From the November, 1976 issue of High Times comes Leslie Morrison’s conversation with a pro smuggler.
Of all the people involved in the marijuana culture, from the planter to the smoker, one of the most interesting and elusive is the smuggler. Often dealing only with “connections” at both ends of their runs, smugglers have little opportunity to share their thoughts, as dealers do, and even less chance to become media figures. Smugglers ply their lonely trade back and forth across oceans and borders, keeping stolidly mum when the public eye falls on them in the form of arrest.
High Times recently spoke with a smuggler. By his own admission, he is far from the largest in the trade, but he may be the most articulate. He has played every type of role in every type of smuggling scam, from lowly cargo handler to the all-powerful kingpin who bankrolls and organizes the run.
Despite some occasional reticence, he spoke freely and frankly about the smuggler’s lifestyle and business. Professionals will be reassured that the technical information about smuggling in this article is all well known to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Would-be smugglers should stand advised that the following information is not the very latest information.
Interview With A Smuggler
High Times: How did you get started?
Smuggler: I actually got started in high school. I was living in Tucson, Arizona, and I had an advantage over most people in that I lived fairly near the source of supply. We all used to get high in school, but even in Tucson the supply was unreliable. Anyway, it occurred to us—myself and my friends—that we could go down to Mexico and score some dope and run it back across the border. You could buy it across the border for about $30 a ki.
High Times: Was it good dope?
Smuggler: I never thought about that sort of thing. It was dope, and that was enough. We stuffed it up underneath between the gas tank and the trunk and drove across, very scared. With our luck, the very first time we went across they searched the whole car, but they never found anything; that was my first time.
Later, we got into bigger-scale things. In some parts they had a fence that runs along the border—and we would just drive up next to the fence, take a sack, swing it a couple of times and toss it over. Pick it up on the other side. There was actually a spot in the fence that had a hole in it. Amateur-level smuggling would be what I would call it. That’s how I got started. Later on, we found another place along the border where you could drive across. You could drive across full truckloads of marijuana.
High Times: Did you go from high school into smuggling full-time?
Smuggler: No, I held various jobs and stuff like that. I was into hot-rodding.
High Times: What kinds of jobs?
Smuggler: You know, working in gas stations, working in the speed shop, working at the drag strip, things like that. Building up cars and so on. It required a constant amount of money. But we were also into getting high, and this way we could get better, fresher dope. It went on this way for several years.
High Times: When did you get into smuggling full-time?
Smuggler: I don’t think that most smugglers are into it full-time. I think that almost no one could really take the pressure of being into it full-time. And I think one of the purposes of smuggling is to make enough money to lay back for a while.
Also, it’s just in the nature of smuggling—it’s an orgiastic kind of thing where you build up to it, you do it and, you know, you lay back for a while. One thing you have to understand is that smugglers are always thinking about making the big run to clean up, so one doesn’t really develop a career as a smuggler, one just looks back and realizes that one has had a career as a smuggler.
High Times: What was your first really major run?
Smuggler: Well, some of these things we were running across the border were pretty good-sized for us. One hundred pounds was quite a bit of grass in those days. But the first big one was when we brought a planeload across.
High Times: What kind of plane were you using?
Smuggler: It was a Cessna 180. And it was about 500 pounds of dope.
High Times: How old were you?
Smuggler: At that time? About 20.
High Times: Were you the pilot?
Smuggler: No, I wasn’t. I was part of the ground crew.
High Times: On this side?
Smuggler: Yes. What we did was, we flew over and we dropped it out of the plane. Unfortunately, we never found part of the dope. Part of it fell on a highway and some car came along and found it and picked it up. It was in the newspaper the next day—that they found this dope. We were very paranoid that they might have found some fingerprints on the wrappers or something, but nothing ever happened. Anyway, we lost that part of it, but the rest we found.
In subsequent reenactments, we lost whole loads that we never found, on the desert. Some of it may still be sitting out there—the treasure of the Sierra Madre—but it might be a little dry by now. Other loads were accidentally dropped onto cars, into people’s back yards and so on. Quite a few. In retrospect, it was disorganized and foolish. But, then we got into what I would call the professional level. That was around back in ’68.
High Times: At that point were you yourself flying?
Smuggler: I did fly some, but usually I could find someone else to do it. Even then I was more a professional kingpin than a technician. I would hire other people to do the hard part and the dangerous part.
But, you know, I’ve had many ups and downs and I’ve done every part of it, every level of smuggling, in every type of smuggling. I’ve flown planes, skippered boats. I’ve loaded; I’ve unloaded. I transported it down in Mexico, I have harvested it, I have done Colombian runs, sent hash from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Morocco, Jamaica. I’m not proud. When I’m broke, I will do it on any level. I have worked for other people.
In general I prefer to be the kingpin, but to do that you have to have experience and be able to do every other part of the operation, to be able to evaluate other people’s abilities. And very often people lose their nerve. If you have every ability you can step in. The times that I flew it was because someone else lost their nerve and I had to step in at the last moment.
High Times: What qualities do you look for in upcoming smugglers ?
Smuggler: First of all, you have to know them for a long time or somebody has to know them for a long time. I think five years is the industry standard. I would say one year as a minimum, no matter how together they are. But there can be interlocking conspiracies of people who have all known each other for a long time.
