High Times Greats: Timothy Leary

Timothy Leary on the drug dealer as Robin Hood.
High Times Greats: Timothy Leary
Recording “Give Peace a Chance.” Left to right: Rosemary Leary (face not visible), Tommy Smothers (with back to camera), John Lennon, Timothy Leary, Yoko Ono, Judy Marcioni and Paul Williams/ Wikimedia Commons

Wisdom well-stated remains valuable long after its author has turned stupid. In the case of Timothy Leary, a legacy remains that is still worth exhuming. In 1968, when Leary was still the High Priest of Acid and not yet a federal informer, he penned an article titled “Deal for Real,” setting forth brilliantly the ethics and spiritual rewards of righteous dope dealing. It first appeared in the East Village Other and was later collected in the Underground Press Anthology (Ace Books, 1972). Ten years later, in April, 1978, High Times reprinted it in the spirit in which it was written: filled with love for good-guy dope dealers and the magical gifts they dispense. In honor of Leary’s birthday October 22, we’re publishing it (again) below.

There are three groups who are bringing about the great evolution of the new age that we are going through now. They are the dope dealers, the rock musicians and the underground artists and writers.

Of these three heroes, mythic groups, I think the dealers are the most essential and important. In the years to come the television dramas and movies will be making a big thing of the dope dealer of the Sixties. He is going to be the Robin Hood, spiritual guerrilla, mysterious agent who will take the place of the cowboy hero or the cops-and-robbers hero. There is nothing really new about this. Throughout human history the shadowy figure of the alchemist, the shaman, the herbalist, the smiling wise man who has the key to turn you on and make you feel good, has always been the center of the religious, aesthetic, revolutionary impulse. I think that this is the noblest of all human professions and certainly would like to urge any creative young person sincerely interested in evolving himself and helping society grow to consider this ancient and honorable profession.

The paradoxical thing about the righteous dealer is that he is selling you the celestial dream. He is very different from any other merchant because the commodity he is peddling is freedom and joy. You expect your car dealer to drive a good car and you want your clothier to be well dressed, so it logically holds that you expect your righteous dope dealer to radiate exactly that joy and freedom that you seek in his product. So therefore the challenge to the dealer is that not only must his product be pure and spiritual but that he himself must reflect the human light that he represents. Therefore never buy dope, never purchase sacrament from a person that hasn’t got the qualities you aspire for.

Rosemary and I just came back from a trip to the Middle East. Naturally we spent most of our time with Sufis, cannabis alchemists and magicians. It was of great joy for us to see that the Arab dope dealers that we contacted actually did shine forth as the grooviest people you could find. I recall the night we wandered out into the native quarter and found ourselves in a little bazaar shop in the Souk talking to a dude named Mohamed who had the reputation among the international set as being the finest dealer in town. We walked into Mohamed’s shop and immediately realized that we were stepping onto a psychedelic stage.

Beautiful costumes, gold-embroidered vests, dangling, shining jewelry, silver bracelets and whatnot. The room was a retinal orgasm. Mohamed was standing behind his little desk and he himself, in his grooming and dress, was telling you that he was a turned-on cat. He was wearing an outrageous shirt. His hair, instead of being close clipped as most Arabs have it, was in soul-brother natural style and he had a spectacular fluorescent scarf around his neck. I knew that I had seen him in the marketplace earlier, weaving his way through the crowd. You knew right away that here was a magician. Here was a guy who was announcing with his mere presence that he was a flipped-out dealer in some sort of wondrous magic.

As he sat down, the first thing he did was rummage around in his beautiful leather pouches and start to fill a hash pipe with great skill and dexterity. At the same time he was laying the typical Owsley alchemist rap on us. He was telling us that he was not a businessman but sent by God to turn people on, that his product was not to intoxicate you but to give you what you were looking for—freedom and joy—and that indeed his keef and hashish were the best in the world. He had different varieties that would turn you on to food, turn you on erotically and give you visual and musical enhancement. All this time his eyes were twinkling, and even before partaking of the sacrament you became turned on by the man himself. Your trust in his product is therefore greatly enhanced.

The paradox of the dealer is that he must be pure. He must be straight and he must be radiant. The socio-economics of dealing psychedelic dope is extremely curious. Here we have this enormous, billion-dollar industry going on in the United States, all of which is essentially run by amateurs. I know no one who has dealt psychedelic drugs over a period of months and survived without being busted or being freaked out who wasn’t pure.

You have to be pure. You can’t be doing it for the money or the power and you can’t do it on your own. Most, if not all, righteous dealers work in groups or brotherhoods. This again is the ancient message of the Middle East. The brotherhoods or groups of men who are engaged in this spiritual journey together, which is always, of course, against the law, always have to be illegal and always have to be the object of persecution by Caesar, the sultan or the police.

