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Copyright (c) 2010 Chapman Law Review 
Chapman Law Review

SYMPOSIUM ISSUE: Drug War Madness: Policies, Borders & Corruption: ARTICLE: The Hopelessness of Drug Prohibition

Spring, 2010

Chapman Law Review

13 Chap. L. Rev. 521


Judge James P. Gray (Ret.)*


I am a former "drug warrior." Although I may not have given it too much critical thought, during my time of service in the U.S. Navy JAG Corps and as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, I believed that people using and possessing illicit drugs rightfully should be in jail. In fact, I was probably raised just like you were, which was to equate cocaine and heroin with prison.

But then I was appointed as a trial court judge in Orange County, California by Governor Deukmejian at the end of 1983. Once on the bench my views slowly began to change. I began to realize that we were not doing anything positive for low-level drug offenders except churning them through the system - at great financial and human expense. I also began to realize that when we arrested drug sellers it really did not make any difference in the overall availability of drugs, because other drug dealers or potential drug dealers simply treated the situation as a new job opportunity.

If I can trace my change of thinking back to any particular epiphany, it was when I was presiding over a felony preliminary hearing calendar and was taking a plea and delivering a sentence that another judge had agreed upon for a juvenile who was being tried and sentenced as an adult. This seventeen-year-old hoodlum was pleading guilty to the offenses of assaulting and raping prostitutes and then robbing them of ...
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