggling kingpins of the 1970s with Jason and see why he was so intrigued.

So, boy did this book take me on a journey back in time to my undercover days as a narcotics agent in Maryland. One thing is notably clear to me; we haven’t learned a thing when it comes to prohibition. Jason vividly describes the history of running blockades in the back marshes of the South Carolina coastline during the Civil War. The “gentleman smugglers” operated no different than the blockade runners of the 1700s and for very similar reasons. They delivered something prohibited, something the people wanted and it’s extremely profitable for those taking the risk–exciting too. I also find it interesting that they made strategic use of the very same South Carolina waterways. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And more important, in this case, don’t tell anyone it still works.

Again, nothing really changes. Leaping forward in time, Jason gives us another history lesson from the 1920s–alcohol prohibition and bootlegging. Beaufort County, South Carolina, with its hundreds of islands, miles of rivers and creeks, was perfect for whiskey smuggling too. The challenge and celebration of successfully navigating the coastguard patrols was no different than skirting the law enforcement patrols of the 1970s. Hell, just swap out the products and there’s virtually no difference from marijuana smuggling. And what about today? Instead of sailboats, submarines and elaborate tunnels are fashionable. Trucks navigating the US/Mexico border are the sailboats of today. Homemade low profile submersibles run the seas stuffed with marijuana, cocaine and other drugs of choice.

There is however one notable difference between drug smuggling of the “gentlemen smuggler’s” era and that of today and Jason nails it. The reason for no guns back then, it was said, “How could you trust someone who might shoot you?” It was a trust issue. Back then, when I worked undercover, I never carried a gun. Only cops carried guns back then, so it was a sure-nuff give-a-way, cover blown–guaranteed! I speak of this during virtually lecture–the violence. Today, everyone in the drug business carries guns, cops, smugglers and dealers. They are the tools of the trade. The drug business has become extremely competitive, distrusting and deadly. Even with this danger on top of our “one of a kind” criminal justice consequences, it’s still worth the risks for many.

Midway through his book, Jason recalls the Reagan era and how successful Reagan was in linking violent crime to drug use. Unfortunately, this fallacy rings in the minds of people even today–they can’t seem to shake it. Our prohibition policy is responsible for the crime and its violence, not drug use.

As it was then, it is today, all about business. It’s all about the finances, making money and making a living. And yes, as with any business the consequences of failure are factored in. No doubt that for those in this business and it’s quite a few; the risks are well worth the potential consequences.

If after reading this book you aren’t convinced that we are in desperate need of drug policy reform, check your pulse. So, what do you think? Would you take the risk? Maybe you have? Are you wondering how many smugglers never got caught? I can guarantee you this. It’s way more than those that did—way more!

So, let’s get this show on the road and learn some things. Jason has much to share.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

104 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Jason Ryan, Jackpot: High Times, High Seas, and the Sting That Launched the War on Drugs”

BevW August 7th, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Jason, Neill, Welcome to the Lake.

Neill, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Hello. Thank you for having me.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Hi Bev, Hi Jason. It’s my pleasure to host.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Jason, this was a really great read. Brought back some memories.

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 2:02 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed it, and thank you for your enthusiastic introduction. A lot of the smugglers I interviewed brought pot in through the Chesapeake.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

So Jason, I know you touched upon it, but could you tell us what really motivated you to did so deep into this story and excites you about it?

dakine01 August 7th, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Good afternoon Jason and Neil and welcome to FDL this afternoon.

Jason, as I read Jackpot I was often reminded of the book The Bluegrass Conspiracy by Sally Denton with the parallels of privileged people in the ’60s and ’70s who were convinced the law didn’t apply to them (same as today of course).

Was there something in the water in the south that made these situations possible?

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:07 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 5

I was thinking about the Chesapeake as i was reading. Your description of the SC waterways remind me of the Chesapeake. We worked many cases on the eastern shore. Had a few cocaine cases there.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:08 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 7

Thanks for the welcome.

