Higher Profile: Allison Margolin, Esq.

Following in her father’s footsteps, Allison Margolin finds her own place.
Courtesy of Allison Margolin, Esq.

California cannabis defense attorney, Allison Margolin, was no stranger to the plight of the California cannabis farmer, healer, or patient, when she decided to follow in her father Bruce Margolin’s footsteps, defending victims of the failed War on Drugs in California.

Her father jumped right into defending those caught up in the drug war right out of Southwestern Law School in 1967, representing Timothy Leary in his cannabis trial in 1969. He was also the first attorney to have a jingle on the radio, “1-800-420-LAWS, Bruce Margolin is down for the cause.

And while Margolin has been practicing in California since she graduated Harvard Law School in 2002, eventually earning the honorary title of “L.A.’s Dopest Attorney,” the extent of her experiences in the space, along with stories from her lineage hasn’t fully been told, until now.

In her first published effort, Just Dope (Penguin Random House), she bares everything. Not just about her own personal experiences with drugs—recreational and otherwise—but her story also includes a deep history of the failed War on Drugs; a refreshing perspective on the perception of what it means to be addicted; and a deep dive into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that goes far beyond a soldier’s trauma from war, with Margolin examining the malady on a cellular level, using her own family history and the Holocaust as direct examples.

Just Dope is a truly astonishing and enlightening work that educates the reader beyond what’s expected, based on decades worth of rhetoric, where cannabis is concerned. Her work shows us just how damn smart this woman is, and how fortunate we are to have her fighting for the plant and our rights to self-medicate—no matter the substance.

From the book’s Introduction, “Jury Selection,” Margolin pens, “Since becoming an attorney in December 2002, I have represented dealers and addicts, cartel bosses and alleged Russian crime lords. I’ve faced down corrupt prosecutors, crooked cops, and prejudiced, power-mad judges. All the while I kept this book in mind and told myself I was collecting material.”

She goes on to state that the book was percolating in her head for more than 30 years, with stories of her life, her family, and the legalization movement, surmising, “I knew I wanted to free people, to pursue justice, as my parents had done through their practice of law. But, I believed my tool for the revolution would be the written word.”

The War on Drugs, 1869

The failed War on Drugs is often stated as a war on people, specifically people of color, with documented racism inspiring its inception.

Margolin diggs deep, going beyond the politics of the 1960s, calling out the use of drugs as a criminal act regarding San Francisco’s Chinese population, after the completion of the Pacific Railroad in 1869—a full 100 years before the Summer of Love.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, she pens, was America’s first immigration legislation based on discrimination, targeting the opium they were known for.

As Margolin details, injectable morphine created from the opium poppy became popular about the same time, with America’s first opiate epidemic in full force—thanks to the help of the home-use hypodermic needle—making demonizing the Chinese part of a hypothetical solution that never came.

Revealing the ongoing hypocrisy of the failed drug war, Margolin writes, “In 1875, six years after the completion of the railroad, San Francisco passed the nation’s first ordinance banning the keeping or visiting of opium dens. This ordinance was the first in the United States to regulate drug use. As similar scenarios played out in cities across the nation, it became the setting for America’s first drug war.”

The legislation was not born out of concern for those addicted, Margolin concluded, but out of anti-Chinese sentiment, referred to as the Yellow Peril, plain and simple. No matter that opium pods had been used in apothecaries as medicine for centuries. No matter that white workers were laying down partaking next to Chinese laborers in the opium dens the entire time.

Define Addict

In her chapter, “What About Addicts,” Margolin opens with an enlightening thought, “You don’t have to be supremely fucked up or have super-traumatic experiences in your past to be a drug addict.”

Addiction, she says, can come from “being in love, being in love with life, or being sick of being afraid.” She explains that addiction can come after the intimacy that comes from doing drugs and not caring too much about tomorrow, even if you haven’t been extremely wounded or abused. 

With an eye-opening and well documented mere 10-15% of all who do drugs actually becoming addicted, safe to say, addiction isn’t always inevitable. 

Assumed addicts can’t always be reduced to “irresponsible, selfish, immature, thrill-seeking individuals who are constantly in trouble—the type of person who acts first and thinks afterwards,” as denoted in a pamphlet distributed in 1951, by the U.S. Public Health Service. 

Margolin goes on to detail a study done in 2013, on epigenetic inheritance, wherein “your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence.”

Determining what causes the negative consequences are key, Margolin suggests.

“It’s an unusual individual who has never drank alcohol or tried a drug recreationally,” she noted on this point. “If you were to review your past 24 hours, you too might find that you’d used a few drugs, be they caffeine or cocaine.”

Interesting to note, the word drug is derived from the Dutch word drog, the wooden crates filled with beneficial plants loaded onto wooden ships for apothecaries, prior to pharmaceuticals being developed in the late 1930s in America.

Courtesy of Penguin Random House

L.A. Drugs & Introspection

Margolin had the best of both worlds growing up in Los Angeles. Her mother, who practices family law, has a home in Coldwater Canyon, a semi-rural region of Los Angels that helps one forget the city is just minutes away; with her father nearby in upscale Beverly Hills, one of the most expensive and celebrity-laden neighborhoods in the country. 

Born in 1977, coming of age in the 1980s, Margolin did her fair share of clubbing in the city. Influenced by the drug culture—both by doing drugs recreationally herself and witnessing the demise of others on them.

She dedicated an entire chapter to the death of River Phoenix, titled, “No one needs to die at the Vapor Room,” referencing the young actor’s death at a club that still exists today just off Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood.