You may have people involved who you know for ten minutes, but your partner—who you’ve known for five years—has known him for five years, so if you trust your partner’s judgment, it’s the same.
Secondly, they have to be discreet. They can’t brag to their lovers, they can’t brag to their buddies, they can’t run off at the mouth in bars. Smuggling is a very chic, very glamorous thing to do. The tendency is to tell your friends and ask them to be quiet.
But, of course, they won’t be quiet. You come over to their house, you come in and you sit around and get high, and after you leave, they whisper to their friends, “You know that guy is a big smuggler.” Pretty soon, everyone else… The other part of being cool is to have the nerve to do it, and this is a hard thing to judge.
High Times: How do you tell if someone has the nerve?
Smuggler: You go out in a boat with everybody to see how they get along. Some people don’t work well together. Ego conflicts develop. When the pressure is on, ego conflicts multiply a hundredfold. And everyone’s armed, so you don’t want people whipping out guns on each other in the midst of a heavy run.
If it’s a plane thing, take people up in the plane and see how they react. Cut off the fuel supply. When the engine stops running, see what they do, see how crazy they get.
Usually you work somebody up gradually; you don’t take them right into a run. You try them out in transporting, for example. Once you smuggle dope in, you still have to transport it to various places, so you might use them for transporting it or for lookout or something like that. If they do well as lookout, or as a transporter or loader, you probably can use them.
The sad thing is that you can never really tell for sure, because people that you’ve known for years will suddenly crack, and people that you would never expect to have the moxie to keep it together will turn out to be the Silver-Star winners when the chips are down.
High Times: Are there many women in smuggling?
Smuggler: It’s very male-dominated.
High Times: Is there any particular reason for that?
Smuggler: You know, the skills for smuggling tend to be taught to males. But more and more women are getting into it. Of course, in coke smuggling there’s a certain type of male who psychologically gets off on the idea of using women to smuggle coke.
It’s very sad and sick, but it’s true, and the jails in Mexico and Colombia and Panama and Chile have quite a few women because their old men were using them for smuggling. There’s a type of guy who will pick up a woman and con her into making a run like this. It’s a form of sexual slavery. This is a very sexual form of domination. But more women are doing things on their own. Personally, I encourage this. The more the better. Less heat on me.
High Times: So when did you actually fly in your first big load?
Smuggler: In ’68. It was 500 pounds. I was just supposed to be on the ground crew again. But in smuggling, very often, when you get right down to it, some people start thinking about the many years in jail and they decide that they don’t want to do it, and so their families begin to have an incredible mortality rate. Anyway, our pilot’s father suddenly allegedly died and he couldn’t make it.
Now, we had already bought the weed down in Mexico and we did not want to lose this money—it was my money backing the operation—so I had no choice but to do it myself. Fortunately, I had been over the route in the daytime, but I had never flown it at night.
You know, the route looks completely different at night. In the day, it’s very easy; you just follow the highway or the railroad tracks, you recognize cities and so on. At night you’re looking for lights and silhouettes of mountains and you’re flying by the moon and the stars.
High Times: How much money did you get on that run?
Smuggler: On that particular run? Let me think. I must have made about—the figure seems laughable in retrospect—it was about $25,000, a big fortune then.
High Times: Were you scared ?
Smuggler: Funny you should ask that. Well, on the way down, I was flying along and it so happened that I got lost. Finally, I saw the lights, so I landed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the smuggling place where I supposed to be. It was somebody else’s smuggling ring and I landed with many machine guns on me. Their owners were quite upset. They thought I was a narc or something. They were expecting another type of plane and another person, and I was having quite a bit of trouble explaining myself.
Finally, I convinced them that no one would be flying around in Mexico in the middle of the night and landing at bonfire-lit dirt strips in the mountains unless they were also smugglers. So I parked my plane there overnight.
I also paid these people quite a bit of money—fortunately I had the foresight to go down there with quite a bit of money on me—and I parked the plane before their plane came in and picked up their weed and flew on. Next morning I got down to a phone and called up my connection and had him set up everything for the next night.
Eventually I flew down to the right place and picked up the weed and called Tucson to arrange for everyone to be there the next night. Unfortunately, on the way back up I had quite a bit of trouble because I had run the plane off into a ditch when I had landed the first time, and the propeller had gotten a little dent—just a little unbalanced, but it was causing a very heavy vibration that made the oil seal in the front of the engine leak.
By the time I got back to the United States, the windshield was covered with oil and I couldn’t see, so I had to open the side window to stick my head out and I came in that way. The engine was completely shot by then because the crank case was in two parts that bolted together and they had vibrated to pieces.
That type of thing is more or less typical. It seems like nothing ever goes smoothly. I don’t know why it is. There seems to be something about smuggling that causes a very high mortality rate among both the people and the equipment involved. You have to have incredible resources and resourcefulness. You can’t be willing to give up easily just because you landed at the wrong field or something.
High Times: How long did you continue to smuggle across the Mexican border?
Smuggler: After a while you build up a certain amount of heat. You know— little things happen, planes crash here, some people talk there. Also, the competition drove prices down to the point where it just wasn’t profitable enough. You have to drive truckloads across the Mexican border now to make it worthwhile, as far as I was concerned. Unless it’s quality smoke.