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

The first time I heard of Operation Jackpot, all I really knew was that a number of men smuggled pot in through South Carolina marshes back in the ’70s and ’80s. When I started taking a closer look and reading old news articles, I learned the true story featured some of America’s top kingpins, and that they broke out of prison more than once, interacted with militants in Lebanon during a civil war, helped U.S. Marines during the invasion of Grenada, survived hurricanes while sailing loaded boats, and more.

There were so many thrilling moments, and yet I was shocked no one wrote about it.

PeasantParty August 7th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Welcome, Jason! I am a fellow South Carolinian and congratulations on your book!

I have to agree with your assessment of Prohabition. In fact, as more and more jobs disappear people are going to do anything for money and shelter.

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 2:11 pm


Perhaps that “something in the water” was simply boredom. The 60s cultural revolution took a little longer to reach the South compared to other parts of the country, and I think these men just didn’t see a lot of excitement or value in leading the lives their parents led.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:13 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 10

Many people fail to realize just how exciting it is for those in the business. Man does not live on money alone. We seem to need a certain level of excitement and challenge.

Jane Hamsher August 7th, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Welcome Jason, and thanks to Neill for being the host today. Good to see you here again!

Jason, do you see any encouraging trends in fighting back the war on drugs, or any particular historical precedents we should look to in order to achieve that?

BevW August 7th, 2011 at 2:15 pm

As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing the “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and number you are replying to and helps for everyone in following the conversation.

ubetchaiam August 7th, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Based on my own personal experiences as a ‘mule’ and dealer’ back in the 60′s and early 70′s, this -”It was a trust issue.”- is so true. No one carried a gun and “issues” were dealt with by word of mouth and exclusion from the ‘fraternity’.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:16 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 11

Agreed! The business of selling mind altering substances will survive. The question is, who do we allow to control it-a regulated market place or gangsters?

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:17 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 14

Hi Jane. It’s been a while. Great to see you…well kind of!

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 2:17 pm

In the beginning of their careers, these men were motivated by excitement and adventure as much as money. That started to change when the amount of money involved increased dramatically and it became too risky to send kingpins on the voyages to Colombia and Lebanon. But even if they no longer were on teh boats, the kingpins found the work as intoxicating as their products, and they couldn’t stop smuggling despite having millions in the bank.

Teddy Partridge August 7th, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Thank you for this fun-to-read book, Jason, and for the great introduction, Neill Franklin. What a different time that was, indeed! Reading (and remembering) how drug ‘crimes’ were treated pre-Reagan makes me wonder if that really was a different planet.

My question — I’m about 2/3rds of the way through — is about civil forfeiture. Jason, you dismiss critics pretty easily, while some of us find this to be a scary return to the days of kingly rule. I’m hoping you spend some more time in the end of the book on it, but in the meantime: any thoughts on the enrichment capability law enforcement saw for itself in this tool? You mention McMaster’s clever use of asset forfeiture to benefit his office and local partners, rather than follow protocol to send 100% to DoJHQ in DC.

Did McMasters ever get caught up in forfeiture later, I wonder, like so many other anti-drug crusaders did, making the drug war look like competing gangs fighting over expensive cars and Rolexes?

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 2:19 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 14

I think we can look to the prohibition of alcohol and learn a thing or two. Now, of course, alcohol is perfectly acceptable in America. The thing taht bothers em about our current drug policies is that they empower very violent people and imprison many nonviolent people.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:19 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 18

Meaning I can’t really see you, but great to be in your presence. Clarity!

PeasantParty August 7th, 2011 at 2:20 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 17

I think most Americans would say regulated but as it is now, of course it’s gangsters. My great grandfather was an Applachian Scot the brew what I’m told was some of the best liquor around. After the timber corps and trains took over there was little choice for them in that area.

dakine01 August 7th, 2011 at 2:22 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 12

Having read both books (I’m a Kentucky native), the biggest difference between the Kentucky group and the SC group is the Kentucky guys had the militaristic streak going on (many of them having been students at Kentucky Military Institute and Millersburg Military Institute (military high schools). Plus the Ky guys were more cocaine crazy than pot.

