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Interview with Judge James Gray who is a Superior Court judge from the state of California who has seen his fair share of drug offences and crimes over his 29-years of service within the U.S. legal and judiciary community.
By Admins (from 16/08/2013 @ 07:06:52, in en - Video Alert, read 2251 times)

But despite a long and successful career that involved the prosecution of some of California’s worst drug offenders, Judge Gray has an interesting take on the war on drugs – he believes that it needs to stop.

Since publicly announcing his position against the U.S. drug war in a 1992 televised press conference, Judge Gray has been instrumental in the movement towards drug policy reform. His book Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed: A Judicial Indictment Of War On Drugs details the many reasons behind his criticism of the drug war, such as the greater availability of drugs to teenagers as well as the softer prosecution of non-drug related offenders that result from drug prohibition. His commentary has also been featured in numerous publications and a wide variety of media including the 2007 documentary American Drug War: The Last White Hope.

Well into his retirement, Judge Gray continues to work tirelessly as an advocate for bringing the drug war to a final end. As such, he was more than willing to answer our questions about his experiences as a former federal prosecutor and how they have shaped him into an outspoken critic of the very same laws that he worked to enforce. When was it first clear to you that America’s drug policy was a failed one?

Judge Gray: After I had been on the trial court bench for about 2 and a half years. Was there any case or situation you remember in particular?

Judge Gray: I’m a former federal prosecutor as well as a former criminal defense attorney in the
Navy and things just started to build up.

There was one case I was involved with in which a really bad man was being prosecuted for being with prostitutes, beating them up, robbing them, and raping them. It turned out that the district attorney had agreed that he would serve such a small amount of time in custody that – after everything was over – he was taken back into the lock-up and gave out a war whoop.

I thought to myself, “Well, he thinks he’s won” and then I thought, “Well, he has won” and the reason is that we’re spending so much time, money and resources on non-violent drug cases – we’re not spending them on robbery, rape and murder. So that’s what started me thinking about it and 2 years later I came out publicly about it. As a former Superior Court judge, describe how drug prohibition laws are continually putting our children in harms way.

Judge Gray: There are 2 big reasons for this. The first is something I ask high school kids about all the time – is it easier for you to get marijuana or alcohol? And the answer is, it’s easier to get marijuana. Why? Because the illicit marijuana dealers do not ask for ID.

The second reason is – if I am an adult drug dealer, how much risk-taking can I buy with 50$ of cash from a teenage boy or girl in the intercity or almost anywhere else? Quite a bit. Because while 50$ is nothing to a drug dealer, to a kid it’s a fair amount of money. I can recruit all of the young people I want as a cheap source of labor – use them as gophers, look-outs, couriers – and then, as soon as their reliability is established, I will trust them to go out and sell small amounts of drugs in the communities. Why? That’s easy. I make more money and they make more money.

If you have a 15,16, or 17-year old selling drugs in his or her community, who is that person going to sell to? They’re not going to sell to adults. They’re going to sell to their 15 and 16-year old peers, thus recruiting more children to that very lifestyle of drug usage and drug selling that we say we’re trying to keep away from them and it is caused by the policy of drug prohibition. Today, you do not have students selling alcohol on their high school campuses; but they’re selling methamphetamines or other things pretty much all the time, which is once again caused by drug prohibition. Other than drug dealers, what groups of people stand to benefit from the continual enforcement of drug prohibition?

Judge Gray: Well, there are really lots of them. For example, pretty much anybody that builds prisons and anybody that staffs prisons. In the state of California, the prison guards union is probably the strongest political lobby group we have. They’re winning because we’re putting all of those non-violent drug offenders in prison.

People that sell burglar alarm equipment and security services, they’re winning. Criminal defense attorneys are winning because they’re getting paid to defend drug dealers. Law enforcement is winning because they keep getting more and more resources to fight the war on drugs; resources that they’re spending on that war and not on robbery, rape and murder. In the state of California, public ballot initiatives for a regulated marijuana market (such as the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine campaign) have received growing support. What sorts of things should an average citizen expect to see if marijuana were to be legalized and regulated in states such as California?

Judge Gray: You would see a small increase in the use of marijuana by adults over time. Some of those would come from not using so much alcohol and going to marijuana instead, which, to be honest, would still be a better thing. You would also see people who used to take drugs like methamphetamines come down the ladder and probably use marijuana.

You would also see an enormous increase in the hemp industry. Some people may not know this, but hemp is an industrial product derived from the marijuana bush; the stalk itself has enormous properties and uses that go back thousands of years.

You would also see a lot of tax money coming into the local state and federal governments that is not coming in now. As they say, marijuana is the largest cash crop in California but none of that goes towards taxes, except for medical marijuana dispensaries. So, you would see a great deal more in tax revenue coming into the governments and they would save – according to the Attorney General of California – tens of millions of dollars that they’re currently spending in trying to enforce this unenforceable system. What types of changes to do you see in other countries with regard to drug policy and how is the United States affecting international opinion?

Judge Gray:The United States is running the bus with regard to drug prohibition and if the United States were to change its position, the rest of the world would heave a sigh of relief.

Even still, there are major propositions going on in Latin America right now to regulate and control marijuana, or even heroin and cocaine, because they are the ones that are suffering from the corruption and the violence that is caused by our country’s drug problem. They’re beginning to see that the only way to reduce the corruption and violence – and the only way to get rid of the drug cartels – is to regulate and control these substances and they’re well on their way to doing that. You’ve been a public proponent of drug policy reform for 20 years now. What has changed since you first began to voice your support for this cause?

Judge Gray: There have been 2 sizeable changes. One is for the worse. That is, we are in worse shape today with regard to filling our prisons and the cost of drugs. There are far more drugs in our community today than there were 20 years ago, there are far more people in prison than there was 20 years ago, and the cost of drugs is less today than 20 years ago – all of that change is negative.

The positive is that more people are beginning to understand what is going on. More people in the media, more people in the chambers of commerce, even more elected officials are beginning to understand that just because we discuss the regulation and control of these various drugs does not mean that we condone people using them.

They are also beginning to see that drug addiction is a medical problem, not a criminal justice problem. They are beginning to understand that we should bring drug-addicted people closer to medical professionals that can help them and reserve the criminal justice system to control people’s actions instead. If you drive under the influence of any of these drugs (including alcohol), if you beat up your spouse, if you hit somebody over the head with a pool cue; that is a criminal justice issue. People are beginning to understand that as well as the taxes that they are losing by not regulating and controlling marijuana.

It’s only a question of time. I tell people that I absolutely guarantee them that we will change away from this failed system and, within 2 years of doing so, almost everybody will join hands and look back and be aghast and astonished that we could have perpetuated this failed system for so long.


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