By John Krieg

Just Dope: A Leading Attorney’s Personal Journey Inside the War On Drugs

Written by Allison Margolin. North Atlantic Books,  $16.95

Allison Margolin, the daughter of famed marijuana defense attorney Bruce Margolin, has produced a gem here. It would be easy to call her a chip off the old block, but it would also be wrong. Margolin makes it crystal clear that she hasn’t ridden on anyone’s coattails in becoming a well-known marijuana defense attorney herself who has witnessed firsthand the hypocrisy of America’s War on Drugs, which has always been primarily a war on marijuana, for the bulk of her entire life. She reminds me of someone who is supremely self-confident, so much so in fact, that on occasion she has created billboards touting herself as “LA’s dopest attorney.” Some might call that hubris, but I call it believing in yourself. And believe me, if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.

As a staunch advocate for complete unequivocal federal marijuana legalization, I bought this book expecting it to be completely about that, but it turns out that this book is so much more. The reason why this book is so much more than the standard fare of rants about the unfairness of it all is that Margolin champions a more humane approach concerning all drug users, no matter what drug they use. And she laments the societal stigmatization that keeps people from exposing themselves as drug users. She compassionately makes her case in her ninth chapter entitled “No One Needs to Die at the Viper Room.” When River Phoenix died on the sidewalk outside LA nightclub the Viper Room in 1993, Margolin was 16 years old. The coroner’s report confirmed that Phoenix had died of a drug overdose, but Margolin questioned the circumstances: “How could such a sensitive and talented person, who ate tofu and advocated for animal rights, who publicly frowned on drug use and claimed it wasn’t for him, take enough drugs to kill himself many times over? How could it happen in front of so many people he was close to?” She goes on to say, “It may seem odd to write about celebrity overdoses in a book calling for drug law reform, but the lives of celebrities highlight a key problem that comes with prohibition. People will rarely seek help when they are afraid of the consequences for their personal or professional lives.” 

Margolin tackles the “opioid epidemic,” which President Trump declared a crisis in October 2017. She astutely points out that the pharmaceutical companies defending prescription opioid use were the same ones funding antimarijuana propaganda. Without medical marijuana in a state the size of California, there’s little doubt that the number of opioid deaths would have been even higher. “Meanwhile, there is no recorded case of anyone ever dying from a marijuana overdose,” she notes.  

America’s Drug War is, and always has been, a thinly veiled front for insatiably power hungry law enforcement, politically ambitious district attorneys, and presiding judges adhering to the plantation mentality. Not only is it patently stupid, at its core it’s an amoral industry trading in human flesh.  Beyond that, it’s an abysmal failure because it will never stop what it claims to be about — illegal drug use, and we all know that oftentimes the only real difference between illegal drugs and legal drugs is the label on a prescription bottle. “The war on drugs is bullshit. No matter how many antidrug laws  policy makers enact, people will always find a way to alter their consciousness … Prohibition doesn’t work. It’s time to legalize everything.”

What our society needs the most is a massive dose of perspective. As much as the power brokers (translate: primarily old white men) don’t want to hear it, Allison Margolin is right in stating that the only real solution is to legalize all drugs, and then the insane profiteering goes away as does the Drug War. Then, America, as the country that is supposed to care about all her people, can address the real issues as to why a miniscule portion of the overall population become addicted to certain drugs.  

Allison Margolin fights the good fight, and this book deserves to be distributed far and wide amongst stoners everywhere. The only suggestion that I could add would be to provide a more imaginative cover. My pick would be to clamp handcuffs on the peace symbol, because that would just about say it all.