I’m sure Columbia and Charleston are your biggest selling areas just as Lexington was I’m pretty sure for the Denton book :})

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:22 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 19

This is a very common scenario among smugglers. They truly live for the excitement and glory-to go bigger and better than the job before. That’s how they get caught.

Phoenix Woman August 7th, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Great to see you two gentlemen here today! (I’ve told a friend of mine, who like Neill is a member of LEAP, and with luck he should be along shortly if he can remember his FDL password.)

DWBartoo August 7th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 17

Greetings Jason and Neill.

Neill, America’s “leadership” cannot give up the drug war or ALL of their social control systems, from breaking down the wrong doors to the lucrative for-profit prisons system will be forfeit, and America will not have the largest percentage of its population of any nation in the world locked “up”. Or is it really about locking the majority of the population, “down”?

The war on drugs was the first “endless war” and to give up the absolute “moral” politcal winner it represents is simply an impossible thing, too many in Washington owe their career to racist and economic warfare.


Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 2:25 pm

When US Attorney McMaster and other Operation Jackpot prosecutors began using civil forfeiture laws, they were more or less on the cutting edge. Only years later, I believe, after abuses of power, were some of these laws (or at least their use) were curtailed.

Every time the govt made a seizure they had a prop for a press conference. And they used the money seized to buy new drug surveillance planes and other law enforcement tools that fueled the war on drugs.

In some cases the Operation Jackpot prosecutors and agents did become very aggressive in their seizures, at one point seizing a car won in a raffle because they reasoned the kingpin bought the raffle ticket with drug proceeds.

All the smugglers were afraid to contest any fo this, of course, because they feared the criminal charges that were almost certain to follow the asset seizures.

PeasantParty August 7th, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Wasn’t it the Monsanto family of corporations that lobbied Washington to criminalize hemp? I read somewhere that they were trying to make a zillion off their synthetic textiles.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Asset forfeiture is huge. May I suggest a report by the Cato Institute, “Policing for Profit.” I’ll try to find the link for you before we end. We enjoyed this lucrative benefit so much that a local police chief on the eastern shore of MD was terminated while facing criminal charges. Cars, boats, motorcycles, etc. going to his friends for little or nothing.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:29 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 21

Amen to that!

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 2:31 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 24

People here in South Carolina have enjoyed the book a lot- possibly because they know so many of the people in it.

Many of the smugglers came from very normal, middle-class families in South Carolina. People were baffled at how these men could be so daring and reckless.

BevW August 7th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Cato Report – Policing for Profit, PDF is at the bottom.

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 2:36 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 28

That’s interesting to hear about Monsanto, whether it is true or not.

Others say the tobacco and alcohol industries have lobbied against legalization of pot, worried about the competition.

Funnily enough, the smugglers in my book were happy that pot was illegal- otherwise they wouldn’t make any money!

And I thought I would mention, too, that I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago that said the CEO of Scotts fertilizer company wants to market gardening products to people growing pot at home.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:36 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 28

A major problem today and why many states have forfeiture reform is because law enforcement has become comfortable with seizing money from people who they suspect (no probable cause or charges placed) of drug dealing. Most people do not have the power, influence or money to fight back and the property is forfeited. Strong-arm robbery is what it truly is.

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 2:39 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 30

While I don’t think there was much, if any, corruption regarding the asset seizures in Operation Jackpot, it was interesting to see that US Attorney McMaster refused to send seized money to Washington and instead directed it to local police departments.

Was he currying favor with the law enforcement community, or rightly insisting money seized in South Carolina should stay in South Carolina?

PeasantParty August 7th, 2011 at 2:39 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 34

LOL! Scotts fertizler for people growing at home!

I can tell you that hemp still grows in the wild in areas. People used to make hemp ropes and linen from it. Especially in the south, years ago when cotton, indigo, and corn were the big selling crops so was hemp for the textiles.