At last it just generally became time to move on. A few of my friends split, and first we went to Hawaii and just laid back for awhile and didn’t do anything, then later we ended up down in Florida.
High Times: When did you get there?
Smuggler: I first got to Florida in ’70 and it was wide open.
High Times: How wide open was it ?
Smuggler: It was wide open in that people were fairly unaware of what was going on. The locals were asleep and there wasn’t much competition. The police were not yet capable of infiltrating us. There was just no way they could assimilate the style they needed to get next to us. A few years later, they would be able to pull it off.
The big thing at that time was bringing Mexican down to Florida through Texas. The Jamaican came a little later, at least for us. It came at different times for different circles. But within my own circle, the Jamaican run soon became a big thing, going down to Jamaica in sail boats and planes.
High Times: Did you make your first Jamaican run by sea or by air?
Smuggler: I’ve been indirectly involved with a lot more runs than the ones I did myself. I’ve personally been aware of, you know, ten times as many smuggling operations as I have ever been directly involved in. And of the ones that I’ve been directly involved in, I’ve been directly involved ten times more often than I have actually been the one who piloted the vehicle that brought it in. I was often just the one who organized it or, sometimes, just a hired hand.
Anyway, the first run that I actually went on was with some people who took a sailboat down to Jamaica and loaded up. They took it right into Dinner Key, which is in Miami. At that time, the police station was right next to it. They off-loaded it right on the dock at night.
Even at that time it was a little bit nervy. But you could get away with things like that then. We didn’t intend to bring it into Dinner Key, but a launch that was supposed to meet us out at sea never showed up. We sat out there a couple of days waiting.
High Times: Was this the first time you ran dope by ship?
Smuggler: It was the first time I’d ever been involved in a boat thing.
High Times: How is a sea run different from an air run?
Smuggler: One thing about the air is that they can’t pull you over; they can’t board you; there’s not much they can do if they see you. In the air in the Sixties they didn’t even have anybody to chase you down. Out at sea your chances of getting stopped are about the same as your chances of getting stopped out on the road by the highway patrol. These chances are not very high, but it’s possible, especially if you’re doing something wrong or if you look suspicious.
It happens in waves. Every once in a while the government goes crazy and stops a whole bunch of people. Generally, though, they don’t stop anybody. Your chances of even seeing anybody out on the ocean are very small, the same as in the air.
The thing you worry about is not that you’ll be spotted in the process, but that they were on to you from the beginning. The ship thing required a whole different technology, but it was still technology and I’m good at technology.
High Times: Which is better, land or sea smuggling?
Smuggler: To me the best way is by sea, because the air is too risky. Too many people have gotten killed that way. It is more difficult to find a place to land. It is more difficult to be discreet. And you can’t carry nearly as much unless you are talking about a four-engine plane which is beyond my scope. Incidentally, in the early Sixties the CIA came to the same conclusion: covert operations are best mounted by sea.
High Times: How do you know that?
Smuggler: People I have had contact with in smuggling are ex-CIA people.
High Times: What type are they?
Smuggler: Well, they are not Jimmy Buffett fans, let me tell you. But, if you need a good skipper or a good pilot or something, the criterion is whether they can get the job done, not what they believe in.
High Times: Is that how you feel about their involvement?
Smuggler: I don’t blame them for having been into the CIA anymore than I blame myself for having been into Dion and the Belmonts. Live and learn.
High Times: What kind of boat did you use on the Jamaican run?
Smuggler: It was a sailboat, but it had an engine, too; it had an auxiliary engine. Forty feet or more in length. You just don’t sail along because it would take too long if you used the sail alone. The sail is to save gas, to save fuel if you don’t want to use up all your fuel. Also, the boat rides smoother.
For some reason, it seems like you never have good equipment even though you’re dealing in and risking million-dollar loads and your own lives and your freedom. The equipment is always 10 or 20 years old and always very flaky. We try to upgrade it, but the problem is that you really can’t show that much cash. You really can’t walk in and buy, say, a brand new Aero-Commander for $200,000 or a new 40-foot Bertram trawler.
High Times: What are the best ships around right now?
Smuggler: It depends.
High Times: What’s good for Jamaica?
Smuggler: You’ve got to realize that the Jamaican run is not too viable at this time: it’s very hard to make the connections, there’s not too much weed, there’s quite a bit of heat around. The DEA has provided the Jamaican Coast Guard with a number of ships and planes. And the dope is not that good and not that salable.
High Times: Not that good and not that salable?
Smuggler: Before there was Colombian, Jamaican was hot stuff because it was generally better than commercial Mexican. It had a different taste, it had another flavoring, it was very popular. However, along came something better—Colombian.
High Times: What type of craft prevail on the Colombian run?
Smuggler: Colombia is quite a long way off—1,500 miles each way, depending on how you go and how straight you can run the boat. Sometimes a fishing boat is used but another way to do it is to get a big freighter to come up, have them come within range of the shore and off-load with smaller boats. I’ve done it both ways.
There’re arguments—sail versus power, and so on. Personally, I prefer power because the technology of sailing is kind of complicated and it’s dependent upon variables, like the wind. If you have a steel mast, which many boats do, it can be picked up by radar farther away. A sailboat can be seen from a greater distance, and, of course, you prefer to get through without ever being seen. But a lot of people swear by sailing.
