FDL Book Salon Welcomes Jason Ryan, Jackpot: High Times, High Seas, and the Sting That Launched the War on Drugs
Host, Neill Franklin:
For those who have very little insight into drug smuggling and would like to know more, Jackpot is a great book for you. Jason Ryan is a South Carolina journalist and former newspaper reporter who has done his homework. And because of the painstaking effort he put into many interviews, this piece of work is spot on. Let’s peer into the life of marijuana smuggling kingpins of the 1970s with Jason and see why he was so intrigued.
So, boy did this book take me on a journey back in time to my undercover days as a narcotics agent in Maryland. One thing is notably clear to me; we haven’t learned a thing when it comes to prohibition. Jason vividly describes the history of running blockades in the back marshes of the South Carolina coastline during the Civil War. The “gentleman smugglers” operated no different than the blockade runners of the 1700s and for very similar reasons. They delivered something prohibited, something the people wanted and it’s extremely profitable for those taking the risk–exciting too. I also find it interesting that they made strategic use of the very same South Carolina waterways. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And more important, in this case, don’t tell anyone it still works.
Again, nothing really changes. Leaping forward in time, Jason gives us another history lesson from the 1920s–alcohol prohibition and bootlegging. Beaufort County, South Carolina, with its hundreds of islands, miles of rivers and creeks, was perfect for whiskey smuggling too. The challenge and celebration of successfully navigating the coastguard patrols was no different than skirting the law enforcement patrols of the 1970s. Hell, just swap out the products and there’s virtually no difference from marijuana smuggling. And what about today? Instead of sailboats, submarines and elaborate tunnels are fashionable. Trucks navigating the US/Mexico border are the sailboats of today. Homemade low profile submersibles run the seas stuffed with marijuana, cocaine and other drugs of choice.
There is however one notable difference between drug smuggling of the “gentlemen smuggler’s” era and that of today and Jason nails it. The reason for no guns back then, it was said, “How could you trust someone who might shoot you?” It was a trust issue. Back then, when I worked undercover, I never carried a gun. Only cops carried guns back then, so it was a sure-nuff give-a-way, cover blown–guaranteed! I speak of this during virtually lecture–the violence. Today, everyone in the drug business carries guns, cops, smugglers and dealers. They are the tools of the trade. The drug business has become extremely competitive, distrusting and deadly. Even with this danger on top of our “one of a kind” criminal justice consequences, it’s still worth the risks for many.
Midway through his book, Jason recalls the Reagan era and how successful Reagan was in linking violent crime to drug use. Unfortunately, this fallacy rings in the minds of people even today–they can’t seem to shake it. Our prohibition policy is responsible for the crime and its violence, not drug use.
As it was then, it is today, all about business. It’s all about the finances, making money and making a living. And yes, as with any business the consequences of failure are factored in. No doubt that for those in this business and it’s quite a few; the risks are well worth the potential consequences.
If after reading this book you aren’t convinced that we are in desperate need of drug policy reform, check your pulse. So, what do you think? Would you take the risk? Maybe you have? Are you wondering how many smugglers never got caught? I can guarantee you this. It’s way more than those that did—way more!
So, let’s get this show on the road and learn some things. Jason has much to share.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]