DWBartoo August 7th, 2011 at 2:42 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 35



Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:44 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 34

Don’t be fooled by the tobacco and alcohol industries. Although they currently embrace prohibition, behind the scenes they are prepared for its end. A couple of decades ago when it appeared that marijuana may become legal, a certain tobacco company cornered the name “Acapulco Gold.” Humm!

DWBartoo August 7th, 2011 at 2:44 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 36

Money and property improperly AND unConstitutionally seized, perhaps, in South Carolina?


Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Jason, regarding the many smugglers and others you interviewed, do you have a sense of how many smugglers escaped detection or capture, free to spend the millions made?

Teddy Partridge August 7th, 2011 at 2:48 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 28

And, as you mention, that fear to contest was part of the point, right? If the kingpin fought the asset seizure, he’d have to prove the asset was bought ‘clean,’ which would open his books. What the feds really wanted! (although the money for planes, equipment, and cars to prop up undercovers were worthwhile, too, in their view).

Teddy Partridge August 7th, 2011 at 2:50 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 32

You did a remarkable job introducing the cast of characters, too. At one point early on I was impatient, wanting to get to the story, but I realize now that a clear understanding of who was who, and their relationships, was key to your story. From a literary perspective, very well done.

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 2:50 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 40

Sometimes the money didn’t have to be seized, as the smugglers would give it to the government themselves. Since the govt was having problems getting the smugglers’ money from Bahamian banks (the banks were not cooperative), they would persuade a an arrested smuggler to fly down to the Bahamas with undercover agents, have the smuggler withdraw the money while the agents waited outside, and then head back to the hotel to count the loot.

The smugglers laughed when they saw the reactions of the agents as the piles of cash fell out of a bag and onto the hotel bed. The agents eyes went wide and then they dived in and started counting, not believing how much money was in front of them.

The smugglers said, “Gee, they’re no different than us!”

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 2:54 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 41

I would say a healthy number of smugglers escaped detection and capture, but not an astounding number. Something always caught up with anyone who stayed in the business too long, either handcuffs or a bullet.

But there were a number of people I researched who I don’t believe ever got caught. They were indicted, but only under aliases, and never found. Despite all my research, there is still one mystery I haven’t solved, and I’ve asked one smuggler to solve it for me on his deathbed by explaining who this mysterious guy was.

A lot of people just disappeared, but you wonder if they’re on a resort island kicking back now, or at the bottom of the ocean due to an escape gone wrong.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 2:55 pm

In many states the law requires seized assets to go toward law enforcement drug fighting efforts; surveillance equipment, cars, overtime, etc. Cops became very creative with spending the money. Many of the vehicles seized or purchased from forfeited funds where driven by the cops, chiefs and even the prosecutors. It became their personal vehicle, with free gas and maintenance.

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Yes, a reason why civil forfeiture laws are so attractive to law enforcement is because the burden of proving a mistake is on the suspect. In a couple cases the smugglers did contest these seizures, but only after they had been arrested. Typically, they would say that the car or house had been bought with legitimate earnings before they started smuggling.

If they were guilty, the smugglers would just shrug and kiss the luxury car goodbye. It was a cost of doing business.

DWBartoo August 7th, 2011 at 3:00 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 44

“Gee, they’re no different than us!”

Do you think, Jason, that is still true today, that both the police (or authorities) and the drug smuggler-gangs are quite alike in their violence and wilingness to engage in it?

One thinks of the situation in Mexico.

And hopes that international and domestic pressures may bring reason and humanity to Washington.


Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 3:01 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 46

Some federal agents told me that their colleagues in Miami loved driving around in the Porsches, Ferraris and other luxury sports cars they seized from smugglers down there.

In South Carolina, US Customs Patrol didn’t have a boat until they seized one from a smuggler in 1975 or so. The smuggler’s boat became the first patrol boat.

Six years later, the smuggler whose boat was seized was busted by officers in that same boat as they caught him sailing to Edisto Island with 10,000 lbs of hash.

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Thank you, Teddy. It was very tricky dealing with such a large cast of characters, if you will. The kingpins weaved in and out of each others’ lives (and in turn the chapters of the book), so it was important to have a good setup that allowed me to introduce them in a manner that wasn’t too overwhelming.