High Times: Are freighters getting to be fairly common now?
Smuggler: Freighters are a very common way to make it up now. A 200-foot freighter obviously can bring up a lot more dope than a 40-foot sailboat.
High Times: Where do they get these freighters?
Smuggler: These are old tramp freighters built in the early 1900s, and usually pretty marginal. Some are old Liberty ships or old PT boats. Banana boats.
High Times: Do the freighters dock stateside?
Smuggler: They rendezvous way off shore, outside the 12-mile limit, and hopefully you meet up with them. You know, I must note in passing that every way and mean that I’m discussing now is very well known to the DEA. The newspapers are filled with accounts of these various ways that smuggling takes place and gets busted, so I’m not blowing any thing for anybody.
The DEA is quite aware how dope gets in, and they’re also quite aware that they have almost no chance of stopping it. Anyway, you rendezvous offshore with these ships in a fast speedboat.
High Times: We’ll get into that, but about these old tubs: do they have the capacity to outrun a fairly modern Coast Guard cutter?
Smuggler: Well, the Coast Guard cutter can make about 22 knots or so, maybe more than that. And a freighter can make maybe 10 or 12, so there’s really no chance of running. You don’t try to outrun them, because they’ll just radio for helicopters and planes, so you just hope to avoid detection. Of course, out on the high seas they have no right to board a boat with a foreign registry unless…
High Times: And yet they do.
Smuggler: Well, they can and do under the provisions of the Anti-Hovering Act of 1921, which says that if they have evidence that you have used this boat to send lightens in to shore, then…
High Times: Lighters?
Smuggler: A lighter is a small boat. Anyway, in that case you’re engaged in smuggling and you’re violating U.S. law, even though you haven’t entered U.S. waters. Then they can board you.
The Anti-Hovering Act of 1921 was passed during Prohibition to stop the smuggling of rum and scotch. In those days, the big freighters would just sit offshore and the government couldn’t touch them, until they passed this law. They passed this law to enable them to bust the big ships. I think it’s very, very questionable under international law, and it’s a violation of international maritime law. But it’s very hard to cite maritime law cases in the middle of a bust.
High Times: So the freighters can’t run for it. What kind of speedboats can?
Smuggler: I don’t want to wipe out the investment that many people have in these boats, but a good smuggling operation usually has four or five boats, approximately 30 feet long. Each one usually has two big V-8 engines, big Fords or Chryslers or Chevys, and can make 50 or 60 miles an hour even in fairly rough water and outrun anything the Coast Guard has while still carrying a ton or two of weed. It draws two and a half to three feet of water and can get over a lot of shoals and reefs.
A boat that doesn’t draw very much is quite advantageous, also, in getting into shore off-loading spots that would not be considered viable by the Coast Guard. You’ve got to learn how to run these boats, and be ready to outrun the Coast Guard if necessary. We’ve done it.
High Times: Would you say that the crucial role in smuggling is played by the kingpin, or the smuggler, or the dealer, or the dope itself?
Smuggler: What moves dope from the country of origin into the United States is willpower, willpower that originates at the top. It’s a matter of will; it’s like mind over matter, or mind over marijuana, if you prefer.
You have your straw bosses and other people who have the will, but it has to come from the top man who has a certain understanding of people—how to handle people, how to avoid getting caught, how to handle the technology. These types of knowledge are acquirable but the willpower really is not.
Someone running a dope operation is a sort of minor guru, maybe even a major guru. He can be quite a charismatic figure. He has more glamor, more money, more women, better dope and lives higher and faster than any rock star.
He also travels more. He’ll own three or four boats, may have a plantation down in Colombia, five or six houses, a plane or two, a couple of docks; may have interests in several legitimate fronts—you know, a number of trucks, rented cars—he may be running quite a big scene. He may have quite a few women.
I think that the nature of smuggling generally is closer to that of a Far East religion than it is to an American corporation. The guru provides the spiritual strength of the flock, the followers who are going on faith.
More than anything else, smuggling is psychological, which is something that most people don’t understand, including a lot of smugglers, especially when they’re first doing it. This is the government’s main deterrent to smuggling. I mean, your actual chances of getting caught are very, very small until you figure in the psychological factor.
Today the government says that they catch 10 percent. I think that for once the government is understating their own prowess and it’s probably more like 20 percent, but they say 10 percent to get more funding.
But everything you’ve ever been taught, all your conditioning, everything you read in the papers, every rumor, story, anecdote that comes along to you is a psychological deterrent to smuggling. So you have to consciously psych yourself up to think that you can make it when paranoia is all around you. Paranoia in a smuggling ring is extremely thick; it’s constantly like sand in the machinery of smuggling. So smuggling is a matter of faith versus paranoia.
High Times: Isn’t Vince Lombardi involved in there?
Smuggler: It’s way beyond anything Vince Lombardi ever conceived of. It’s more like being one of Merrill’s Marauders. It’s a marauding operation. It’s a commando operation. It’s not comparable to professional sports because of the very high possibility of getting killed, if you don’t get put in jail. But it’s more like a military operation with overtones of religious fervor.
Everyone involved in smuggling is in part motivated by the money, but what you end up with after recovering from the psychological trauma you could have earned in a straight business.
