Richard Stratton, the former editor of High Times magazine, knows a thing or two about marijuana. Not only has he written in depth about the subject, he also spent years as a drug smuggler, moving millions of dollars of the product—a path that ultimately landed him a 25-year sentence, of which he served eight. Since his release two decades ago, Stratton has become one of the most successful and prolific ex-cons, writing novels, producing award-winning films and running a TV series not so loosely based on his life. City & State Editor Morgan Pehme asks Stratton the straight dope about decriminalization, prison reform and his refusal to rat out Norman Mailer.
City & State: Were you surprised when Governor Cuomo announced that he was going to push for the decriminalization of marijuana possession up to 25 grams?
Richard Stratton: Not really, because I think that any smart politician really sees that the writing on the wall is that decriminalization and legalization is inevitable. They say there were three reasons why Prohibition ended: the Depression, the Depression and the Depression. I think the three reasons why ultimately marijuana will be legalized are the Recession, the Recession, the Recession, particularly in states like California and New York, where you have a major underground market that is huge. People don’t even begin to realize how much money is being made in the illegal market of growing and distributing marijuana. For the government not to be getting a piece of that is stupid.
CS: You have dealt with a lot of marijuana. Is 25 grams a substantial amount of marijuana?
RS: No, it’s like an ounce. It’s not a lot of marijuana.
CS: Were you surprised at all when the Senate Republicans rejected Cuomo’s decriminalization effort?
RS: You know, I was surprised, because I’ve always believed that it’s a Republican issue. You’re talking about those values that Republicans supposedly hold dear, like personal liberty and less involvement of the state in our personal lives. That’s really what it’s about. The laws against marijuana do not make any sense at all. It’s so irrational and so costly to the American culture as a whole that you’d think that smart Republicans would say, “You know what? This is anti-American, and we should open it up and we should legalize it” —but they don’t.
CS: Don’t you feel the Republicans in the Senate would point to you as a case study as to why there shouldn’t be decriminalization of marijuana? That they would argue that’s it’s a slippery slope, and that if the government let you have a couple of grams, then soon enough a person could be on his way to becoming a multimillion-dollar drug smuggler like yourself?
RS: Since when are Republicans opposed to entrepreneurship? It’s American to make money. Again, I go back to Prohibition. Some of the greatest fortunes in this country and in North America came about as a result of Prohibition. The Kennedys, the Bronfmans and those other huge dynasties that were created on money that was made from illegal alcohol. So I don’t think it’s anti-American to make money, especially when it’s not something that’s particularly harmful. I was never involved in hard drugs, and I always felt that hard drugs were dangerous. I think there’s a lot to be said for the idea that it’s not “Just Say No,” N-O, it’s “Just Say Know,” K-N-O-W. People need to know about the harms of using drugs, using alcohol, using any of these things. They need to be educated about it, but to try to make it criminal to make people stop doing it, that doesn’t make sense…. There are millions and millions of people who use marijuana in this country and don’t create a problem for other people, who don’t go out and rape and murder and start shooting heroin after using it for awhile. I grew up during that whole Reefer Madness era and we would go to school and watch these movies about what marijuana was supposed to do to you, and we’d be high and laughing, thinking, “Oh, we’re going to grow huge breasts. Then, great! We won’t have to feel our girlfriends up. We can feel ourselves up.” So it’s nuts; it’s completely insane. It’s been interesting for me. Obviously a huge part of my life has revolved around this—and still does to some degree—but as an American I really feel that we always have to be vigilant about protecting our liberties as much as possible. That’s what makes us a great country and a great society, and wherever the government tries to encroach upon our personal freedoms, we have to be pushing back—always pushing back—and marijuana is a perfect issue for that. For me it’s always been a great symbol of what we need to do as Americans, how we need to engage with the government. Say: “No; no, you can’t tell me what I can and cannot do in the privacy of my own home as long as I’m not hurting other people.”
To read the full interview visit City & State by clicking here.
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