Movies have you believe there is this simple hierarchy or power structure in drug rings, but real life is a bit messier and less straightforward.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 3:06 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 49

I think back to how we would sell cars and boats back to those we arrested in lieu of prosecution. We made a ton of cash doing this. It became a real money maker for many of the drug task forces on the MD eastern shore.

DWBartoo August 7th, 2011 at 3:07 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 50

Ah yes, “reel” life and real life, Jason.

The “halcyon days” of drug-running seem ever so much kinder and gentler than before Reagan upped the ante.


Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Jason, of the many DEA agents and other officials interviewed, many now retired, did they share their current feelings or thoughts regarding prohibition? After 4 decades of failure, do they still agree with it?

Teddy Partridge August 7th, 2011 at 3:09 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 50

I think movies have us believe it, because the hierarchical law enforcement sources they base their stories on believe in a top-down, structured organization. Think of every single crime-solving program on television, for instance, which starts out in the squad room with a white board showing an organizational chart and ends with “the producers would like to thank XYZ Police Department for their cooperation.

That’s what I found so refreshing about your book, quite frankly, is the inside-the-smugglers’ perspective, that shows how crews form and re-form depending on the whims of the lad involved. It’s very hard for law enforcement to think they are, with their vaunted organization and hierarchy, up against such an amorphous group of guys.

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 3:09 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 48

Hmmm, it’s tough to generalize, but I’d say that nowadays there is much more of a difference in the attitudes of the police and smugglers (with the exception fo corrupt law enforcement officers in Maxico).

In Mexico, cartels and their associated gangs of assassins kill indiscriminately, murdering many people not involved in the drug trade. Though there are some bad cops, and good ones that make mistakes, I don’t believe any kind of abuse of power compares to the atrocities in Mexico.

I tend to think the more overzealous people in the war on drugs are the policy makers on the American side. If police are told that pot is legal and not to make arrests for its possession, they wont. I don’t think many cops even care about the legal status of pot, but they do care about enforcing the law, whatever it happens to be.

greenwarrior August 7th, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Back in the 70′s I had possessions in safe keeping for a friend who was growing who expected to have his assets seized. He didn’t use banks. The house and vehicles were taken.

DWBartoo August 7th, 2011 at 3:10 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 51

Do you see a deep and broad change within the ranks of law enforcement, Neill, or do newer officers simply “believe” whatever comes “down” from on “high”. (No puns too-deliberately intended:)


DWBartoo August 7th, 2011 at 3:12 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 55

You have partially answered the question I ask of Neill @57, Jason, thank you.


Teddy Partridge August 7th, 2011 at 3:12 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 51

Wow, I did not know that.

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

The amorphous nature of the drug rings made proving conspiracy a nightmare for the prosecutors. Was Smuggler so-and-so a member or this ring, or that one? Or both?

Many of the defense lawyers argued their clients were charged over and over again for the same single crime.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Many people have not yet made the correlation between Reagan’s enhanced efforts of the 80s and Calderon’s pressure upon the cartel over the past four years. Both of these efforts to push back against the established trade with law enforcement pressure dramatically increased the violence. As we in law enforcement take down organizations or parts of, we create voids in the marketplace, which are quickly filled by other gangs or by those itching to break into the business. In doing so, they compete for the available turf and they do this with guns. they certainly can’t take each other to court.

Teddy Partridge August 7th, 2011 at 3:17 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 60

Having just finished your description of Jackpot Trial One, it’s amazing that anyone was convicted. Dropping charges right and left, calling witnesses who couldn’t/wouldn’t identify anyone and then kissed them leaving the stand (!), forgetful witnesses, witnesses who actually were involved in totally unrelated crews — what a mess!

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 3:20 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 53

It’s a mixed bag when it comes to former federal agents’ opinions regarding the war on drugs and its success or failure. Some say pot is no big deal. Others, especially some prosecutors who are not retired, maintain the same stance from the ’80s that marijuana use causes lots of other crime and is not an appropriate substance to be used.