With Phoenix’s story Margolin looks at childhood traumas, including sexual abuse, and the higher instances of abusing drugs and alcohol to quell the memories and the pain. His story is a paradox, as the hippie child hid his drug use, just as he hid the abuses of his childhood.

Margolin uses Phoenix’s example as retrospection for her own drug use (namely cocaine and alcohol), wherein at the end of the day after a high-powered day in court, she imagined Phoenix, like herself, using drugs to either come down or be lifted up by self-medicating. 

And while overdoing it was never an issue for the attorney, the young actor went beyond a therapeutic dose just once.

“I think the importance of being fulfilled in one’s personal and professional lives isn’t discussed enough,” she pondered, adding, “I recognized much of myself in him; I was also the person who turned to vegetarianism out of sympathy for animal suffering. Although my upbringing had little in common with River’s time in [commune/cult] Children of God, I knew what it was like to grow up in a repressed, anti-drug household.”

Although Margolin’s father, Bruce, was a consummate cannabis partaker, he was, in her words, “… vehemently opposed to alcohol, and my mother just wasn’t into drinking or taking drugs. The first time I drank alcohol in high school, I got sick because I knew so little about drinking and because, like River, I had an all-or-nothing approach to life.”

The word addict, she concluded, was born from the Latin conjunctive verb, addicere, meaning, to assign to; with the verb addicere also the origin for the Latin noun, addicutus, meaning slave.

Saving People From Themselves

The thinking behind addiction depriving an individual the ability to make free choices, is an assumption Margolin begs to differ with, stating, “It is as though the drug were controlling the person’s actions, so the government must prohibit people from using substances that can wrest so much control from them as to deprive the users of their ability to make choices about their lives.”

In other words, the government, as a legislative body, has taken it upon itself to save its citizens from themselves, in order to maintain freedom of choice. But is it a greater good governing?

“Modern addiction theory and science support the idea that drugs are not necessarily any more enslaving than any other thing to which you can become addicted,” she explained.

For all the money thrown at the drug war for decades now, with tens of thousands of non-violent offenders sitting in prison, Margolin writes, “So far, no one has won the War on Drugs. I make the case that the War on Drugs has failed because it fundamentally fails to understand addiction itself. Rethinking our approach requires that we understand the experience of drug reward: what gives one the appetite for the drug and perpetuates the cycle of use.”

Courtesy of Allison Margolin, Esq.

A Lineage of Trauma

In looking at the damage done from the failed War on Drugs, Margolin takes a look at her own family’s heritage of trauma from her grandmother’s experience of surviving the Holocaust in Poland. 

While she writes that the Vietnam War was a catalyst in realizing and studying Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the cellular effects of trauma passed down through the generations is very real, as noted from Rachel Yehuda’s book published in 2015, How Trauma and Resilience Cross Generations. And this includes those involved in the decades-long drug war.

“Given these findings on intergenerational trauma, nobody should be surprised that some of the leading thinkers on addiction are the descendants of Holocaust survivors,” she said, noting journalist Maia Szalavitz, a former cocaine and heroin addict, daughter of a Holocost survivor, and author of Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction.

Stress causes a decrease in an infant’s dopamine receptors, she writes, with dopamine the neurotransmitter responsible for the brain’s pleasure and reward systems—whether you are enjoying delicious food or doing drugs recreationally.

One story she sites comes from Dr. Gabor Mate, an addiction specialist and descendant of Holocaust survivors. His personal story of addiction has nothing to do with drugs, but in chronically and compulsively buying multiple copies of the same Beethoven overture.

Neglected during the war and without his father, who was imprisoned in a camp, alone in his crib, his depressed mother’s classical music was his only comfort. Hence his constant compulsive acquisition for the music as comfort.

“The body remembers trauma that happened two generations ago,” she writes. “Which means you are affected on a cellular level by the stress that your parents and grandparents endured. This stress is not limited to large-scale tragedies like the Holocaust; it can be as macro as institutionalized slavery and as a micro as domestic violence within one’s family.”

The Power Within

When she was five or six years old, her father explained manifesting physical realities—something he’d learned from his friend and spiritual teacher, Ram Dass.

“The teachers tell us we contain the complete power of the universe within us,” he said. “In fact, we are so powerful that it can be frightening. But it doesn’t need to be.”

Margolin didn’t quite understand and said he sensed her confusion.

“The point is that because we have a universe within us, out thoughts have power,” he explained. “Whatever we think we can achieve. By recognizing your own power, you are manifesting anything you can imagine.”

“I sincerely believe in the power of manifestation,” she writes. “I have had miraculous outcomes throughout my career, and the fact I have cool children is also a miracle of manifestation… I used to imagine them and now they are here and better than anything I ever expected.”

Manifesting an end to the failed War on Drugs is something many are manifesting, both legislatively and spiritually. Within Margolin’s first published effort, Just Dope, she enlightens and educates, digging deeper than most in the lineage within her own family, and within the many layers of the history of politicking with plants we can still learn from.

In the 1980s there was a commercial produced by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, wherein an egg is cracked open in a hot skillet, with the narrator stating, “This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” Margolin remembers the ad well, and today no one can say her brain was or is fried. These are just a few of the truths from the betrayal from the failed War on Drugs.

“Ever since I was young I’d feared that using drugs would affect my intelligence,” she surmised. “When I was about 10 years old, I remember watching that commercial for the first time and not understanding how my brain was supposed to be a fried egg. I also remember thinking that the egg looked pretty delicious. Even if I watch that ad now, I feel the same way I felt as a kid—bewildered and a little hungry.”

For more information on Allison Margolin visit, www.allisonmargolin.com

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