To a great extent, smuggling is a form of social protest.
High Times: Is it like standing on a picket line with a sign in your hand?
Smuggler: Yeah, except you’re getting paid for it, if you’re lucky. I think that people who go into smuggling are for the most part social misfits; they’re nonconformists; they’re antisocial people.
High Times: Smugglers are antisocial?
Smuggler: They’re an antisocial people. They’re not compliant with society’s rules. They’re opposed to society. They’re a virus in society. This sounds something like the government’s own view, I know—but after ten years of being involved I have concluded that this is true.
But I don’t think it’s bad. I think it’s very good. I think that bringing in dope is very socially valuable and, believe me, the people involved in it feel the same way. Especially the young smuggler who has a very keen sense of the social value of what he or she is doing. They’re also concerned with the glamour of it, and definitely with the money.
One never forgets about the money. The money is just a thing to make you overcome. It’s just the bottom-line motivation to overcome the paranoia.
High Times: Do you think that smuggler trials will turn into political trials?
Smuggler: Well, I think they will in the future. Smuggling and the concept of national borders, the concept of control of substances, control of trade, the concept of molecular social control, are going to become big political issues in the future, but at this point none of the media—except for High Times—is willing to see it in that light, because political consciousness is very low.
High Times: Do you think that smuggling will become more political as the crisis in world ecology worsens? Will you be branching into things like tomatoes, lettuce?
Smuggler: It’s interesting that you say that, because a few years ago, when they had the sugar shortage, some smugglers found it infinitely more profitable to smuggle sugar across the Caribbean than dope. Ironically, sometimes those who have worked their way up to big ships and planes and so on find that they can make just about as much money smuggling other things, even hauling other things legitimately.
The reason is that the economics of dope are ridiculous. I mean, if wheat were brought into this country the same way that marijuana is brought in, in peoples’ suitcases, in small planes, in sailboats in the middle of the night, the price of a slice of bread would be a thousand dollars. And in the future our economy won’t be able to support this kind of economic waste.
It is as if 20 percent of our imports were taken out to the city dump and burned under armed guard, as they do with 20 percent of the marijuana crop. Ultimately, smuggling is not that profitable in the aggregate. It’s like the stock market. A few people get rich. Most don’t. A lot of them go broke.
High Times: What will you do after legalization? Will there be a market for your smuggling talents overseas?
Smuggler: I think so. Smugglers tend to be very international by nature, and although there may be legalization in some countries, there won’t be in others. There is quite a bit of marijuana consumption in Russia and marijuana use is spreading very widely. People have a greater need for psychological stimulation; it’s a worldwide appetite.
Fifty years ago very few people had ever eaten an orange. Now they accept it as part of their diet. And so, you know, there will probably be smuggling into Russia and other countries. There’s always cocaine, but…
High Times: Do smugglers require special skills in shipping and trafficking that might be useful in commercial employment after legalization?
Smuggler: Not really, because their primary criterion is not efficiency, but stealth. Stealth has some usefulness in modern business, as was seen in some recent indictments, but overall, you have to understand mass-scale efficiencies. An education at Wharton School of Business would be more useful than ten years of smuggling in the Caribbean.
On the other hand, I’ve come into contact with people in Florida who are third- and fourth-generation smugglers—marijuana is the gig now, but their fathers smuggled rum and scotch, and their grandfathers smuggled gunpowder and slaves. Smuggling is something that’s been going on for several thousand years, and it attracts a certain type of mentality.
In the same way that there have always been musicians and there have always been prostitutes and there have always been politicians, there’s a certain segment of the population that will probably always be attracted to smuggling.
High Times: What are some of the changes in the Miami scene that led to the first DEA coastal blockade of Florida in the fall of 1974?
Smuggler: Things down in Florida got pretty wild and out of hand from the government’s point of view. A blockade raises morale and brings attention within law-enforcement circles to the importance of busting smuggling and to the need for practice.
For the public, it’s psychological warfare to scare people. It did scare a lot of people because they felt that there probably must have been boats spaced a hundred feet apart all the way across the Caribbean, and a lot of people stayed out of it, including myself.
I don’t blame myself or them, because you didn’t know at the time whether it was psychological warfare or real warfare. Mostly it’s psychological warfare, and psychological warfare is very effective—it’s what the CIA is all about. And to a great extent, that’s what the DEA is all about.
A great emphasis for the DEA is intelligence, and another great emphasis for the DEA is publicity. Ten percent of the value of a bust is to take those people off the set temporarily. Immediately, of course, they have to go back and smuggle twice as much, to make up for what they lost and to pay off their lawyers. The other 90 percent is to scare other people out of it.
High Times: Did they ever observe any of your suspicious activities?
Smuggler: Oh, sure, we’ve had many encounters with the DEA and with the Coast Guard and with Customs. We’ve had many skirmishes with them.
High Times: On the high seas?
Smuggler: Sure. One time we’d just finished off-loading the last load of marijuana from a Colombian boat, and a Coast Guard cutter came up on the scene. It was pretty obvious what we were doing. They immediately started coming toward us so we got the hell out of there as fast as we could.
High Times: Did they fire a warning shot?