Many of the cops do say, however, that they’d rather be chasing the “gentlemen” marijuana smugglers of old instead of today’s drug traffickers. Back in the day, you didn’t have to worry about catching a bullet while in pursuit.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 3:24 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 55

I agree Jason, most cops would not care if pot were legal. What I find interesting is that those who vehemently oppose efforts to end the prohibition of pot are narcotics agents, groups such as, The California Narcotics Officers Association (CNOA) and the Colorado Drug Investigators Association.

DWBartoo August 7th, 2011 at 3:25 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 61

I think that correlation very important, Neill, and suspect that many former law enforcement officers would agree, certainly all of the retired officers whom I know agree with that assessment and all also, to varying degrees, think that there must be a major re-think regarding drug laws, particularly as they apply to marijuana.


Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 3:26 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 61

Exactly, Neill. Operation Jackpot was successful in that it nailed its targets and removed a certain set of marijuana smugglers from society. But what came in their place were the cocaine cowboys.

Some time ago I remember learning about what’s called the balloon effect. For example, when coca is eradicated in Bolivia, production shifts to Peru. When the coca is destroyed in Peru, it moves to Ecuador. And, after it is destroyed in Ecuador, it goes back to Bolivia.

The point is that it is always like squeezing a balloon and just shifting the air somewhere else without actually getting rid of it.

DWBartoo August 7th, 2011 at 3:28 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 63

Agreed, the prosecutorial “side” is apparently much more wedded to the “gateway drug” scenario and, among the few with whom I have spoken, favor very repressive approaches.


Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 3:29 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 64

Well, I guess I take comfort in the fact that these men believe in their cause! I imagine it would be hard to go to work at the DEA each day if you disagreed with American drug policy.

Teddy Partridge August 7th, 2011 at 3:29 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 64

There are huge institutional investments in the drug war, careers are made entirely within these institutions, much of the incarceration and equipment provision are entirely privatized with companies flexing their donor muscle within politicians’ warchests. It’s a monstrous inertia to overcome.

I equate the drug war to the fight for a simplified, single-payer health care system: there’s too many jobs, too many stakeholders/stockholders, and too many invested politicians arrayed against reform.

gigi3 August 7th, 2011 at 3:29 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 29

It was Dupont. Wm. Randolph Hearst was also heavily involved in influencing Congress.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 3:31 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 57

It’s an ever changing sea for most new cops. In the academy, they believe what they are taught; hold the drug war line. They are raring to go when they hit the bricks. Many get paired with savvy officers who flat out tell them that this is bull, we’re wasting our time out here with these petty arrests. On the other hand, if you want to get promoted, you better tow the administration’s party line, which is usually, keep the pressure on and bring in the drug arrest numbers. Drug arrest numbers equal federal dollars.

DWBartoo August 7th, 2011 at 3:31 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 66

Suggesting that really “solving” the “problem” at the policy level is not really the intent. It is this added aspect of hypocrisy that really makes current “eradication policy” such a deadly (and lucrative) joke.

A policy seemingly designed to fail in a very “successful” and cynical fashion.


DWBartoo August 7th, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Most excellent analogy, Teddy.


PeasantParty August 7th, 2011 at 3:34 pm
In response to gigi3 @ 70

Ah! Thank you!

DuPont. Du pont yourself! LOL!

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 3:38 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 66

Spot on Jason. We refer to this as displacement. It occurs in many areas of enforcement. The US government continues to brag about its cocaine eradication (reduction) efforts in Columbia, but fail to mention the increase of production in other countries that you have mentioned.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 3:40 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 67

If marijuana were legal, it would not be the “alleged” gateway drug.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 3:42 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 68

That’s why I was more interested in those who have retired. All of us in LEAP once felt that way.

kspopulist August 7th, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Hi! thanks for coming!
Have you guys watched the HBO series, The Wire? One of you used to work in the state of Maryland and as that show was based on Baltimore, it seems the scenarios they depict may be much more widespread with regard to catch and releases, surveillance, hands off policy from feds unless terrorism links etc.
what do you folks think?

or did everybody stop asking the ‘Was The Wire realsistic’ question a couple years ago? haha

gigi3 August 7th, 2011 at 3:43 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 74

Here is something to substantiate that it was DuPont and Hearst. It had to do with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.

