A review of Just Dope by Allison Margolin

Reviewed by John C. Krieg

Just Dope: A Leading Attorney’s Personal Journey Inside the War On Drugs
by Allison Margolin
North Atlantic Books, $16.95, paperback, ISBN: 1623176867, Aug 2022

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 rode in on anyone’s coattails in becoming herself a well-known marijuana defense attorney that 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 distributed billboards around town 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.  Before we get to that, however, liberally paraphrasing and occasionally injecting personal opinion, here are the lowlights concerning America’s federal marijuana prohibition: 

  • Infamous historical figure Adolf Hitler, early on in his reign of terror, was quoted as saying, “If you tell a lie frequently enough, it will be believed.”  Across the Atlantic America’s first Federal Bureau of Narcotics Chief, Harry Jacob Anslinger, took this advice to heart and lied before Congress as to the perceived evils of marijuana, thus getting The Marijuana Tax Act passed in 1937 which effectively outlawed marijuana.  Proponents of pot have been paying the price ever since as law enforcement has been goring itself at this trough for the last 85 years.  
  • During his ill-fated time in office President Richard Milhous Nixon ignored the findings of his own Shafer Commission that found marijuana to be basically harmless and passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, and to give it some enforcement teeth, established the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1973, and the DEA, as well as the lower local law enforcement agencies, have been picking the low hanging fruit of marijuana convictions right on up to today.
  • Ronald Reagan instituted the forfeiture laws which allows law enforcement to seize all assets of suspected drug dealers, and cops can confiscate any cash exceeding $3,000 from suspected  marijuana dealers/users.  Due process notwithstanding, marijuana arrests and seizures have been the cash cow of law enforcement and they are in no hurry to see the laws change that would require them to do any real work.  Any army that sustains itself on plunder will always find any reason to do it.
  • Enter Joseph Robinette Biden who perpetually insists that, ”The evidence still isn’t in on marijuana,” even though it has been in for well over forty years, and to back up his misguided stance, the Biden Administration has conducted a witch hunt to cast out anyone that they can prove had previously used marijuana.
  • The current “state’s rights” marijuana feeding frenzy is, in reality, a house of cards riding atop a Trojan Horse because even if all 50 were to allow legalization, our federal government  has numerous avenues to overturn them and cast the country back into the dark ages of marijuana prohibition.

The reason why this book is so much more than the standard fare of rants about the unfairness of it all, and that marijuana users are a higher class of people than down in the gutter low life drug addicts, and as such deserve a hall pass, 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:

I was sixteen years old when River Phoenix died on the sidewalk outside LA nightclub the Viper Room in 1993.

The coroner’s report confirmed all rumors: River Phoenix had died of a drug overdose after ingesting a speedball (p. 101)…

I was bewildered.  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 (p. 102)?

After stumbling out of the club and lying down on the sidewalk River Phoenix showed signs of extreme distress for a full ten minutes before his brother Joaquin worked up the nerve to call 911.  When the ambulance arrived only four minutes later he was already dead.  He was 23 years old.  Why didn’t anyone present act any sooner?  States Margolin:

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 (p.104).

Concerning the “opioid epidemic” which started to receive national media attention in the late 90’s and then became all the rage when President Donald J. Trump declared it a crisis on October 26th, 2017, Margolin sets the record straight on who was most to blame and what most helped to mitigate its impact in California:

It seems like a coincidence that the pressure on medical marijuana doctors happened at around the same time as the beginning of the opioid crisis, consider this: the same pharmaceutical companies that funded the research defending the safety of prescribing opioids like OxyContin also bankrolled antimarijuana propaganda as more and more states voted to legalize the plant (p. 191).

In fact, California’s medical marijuana program saved the state from the worst of the opiate epidemic, which claimed almost forty-seven thousand American lives in 2018 alone.  When you include deaths from heroin overdoses, that number grows to sixty-four thousand dead in one year because of opioids, more than any other cause of death.  Meanwhile, there is no recorded case of anyone ever dying from a marijuana overdose (p. 193). 

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 know that oftentimes the only real difference between illegal drugs and legal drugs is the label on a prescription bottle.  The heart wants what the heart wants, and no amount of legal posturing will ever stop that.  Margolin says as much right from the start in her preface:

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 (p. xii)…

Prohibition doesn’t work.  It’s time to legalize everything (p. xiii).

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, and 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.

About the reviewer:  John C. Krieg is a retired landscape architect and land planner who formerly practiced in Arizona, California, and Nevada. He is also retired as an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified arborist and currently holds seven active categories of California state contracting licenses, including the highest category of Class A General Engineering. He has written a college textbook entitled Desert Landscape Architecture (1999, CRC Press). John has had pieces published in A Gathering of the Tribes, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Across the Margin,  Alternating Current, Blue Mountain Review, Cholla Needles, Clark Street Review, Compulsive Reader, Conceit, Down in the Dirt, Hedge Apple, Homestead Review, Indolent Books, Inlandia,Last Leaves, Line Rider Press, LOL Comedy, Lucky Jefferson, Magazine of History and Fiction, Moon City Review, Oddball Magazine, Palm Springs Life, Pandemonium, Pegasus, Pen and Pendulum, Raven Cage,Red Fez, Saint Ann’s Review, South 85 Journal, Squawk Back, The Book Smuggler’s Den, The Courtship of Winds, The Mindful Word, The Scriblerus, The Writing Disorder, These Lines, True Chili, Twist & Twain, White Wall Review, and Wilderness House Literary Review. In conjunction with filmmaker/photographer Charles Sappington, Mr. Krieg has completed a two-part documentary film entitled Landscape Architecture: The Next Generation (2010). In some underground circles John is considered a master grower of marijuana and holds as a lifelong goal the desire to see marijuana federally legalized. Nothing else will do. To that end he published two books in 2022 entitled: Marijuana Tales and California Crazies: The Former Lives and Deaths of Outlaw Pot Farmers.  John’s most recent collection of bios and reviews is: Lines & Lyrics: Glimpses of the Writing Life (2019, Adelaide Books). John’s most recent collection of fictional novellas is: Zingers: Five Novellas Blowing Like Dust on the Desert Wind (2020, Anaphora Literary Press).  John’s collection of six political and slice-of-life essays is American Turmoil at the Vanguard of the 21st Century (2022).