Smuggler: We were too far away for that. I remember another instance, when people I knew were spotted while they were loading the dope. They tossed a couple of hand grenades over into the Coast Guard boat and took off. I don’t think it really caused much damage and I don’t think it hurt anybody. But it was unsettling to them. At that point they really didn’t want to mess with it further until they got reinforcements. But generally no shots are fired.
There are two types of people in smuggling. Some people are ready to die for it and some people aren’t. I don’t like to get involved with people who are, because people who are ready to die are ready to kill, and they may kill you. I don’t think that the pursuit of marijuana smuggling and the pursuit of money are worthwhile things to die for or kill for, either one.
High Times: What about smugglers who mount heavy-caliber artillery on board?
Smuggler: Well, that’s because they never know. First of all, there are hijackings, and things like that. If someone opens up on you, it’s necessary to defend yourself. I think hijackings are relatively rare, but what sometimes happens is that people get ideas of their own and the fact of everyone being armed discourages this —they know they’re going to have to deal with heavy lead if they try anything. But sometimes you get crazy sheriffs, you get crazy DEA agents, you get crazy marine patrols —you never know what these people are liable to do.
High Times: Do you know anything about the rash of hijackings reported last year in the Pacific ?
Smuggler: You mean stealing boats for smuggling?
High Times: Yes.
Smuggler: This is mostly DEA propaganda. The last thing you want to do when you’re smuggling dope is to use a stolen boat—considering the fact that you’re investing maybe a minimum of a few hundred thousand dollars in the load and probably another hundred thousand dollars in associated equipment—trucks, small boats, houses, radios, guns, disguises, fuel, food and so on. You’re talking about a thing involving several million dollars. A boat is not a very expensive item next to all that.
It’s strictly DEA public relations—it’s psychological warfare. What they’re trying to do is imply that smugglers are boat thieves, most likely, and that boat thieves are smugglers, and it’s mostly false. Not to say that smugglers haven’t stolen boats, but so have a lot of businessmen.
Boat-stealing in itself is a big business and it doesn’t have much overlap with smuggling. If you’re capable of stealing boats, you don’t need to smuggle; you can steal boats for a living.
High Times: Have you ever tried a smokescreen device at sea?
Smuggler: The nature of the ocean is that there’s a lot of wind and the nature of wind is that it blows away smoke. You would have to lay down a lot of smoke. I guess it could be done.
High Times: There are machines that make a lot of smoke.
Smuggler: I think if I was out on the ocean and somebody tried that, I’d go off to the side of the smokescreen. The smokescreen’s going to go behind you, so you just get off to the side.
When you’re an amateur smuggler, sitting around scamming these things out, all kinds of James Bond ideas come forth, but when it gets down to reality, the simplest and most straightforward way, the way that attracts the least attention, is the best. These devices don’t work. Also, pouring gasoline on the water and lighting it doesn’t work either. But don’t ask me how I know that.
High Times: How about the possibility of disguising a blimp as a cloud?
Smuggler: But you still have to work out a way to fake the rain, and what happens when a plane tries to fly through the “cloud?” [Laughter] These are the kind of conversations smugglers get into. They’re rarely productive. The best ways are the straightforward ways.
High Times: What kind of scenes might there be on the Colombian docks now?
Smuggler: Colombian-wise, there are people who are happy smuggling 500 pounds, hidden inside the hull of a sailboat. Other people will load a sailboat down with five tons, and other people don’t really think it’s worth doing unless they bring in 25 tons on a freighter. And I think 25 tons is a bit much to on-load from small boats. At that point it becomes worthwhile and more practical to pay off someone at the dock.
But if you don’t know a place where you can pay off a dock, you do it at night. At this end, when it gets up to 25 tons or so, you get to the point where you have fork-lift trucks and trucks with hydraulic tailgates and conveyor belts, and so on—this is what many people have now.
High Times: What’s the best fork-lift truck?
High Times: When you actually make a run, is there any effort at quality control-making sure that the weed stays fresh, doesn’t get mildewed with salt water?
Smuggler: It’s very difficult to control the quality of 25 tons of marijuana. The way you control it is by knowing where you get it from and who you get it from. They’ll be connected to farmers who are geographically located in the right place, producing better marijuana.
I’ve dealt in high-quality runs where we were going down to specifically get like the very best gold or wacky weed. But very high-quality dope is perishable; it may be garbage by the time it gets up here.
High Times: Do you think there’s any truth in the rumors that smugglers warehouse huge quantities of weed in order to create shortages and to drive prices up?
Smuggler: This is an old story, and I can understand how the average American consumer with quite legitimate paranoia about big business would be concerned about this. But the reality is that big quantities of dope have a tendency to get busted—and if there’s one thing a smuggler or a ton dealer wants to do it’s get rid of the stuff and convert it to cash as quickly as possible.
Marijuana smugglers and dealers will stay up a week straight just to get rid of it—and ton dealers and smugglers are subject to a lot of nervous breakdowns just because of worrying about having a million dollars’ worth of marijuana sitting in a garage or warehouse or a house somewhere.
A curious mailman, a guy coming in to check the water, an accidental fire, even a nosy neighbor can blow a million dollars. I’d say generally from the time of entry into this country to the time of sale to the consumer is almost always less than a month. There is no stockpiling or hoarding on the mass level.
