Author’s note: I wrote this brief dispatch about my run-in with libertarian pro-marijuana activist/former judge James P. Gray back in March of 2011. But the piece disappeared into the black void of my computer hard-drive, and I forgot all about it—until now. I’m glad the text turned up, because Judge Gray’s sleazy efforts to bring lefties and progressives into the Libertarian Party fold under the innocuous banner of pot legalization is much more relevant today than it was 2011. After all, Judge Gray is now the running mate of Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson is using the weed wedge issue to siphon off votes from Obama. —YL
Last Friday, I tagged along with a friend to a community center/Methodist Church in Hollywood for a documentary screening and panel discussion about California’s marijuana legalization movement. The film was a continuous stream of talking heads—interviews with aging hippies, baby-boomer marijuana patients suffering from cancer, former drug addicts, inmates, a few policy wonks, mystical Ibogaine practitioners and a bunch of assorted lefties and new agers involved in the marijuana legalization movement. All in all, it was a predictable set of people, and people in the audience seemed to be of the same activist demographic. But when the lights were turned on and people started talking, a cold chill ran down my spine: it was as if everyone around me had suddenly turned into a libertarian.
There were a bunch of them in the audience, including a quiet, mousy intern from Antiwar.com and her hippy bohemian writer chick friend who had been recently been converted to libertarianism, who admitted that she thought libertarianism was “really cool,” as people stood outside on the stairs and passed around a joint. The panel of experts was also stacked with libertarians, including a retired libertarian judge from rightwing Orange County who shared the stage with pot activists spewing new age gibberish about a “spiritual evolution” putting an end to the War on Drugs. New age stoners, crusty lefties and wonky progressives getting along with free-market extremists? Yes, sir. They were on the same team—and proud of it. They had risen above “mere” politics and put aside “petty” ideological differences to engage in a nonpartisan effort for the greater good of Gaia…or something like that.
I knew that libertarians have come to dominate the drug legalization movement, but I had never seen the spectacle up close and personal. And what I saw was deeply disturbing. Because from where I sat, it didn’t look like bipartisanship in action: it looked like a straight up con and a perfect example of how America’s oligarchy infiltrate the gullible leftie ranks and bootstrap liberal/progressive issues to the freemarket/anti-regulation cause.
My journalist buddy, who’s been watching and reporting on California’s drug legalization movement for the past decade, said this was not new. Libertarians have wormed their way into the drug scene in a major way, and were a big reason why marijuana legalization had suddenly gained so much mainstream credibility over the past five or six years. It made sense: the Koch-funded thinktank-industrial-complex has limitless cash, connections and access to media outlets. The Kochs also have a major objective that fits right in with the stoner scene: cloaking libertarianism with a liberal veneer and attracting lefties and progressives to the dark side.
The libertarians at this discussion were not trying to hide and operated right out in the open, starting with the keynote speaker, the Honorable James Gray. He had spent years working as a rightwing judge in Orange County, locking people up for petty drug crimes, but had suddenly seen the light and was now a vocal proponent of marijuana legalization. A former Superior Court judge coming out strongly against drug criminalization? It’s no small thing—his presence gave the stoner-dominated weed legalization movement a huge boost in credibility and respectability, and made Judge Gray a celebrity, a hero among liberal legalization activists.
Up on the stage, Judge Gray talked a lot about the failure of America’s drug policies. He talked about the stupendous amounts of taxpayer wealth wasted to no good effect. He talked about the insane incarceration rates for non-violent offenders, and the unnecessary suffering and misery caused by the War on Drugs, breaking up families, robbing young people of opportunity and leaving kids to grow up without fathers and mothers. It all made sense. And given that Gray had spent 25 years as a real life judge putting away all those people he now talked about with such empathy and feeling added some serious moral heft to his words. I gotta admit it was hard not be moved.
There was one problem with the act: it was full of shit. As a libertarian true believer, Gray has no problem with legalizing child labor, scrapping welfare, letting people die on the street for lack of healthcare and allowing companies to turn our air and drinking into into toxic sludge. So why the empathy for moochers and losers rotting in jail? It didn’t any make sense.
