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Jim Gray is a veteran of both the U.S. Navy in Vietnam and the Peace Corps in Costa Rica
1413,88~10973~1922250,00.html, Jim Gray is a veteran of both the U.S. Navy in Vietnam and the Peace Corps in Costa Rica
U.S. Senate hopeful backs legalizing pot
Libertarian says state could make $2 billion
By Josh Richman, STAFF WRITER
Jim Gray isn't easily pigeonholed.
He's a veteran of both the U.S. Navy in Vietnam and the Peace Corps in Costa Rica.
He's a lifelong Republican now running for the U.S. Senate as a Libertarian while reaching out to Bay Area liberals.
He's a Republican-appointed Orange County Superior Court judge whose main platform plank is drug legalization.
He says he might be the only person ever to get standing ovations for giving the same speech to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Young Republicans.
"This is everybody's issue," he said of his war on the government's war on drugs.
Gray, 58, of Newport Beach, said the Bay Area should be especially receptive to his core issue -- getting the federal government to stay out of California's medical marijuana affairs, and then getting California to completely decriminalize adult marijuana use.
Doing so, he said, would save the state $1 billion a year in failed eradication, prosecution and incarceration costs, while raising almost $2 billion a year in new taxes on the drug, not counting a resurgent industrial hemp industry's boost to the economy. Regulating marijuana would make it less available to children and prevent its adulteration with more harmful substances, he said, while patients and doctors finally would be free of fear.
Adult use might increase but only temporarily, he said, citing data from nations that have legalized the drug. He has no suggestion on what to do should California start drawing "tourists" from other states that haven't legalized marijuana, but said this too could boost the state's economy and other states probably would follow suit.
"The Green Party does not have a candidate in this race and I'm wholeheartedly asking for their support. ... We walk hand in hand on this issue," he said, adding that for all those who voted for California's medical marijuana in 1996, "I'm their candidate, I speak for them."
The Rev. Lynnette Shaw, founder and proprietor of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Fairfax, agrees. Gray visited the alliance's office last week, toward the end of a weeks-long campaign sweep across Northern California.
"People around the state are very concerned that our votes are being ignored or overridden by the police," Shaw said. "I believe Judge Gray is a candidate for ... people who want change and know it's time to end the drug war. And he is looking at a very large pool of people who are interested in medical marijuana.
"I think he has a chance of making a dent."
Former Rep. Tom Campbell, R-San Jose, was an outspoken critic of federal drug policies as he ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2000. Now dean of the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business, Campbell has personally endorsed Republican Bill Jones for the Senate seat, but praised Gray nonetheless.
"Judge Jim Gray was a great help to me, within the bounds of the canons of judicial behavior, when I was running for United States Senate," Campbell said. "We may not agree on every proposal, ... but I have the highest admiration for his integrity and his thoughtfulness in approaching this most difficult problem and in his recognition that the present approach to America's drug problem is a tremendously costly failure."
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, called Gray "a hero of the drug policy reform movement."
"He's putting the issue into the public eye and they're hearing these arguments come out of the mouth not of some liberal Bay Area politician but from a conservative, formerly Republican state judge," he said. "I think in that respect, it's all good."
Gray said he doesn't expect to win but hopes a strong showing will demonstrate a groundswell of opposition to the drug war.
Some voters concerned with drug reform might balk at Gray if U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer seems vulnerable to a Republican challenger; they might think it more important to work toward a Democratic Senate majority than to elect a lone Libertarian. But Gray says neither Democrats nor Republicans can be counted upon to reform drug policy: "They have to be pushed from the outside, so I'm on the outside pushing."
These policies not only drain billions in tax dollars but also hurt homeland security, he claimed, calling drug prohibition "the golden goose of terrorism -- it sponsors terrorists from Osama bin Laden on down." Yet the human impact may be worst of all, he said. "It's awful -- we are ruining people's lives, we are breaking up families."
He lambastes Boxer for failing to act on this, as well as for voting for the USA Patriot Act -- only Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., opposed it -- probably without fully reading it. He calls that "an abrogation of responsibility" that has led to serious infringements upon civil rights.
Gray was named to the bench in 1983 by Gov. George Deukmejian. A lifelong Republican, he became a Libertarian about 18 months ago. America is stuck between "tax-and-spend Democrats and don't-tax-but-spend-anyway Republicans," he said, adding Libertarians "represent Republican values far more than the Republicans do."
He's taken an unpaid leave of absence from the court to run for the Senate. He said he jokingly told his wife he's doing his share to reduce their income tax burden, but she didn't think that was funny.
He'll compete in the March 2 Libertarian primary election with Gail Lightfoot, 66, of Arroyo Grande -- a Santa Monica native, retired registered nurse and 32-year Libertarian Party activist who has made several runs for statewide office. Her top issue is the failure of public schools, her Web site says -- "the dumbed down history, the destruction of moral values, the ongoing attack on the family, and the disturbing lack of critical thinking ability in students."
For more on Gray's campaign, see www.judgejimgray4senate.com For more on Lightfoot's campaign, see www.lightfootforussenate2004.org