“The decision of the United States Congress to pass the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was based on hearings and reports.[35][36] In 1936 the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) noticed an increase of reports of people smoking marijuana, which further increased in 1937. The Bureau drafted a legislative plan for Congress, seeking a new law and the head of the FBN, Harry J. Anslinger, ran a campaign against marijuana.[37][38] Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst’s empire of newspapers began publishing what is known as “Yellow journalism”, demonizing the cannabis plant and putting emphasis on connections between cannabis and violent crime.[39] Several scholars argue that the goal was to destroy the hemp industry,[40][41][42] largely as an effort of Hearst, Andrew Mellon and the Du Pont family.[40][42] They argue that with the invention of the decorticator hemp became a very cheap substitute for the paper pulp that was used in the newspaper industry.[40][43] They also believe that Hearst felt that this was a threat to his extensive timber holdings. Mellon was Secretary of the Treasury and the wealthiest man in America and had invested heavily in nylon, DuPont’s new synthetic fiber, and considered its success to depend on its replacement of the traditional resource, hemp.[40][44][45][46][47][48][49][50] According to other researchers there were other things than hemp more important for DuPont in the mid-1930s: to finish the product (nylon) before its German competitors, to start plants for nylon with much larger capacity, etc.[51]”


DWBartoo August 7th, 2011 at 3:46 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 77

It is this change of perspective among professionals which I consider critical to real and necessary change, Neill, in the drug policies of this nation, and appreciate the role that all of you are willing to assume in those efforts.


Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Case in point Teddy. The DEA began in 1972 with 2,775 employees on a budget of $65 million. By 2009 it had grown to almost 11,000 employees at $2.6 billion. That’s one hell of a dynasty. Law enforcement agencies around the country have tripled in size. What about the Office of National Drug Control Policy? Need I mention the prison industrial complex???

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 3:47 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 67

From a strategic standpoint, I wonder if an effective way to dismantle the cartels in Mexico is to legalize pot and deprive them of a significant portion of their revenue stream. Less cash means less guns and firepower, less men on the cartel payrolls, less of an ability to pay off police, etc.

But skeptics say the cartels will still have oodles of cash from cocaine and meth sales, as well as from extortion, human trafficking and other crimes they dabble in.

PeasantParty August 7th, 2011 at 3:48 pm
In response to gigi3 @ 79

Hmmm. In the thirties when the country was in Depression.

Thanks, gigi3! This is a great addition to the book salon and Jason’s work.

PeasantParty August 7th, 2011 at 3:51 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 83

Oh! I’d also like to add that it was at the beginning of WWII and his expected expansions in Germany!

kspopulist August 7th, 2011 at 3:51 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 82

yes, if I remember right, Mexico did decriminalize pot last year, in part of its efforts to combat the cartels.
Yes, two years ago, decriminalized possession of drugs

It’s effectiveness as a policy is yet to be seen
but it can’t be worse than what’s come so far

BevW August 7th, 2011 at 3:52 pm

As we come to the end of this great discussion and Book Salon,

Jason, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book.

Neill, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Jason’s website and book.

Neill’s website, LEAP.

Next Saturday –
David Wise /Tiger Trap; America’s Secret Spy War with China
Hosted by – Steve Clemons

Next Sunday –
Matthew Richardson / Guaranteed to Fail: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Debacle of Mortgage Finance
Hosted by – William Black

Thanks all,
Have a great week!

Just quick reminder:
Membership drive! Are you an FDL member? If not, please join and help keep FDL delivering kick ass activism and independent journalism. You can join HERE.

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 3:53 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 81

It is amazing to see how the War on Drugs grew in size from a budget standpoint. I include a paragraph or two in the book about that, comparing the Nixon years to the Reagan years. And yet, despite all this money, drugs are still plentiful in the country.