You’ve got to realize that there are easily a couple of thousand serious groups of importers of Colombian marijuana alone, and there are, you know, a couple of thousand more Mexican importers, so any one group or any one organization or even a group of organizations withholding pot to drive up the prices would have no effect on the overall market.
It’s not to say that some individual dealers don’t jack up their customers, but overall you’re talking about a wide-open market where it’s not possible to manipulate the price by manipulating the supply.
Weed is very expensive to begin with and I personally think the limit of the price elasticity that the customers are willing to bear has been reached. On the other hand, that top price creates the economic suction to get it in despite any obstacles the government throws in its way, and the obstacles are considerable. If it weren’t for that high price, there would be far less dope around.
High Times: But once you’ve converted this dangerously detectable substance into money, you find that that’s dangerously detectable also, so you experiment with the exotic forms of banking.
Smuggler: Well, smugglers always talk about retiring, but somehow they never do. They’re unstable individuals by nature, and it doesn’t attract your best type of citizen. And they have trouble holding onto money.
A smuggler can go through a hundred thousand dollars in a month and have nothing to show for it except maybe a quad stereo and a Kawasaki Z-l. The ones who hold onto it long enough to have to worry about what to do with it, like all the other illicit millionaires in the country, tend to put it in foreign banks, under phony bank account names.
High Times: Speaking of money, do you find yourself subsidizing many federal officials?
Smuggler: Oftentimes we’ve had somebody in the Coast Guard paid off, to tip us that we were hot; somebody in the sheriffs office paid off; somebody in Customs paid off and so on. It’s very common. There are so many young people getting high in the Coast Guard that there are many good opportunities to buy somebody off. Sometimes they’ll even do it for free.
The Coast Guard is so heavily infiltrated at this point by heads that their chances of stopping payoffs are fairly bad. Of course, the DEA is also quite corruptible. On the other hand, some people that will tip you on a marijuana thing can’t be bought on a coke thing. The DEA’s well aware of this.
High Times: Do you get high while you’re actually making a run ?
Smuggler: You get very high. One thing about marijuana is that it’s calming, and tension on a run is very high. There’s nothing more satisfying than smoking dope that you smuggled in yourself—nothing gets you higher. Another thing is that in the middle of a smuggling run, you can smoke a lot of marijuana and not feel much at all. The tension is incredibly intense, but it’s also subtle. It’s like war. So you have to smoke a lot.
High Times: Do you have much trouble with organized marijuana smuggling syndicates that make huge payoffs at high levels in order to bring in huge amounts of mediocre dope?
Smuggler: I’ve encountered these people’s representatives down in Colombia, making buys, and I’ve been aware of their operations up here, but one would no more cross these people than one would cross the police. It’s sort of like the same thing. They don’t like what we’re doing because our dope is better and usually cheaper for its quality, so we tend to undermine the market a bit, but it’s such a wide-open market that it’s not that much a factor.
High Times: Do you think the high profits are justified?
Smuggler: Definitely. I’ve been marooned, had planes crash in the ocean, lost propellers, been helped up by bandits, thrown into jail, lost sails, had fights break out among the perpetrators; we’ve had every kind of mishap possible. I’ve earned every penny.
High Times: Is it possible to net a million dollars on a single run now?
Smuggler: Oh, sure.
High Times: Is it common?
Smuggler: It’s common, but it’s no more common than getting busted. The two things tend to follow each other. Sometimes people make a million dollars and later they get busted. Sometimes they get busted and later they make a million dollars. It takes a lot out of you psychologically. Psychologically you feel utterly and completely drained after a run. Someone who’s done five or six big runs, they’re like a 70-year-old person.
You’re coping under combat conditions, it’s all battlefield psychology. You can end up with shell shock; you can end up punchy from it, you’re twisted and bent so many different ways from it all. Anybody can fuck you over and anybody can mess you up. Any little accident can wipe out months of work and millions of dollars.
It is strange to see an 18 or 19-year-old kid with a couple of million dollars. But these people rarely hold onto it —it quickly passes on to other people, so it’s not that they’re making a million dollars; it’s merely passing through them temporarily. It’s definitely addictive. If you’re really good at it, you make far more money than Mick Jagger can make.
To carry the Rolling Stones analogy further, mounting a smuggling operation involves so much equipment, as many people, more money and as many logistical problems as putting the Rolling Stones out on tour. The difference is that instead of being done amidst a barrage of publicity, it’s done in total secrecy in the middle of the night, as it were.
It’s far more interesting and you’re affecting far more people in a much stronger way. The strange thing is that the bigger you are, the less known you are. It’s sort of like you’re the mirror image of a successful public figure, like a novelist, a rock star, sports figure, or whatever. But the better you are at smuggling the less known you are.
You get addicted to the idea of having that much control over… control and effect over people, just like a rock star who gets a kick out of turning on the radio in his car and hearing his own songs being played. A smuggler gets a kick out of going over to his friend’s house and lighting up some dope that he smuggled in two months ago. And you do know your dope, you recognize your own dope.
But these people are like meteors, skyrockets, they come fast and they go fast… they have short happy lives. Cocaine is a real occupational hazard of smugglers because they have access to large amounts of very pure cocaine.
High Times: This is because they’re down south, South American circles.