I have spent a lot of my time in the last eight years looking for turned-on people, holy men, to find out where they were at and to learn from them. I have been in India, Japan, all through the Middle East and Europe. I have talked to the swamis, the rishis, the maharishis, and I can say flatly that the holiest, handsomest, healthiest, horniest, humorest, most saintly group of men that I have met in my life are the righteous dope dealers. They have got to be that way because they have to continue to use their own product. That is one of the interesting psychopharmacological aspects of dope dealing.

A dealer has to know his product. He has to know what these different dopes do to his head, otherwise he doesn’t know what he is selling. This means that your righteous dope dealer has to know about the effects of acid, mescaline, DMT, grass and hashish. He has to be able to break off a little lump of Nepalese hash, smell it, chew it and light it up and then decide whether it is grade A, B or C. He has got to take an acid tab, swallow it and observe on his own detecting instruments whether it is acid, whether it is good acid and roughly what the microgram quantity is. This means that he has got to be a master Sufi.

The dealer has got to be completely accurate, straight spiritual detective. He has got to be free of his own hangups. He can’t be riddled with paranoias or he is going to take a puff and scream for the psychiatrist. This means by definition that your righteous dealer must have a pure head and a holy heart. Otherwise he is going to be freaked out by his own product. It was of great interest for Rosemary and me to discover, after ten years in the psychedelic and medicine-man business, that increasingly most of our friends turned out to be dealers, which we now see is not accidental but indeed inevitable.

There is a great deal of hypocrisy throughout all levels of the establishment as well as the underground about the dealer. There are many psychedelic liberals who say: “Well, it’s okay for young people to experiment with grass and acid. We don’t want to have laws against them, but we should have laws punishing the dealers.” Somehow the dealer is in a lower moral or sociological category. This is plain bunk.

Let’s be straight and honest about it. The 30 million people in the United States who are turned on to psychedelic drugs—any one of them has been a passive collaborator in an illegal act. And every one of the 30 million people who have used grass or acid in this country in the last few years has got to face up to the fact that it was a righteous and courageous person who took great risks to make the acid or smuggle in the cannabis.

Not only does it take courage and dedication but it takes skill. After all, the amateur LSD chemist has to have the know-how to spin the molecules together. He has to have the efficiency and organizational ability to bring together a laboratory in secret and perform a minor chemical miracle. This requires a heavy, together sort of person. I think it is a moral exercise that everyone of the 30 million who are using psychedelic drugs should take a turn at dealing. I think it is almost symbolically necessary that sometime in your spiritual-psychedelic career you do deal. Not for the money but simply to pay tribute to this most honorable profession.

I remember talking recently to a group of clear-eyed, smiling, beautiful dealers. They were young men in their twenties, as all dealers have to be young. At that time their life situation was close to perfect. They were living together with their families in nature, and there was no reason for them to leave the country on one of these thrilling missions. They were planning another scam. I asked them, “Why are you doing it? You know that at this particular time, with the Nixon administration waging all-out war on turned-on kids with the aid of border guards, secret agents, it’s just not a cool time to do it. You have got all the land and dope to center your own lives. Why take the chances?”

They thought for a minute, and their answer was interesting. “We believe that dope is the hope of the human race, it is a way to make people free and happy. We wouldn’t feel good just sitting here smoking the dope we have and saving our souls knowing that there are 30 million kids that need dope to center themselves. Our lives have been saved from the plastic nightmare because of dope, and we would feel selfish if we just stayed here in our beautiful utopia. Our brothers and sisters out there should be as liberated and loving as we are.” As far as the police network that is being built up against them, they just laughed. “We are smarter and wiser than the FBI, the CIA and the Narcotics Bureau put together. We have to be. We just can’t admit defeat just because they have more and more equipment against us.”

There was no use for me to argue with that point of view, and then they took off for the Middle East with my blessings.

I think of the most remarkable acid chemists, ones who arranged their laboratories like shrines. They pray constantly while performing their chemical miracle, that the acid they are making will bring freedom and liberation to the people who will take it. Praying that there will be no bad trips and paranoias in the mysterious molecules that they were brewing.

The acid chemist is in a particularly vulnerable position because you can’t make acid without being constantly exposed to this powerful molecule. You have to get high. They are floating on 10,000 mikes while performing their magic. They have got to be pure. They have got to be centered to accomplish their technical achievement. I don’t know of one successful psychedelic chemist who doesn’t have a feeling about how he does it. None who doesn’t attempt to purify his mind of negative thinking and who doesn’t believe that the acid is influenced by the spiritual and psychic status of those who make it and distribute it.

I don’t know one righteous and successful dealer who doesn’t. Don’t ever buy grass or acid from a dealer who doesn’t lay a prayer on you while he takes your money.

It’s powerful medicine, it’s magic and it has got to he treated that way.

Copyright © 1968 by Timothy Leary.

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