In researching my book, I thought it was fascinating to learn just how determined both the smugglers and cops were. I suppose the ballooning budgets are symptoms of this arms race and the won’t-back-down attitude of all players involved.

gigi3 August 7th, 2011 at 3:54 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 83

The “Robber Barons” were not directly affected by the Depression. They were focused on profits at any cost (same as now). Hemp grows almost everywhere and is a very inexpensive alternative to petroleum in many products.

Did you know Henry Ford designed the Model T to run on hemp fuel?

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 3:55 pm
In response to kspopulist @ 78

That would be me. I liken “The Wire” to a documentary where the names have been changed. They only fictional part was that of Hamsterdam, which was really Mayor Kurt Schmoke’s needle exchange program on steroids. I grew up with some of the actual kingpins. I know the corners and I remember some of the cases. I know the political figures, the docks (where my father worked) and I know the schools. As David Simon put it, “This is any major city in this country, not just Baltimore.” Compare “The Wire” to the “gentlemen smugglers” of yesterday and it’s crystal clear why we all prefer yesterday, cops and smugglers.

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Thank you, everyone, for this discussion. I enjoyed it.


PeasantParty August 7th, 2011 at 3:56 pm
In response to gigi3 @ 88

Henry Ford? Yes, I did know that! But it was the alcohol version after processed and the oil industry pushed him to their side!

DWBartoo August 7th, 2011 at 3:56 pm
In response to kspopulist @ 85

It is the US which must decrimminalize for it is the US which is the largest consumer, kspopulist.


Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 3:58 pm
In response to gigi3 @ 79

Bingo gig3, Bingo!

PeasantParty August 7th, 2011 at 3:59 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 90


I did too. Thank You very much for sharing with us at FDL. If you haven’t joined, please do. Jane just had a members webinar today that was MOST EXCELLENT! I encourage you and Neil to join us. Also, good luck and wishes of great sales on your book!

From one Carolinian to another: You, GO!

DWBartoo August 7th, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Thank you Jason and Neill.

I hope you might both return, as this is a central issue to bring about real change in many areas of public policy, including foreign policy and even … war, itself.


Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Don’t forget to visit me and the other LEAPers at http://www.leap.cc

kspopulist August 7th, 2011 at 4:01 pm
In response to Neill Franklin @ 89

yes, watching it I kept thinking ‘this must be any city with comparable size and resources’. Different people different groups in different forms of underground commerce , mm -hmmm.

thanks for answering!
sorry about having to grow up in all that!
I remember Portsmouth, VA in the early ’90′s. bad news

Thanks for hosting and for your service!!

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 4:01 pm
In response to Jason Ryan @ 82

You hit the nail squarely on the head. Marijuana sales constitute 60 to 70% of the profits. Very little money is generated from Meth.

kspopulist August 7th, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Thank you to Jason Ryan for coming today and for your book!

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 4:05 pm
In response to kspopulist @ 85

Decriminalization will not accomplish this. It will only prevent citizens from being taken advantage of by corrupt cops. Decriminalization does not place marijuana into a legal market, it remains illegal to sell; therefore, very profitable for the cartel.

Neill Franklin August 7th, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Jason, again, what a great read. I enjoyed the discussion tonight. Best to all.

kspopulist August 7th, 2011 at 4:09 pm

I see, the effect of decrim in MX is a half-step measure. And making it legal to sell would drop prices dramatically, in time, allowing cartels to shift to other commodities…

just like with the US bootleggers back after alchohol prohibition and repeal

Jason Ryan August 7th, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Thanks, Neill, for helping today. It was a pleasure to meet you and everyone else tonight.

UnEasyOne August 7th, 2011 at 6:16 pm
In response to kspopulist @ 85

It’s effectiveness is greatly limited by the fact that pot is still illegal in the cartel’s biggest and most lucrative – by far – market, us. Only if the border could be successfully closed – HA! (never happen) – could that legality be fairly tested.

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