Smuggler: Some of them are very flamboyant, they have a sense of it’s all one big party, and it isn’t going to be lasting much longer. Successful smugglers and dealers lean toward jets, private planes, Jaguars, Maseratis, Rolls Royces, toys like that. I’ve seen plenty of it, huge banquets, very high living, big mansions, incredible coke parties, harems of women. These are the things you see. I mean, there was one guy who had a castle with a moat around it, machine-gun guards. There are guys who buy islands, live on them.
High Times: Do you have any dealings with dope tasters? Have you ever used a dope taster to go out and taste dope before you smuggle it?
Smuggler: I think that very few syndicates would have the sophistication to do that. They generally tend to take the dope that they get. For the money that’s being laid out, it would be a good idea to have one. But I think that such a person would be very hard to find—not impossible but very hard—because very few people have a sense of mass taste.
High Times: Have you ever met anyone who presented himself as a professional dope taster?
Smuggler: No, not as such, but there are people who have, in fact, performed this function… well, not doing it as a professional career. I mean, I read the interview in High Times about the dope taster, and it was obvious that the person was knowledgeable and authentic.
High Times: What is the farthest you’ve ever traveled to cop dope?
Smuggler: Well, I never traveled any farther than Colombia or Hawaii, but I have financed expeditions to Thailand.
High Times: Do your parents turn on, and do they know now that you are a smuggler?
Smuggler: My parents don’t turn on, and they have no idea that I’m a smuggler. I know people who have used their parents and grandparents in smuggling operations, particularly in running vehicles across the border, like Mexico. It’s an old scam; the DEA is on to it. First you turn your parents on to getting high, then you turn them on to smuggling. You know, the family that smuggles together, snuggles together.
High Times: Who is the toughest lawman you ever met?
Smuggler: The toughest lawman that I ever heard of, I never met, because I was always a little tougher and I managed to evade him, but I was once involved in a manhunt wherein the police were quite persistent. We had a plane that was spotted making a landing, and the police moved into the area and surrounded the plane while we hid out in the desert for about a week.
High Times: Where was this ?
Smuggler: New Mexico. And these people never gave up. You would have thought that, all things considered, what were we? Insignificant hippies smuggling some flowers and the desert is very big and, we had to hide out for about a week without any water or food.
High Times: What did you survive on if you had no water or food?
Smuggler: We were hacking open cactuses and sucking out the juices, you know, and drinking water from stagnant pools that we found that were all covered with green scum. They used planes, they used helicopters, they used jeeps, they had patrols on foot, they had dogs. Fortunately I never met the man who was directing the operation. He has to be the toughest lawman ever.
High Times: What was the most time you ever spent in a motel room?
Smuggler: A week is not uncommon. But I think the most time was two and a half weeks. I was waiting for a very important phone call. A great deal of money had been spent, and I wasn’t about to be out of the room when this phone call came. It was in Miami, and they had nothing on TV but cop shows, showing people getting busted for dope. At that particular time they were showing S.W.A.T. twice a day! People wonder how I spend so much time in Florida and don’t have a tan.
High Times: What’s the highest bail you ever put up?
Smuggler: Well, per person, $100,000.
High Times: Total?
Smuggler: No, $100,000 per person, for five people.
High Times: That’s $500,000.
High Times: Did any of them jump bond?
Smuggler: All of them jumped bond.
High Times: Did you regret losing the money?
Smuggler: No, I was delighted to lose the money. That’s why there’s so much profit in the business, because occasionally that’s what you have to do. I’ve never let anybody rot in jail. Nobody’s ever been abandoned in anything I’ve been involved with.
High Times: Did you ever jump bond?
Smuggler: Yeah. I’ve broken out of jail, I’ve broken other people out of jail.
High Times: What was your most dramatic jailbreak?
Smuggler: A friend of mine got put in jail. They were transporting some dope in the Southwest and they got nabbed in a small town in Texas. This was like years ago before they said you had to have bail, so they wouldn’t post a bail for these people. Finally, they bailed this one guy out because he didn’t have any previous arrest. But the other person had some previous warrants, and they held him.
So this person pretended to get sick, and they put him in the county hospital and chained him to the bed with handcuffs, we went in pretending to be visitors. Because it was a county hospital and sort of semiloose, they really weren’t expecting us. We went in with hacksaws and sawed the chains and handcuffs loose and brought in clothes, and that person walked out with us. It wasn’t like we dynamited the place.
High Times: Did you ever have to mark a passage by the stars?
Smuggler: I can look up at the stars, but they all look like the Big Dipper to me. I was never quite sure.
High Times: You’re not the Ancient Mariner.
Smuggler: I was never that good. I’ve run aground quite a few times, and I’ve gotten lost a lot. That’s one of the reasons I found it expedient to hire other people for this sort of thing. I don’t have a natural sense of direction.
High Times: Do you actually have a pilot’s license?
Smuggler: Not only do I have a pilot’s license, but I have dozens of pilot’s licenses, all phony.
High Times: You must have hundreds of adventure tales to tell, right?
Smuggler: I suppose I do.
High Times: Do you feel like talking anymore right now?
Smuggler: Not really.
High Times: Do you believe in an afterlife?
Smuggler: I hope to come back as a marijuana plant —over and over and over again.