When I got home, I looked this guy up and it didn’t take long to figure how much he really cares. All I had to do was go the “About” section of his website. It’s all right there, down to the photo of him posing with his hero Milton Friedman, that great defender of the common man.
Gray started his legal career as a JAG at the U.S. Naval base in Guam—which by the way is a government job. Next he was appointed to the bench in 1983—yep, another government position—right when Reagan’s war on drugs started picking up steam. California’s prison population tripled under his watch. Which might make you say: “Hey, you know, he saw the debacle with his own two eyes and now wants to stop it. What if he really does care about the poor and the oppressed? Give him a chance, will ya?” Sure, he cares. That’s why three years after he was appointed to the California Superior Court, he won the Business Litigation Judge of the Year award from the Orange County Bar Association— you know, because he sided with the common man.
And after he retired, Gray got a cushy job making $400 an hour at ADR Services Inc., a firm that handles out of court arbitration for corporate clients. Arbitration is a loophole created by corporate America to scam people out of their constitutional right to a fair trial by jury, bypassing the public legal system altogether and forcing Americans into a rigged private justice system. A 2007 Public Citizen report revealed that arbitrators working for outfits like Gray’s ruled against consumers 94 percent of the time:
“Many consumers will find themselves forced into the shadowy world of binding mandatory arbitration, where their chances of successfully defending themselves are slim to none. . . . Safeguards built into the justice system are not found in binding mandatory arbitration. For example, arbitrators decide most credit card cases on the basis of documents supplied by the company without the presence – and sometimes without the knowledge – of the consumer. Consumers must pay to have a hearing. Hearings are not open to the public, no transcripts are produced . . . And appeal is nearly impossible. ”
Looking through the articles and press clippings amassed on Gary’s site, it’s clear where he stands on the issues. On top of getting rid of government social programs and minimum wage, he wants to enact the “FairTax” (hint: it’s only fair to billionaires) and get rid of restrictions on political donations, freeing Americans to contribute as much as they want want to political candidates—money is speech, after all.
But what about the War on Drugs? Well, no matter what he tells his progressive stoner groupies, Judge Gray sees nothing wrong with the War on Drugs per se, as long as it was being waged by the states and not the federal government. The semantics may be a bit too complicated for the legalize it crowd to follow, but let’s take a look anyway.
On his “Primary Issues” page, Gray does not actually say that he is against drug prohibition, nor the heavy handed sentencing requirements. Instead he is against the federal government meddling with the affairs of local governments:
Repeal the failed and hopeless War on Drugs by restricting the role of the federal government to assisting each state to enforce its chosen laws. Crime was reduced by more than 20 percent within one year after we pursued this course with the repeal of Alcohol Prohibition, and the same results will be realized when we finally repeal Drug Prohibition. People must be held accountable for their actions, instead of for what they put into their bodies. The War on Drugs has directly created an enormously large and lucrative black market that has corrupted institutions, people in all walks of life, and, most especially, children, here and all around the world.
He said the same thing on Bill O’Reilly in 2008:
If I was the drug czar, I would advocate letting each state decide what to do with regard to this critical issue. Invoke the concept of Federalism and get the federal government out of the equation, except to allow them to help each state to enforce its own rules.
You hear that stoners? Drug legalization is all about states rights. As in, the state can do whatever it feels like. And my current home state of California has been doing a bang up job managing the largest, most overcrowded prison gulag network in the whole country.
Remember that when you go to the polls and feel your hand drifting towards the Libertarian Party checkbox.
PS: Read David Sirota’s analysis of the GOP-LP “marijuana conspiracy” in Colorado that Mitt Romney’s hoping will siphon off enough of the progressive pro-pot vote away from Obama and hand him the state.
PPS: On top of everything, Judge Gray’s not even a real libertarian. He was a lifelong Republican until 2004, when he suddenly switched to the Libertarian Party to run for Senator Barbara Boxer’s seat.
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