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Candidate Jim Gray stakes race on legalizing pot
Candidate Jim Gray stakes race on legalizing pot
Candidate stakes race on legalizing pot
The Senate hopeful's legal background is surprising to some.
By Laura Mecoy -- Bee Los Angeles Bureau
Published 2:15 am PDT Sunday, May 30, 2004
NEWPORT BEACH - If any other U.S. Senate candidate proposed legalizing marijuana, voters might question what that politician had been smoking.
But the California hopeful making that pitch doesn't get those questions - at least not very often.
He is Jim Gray, a Republican-appointed Superior Court judge from conservative Orange County who said he's never used illegal drugs. The 59-year-old former Republican became a Libertarian last year and is now that party's nominee to unseat Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.
"Every vote I get will be a vote to get the federal government out of the marijuana business," he tells audiences.
Gray addresses other issues, but his call for an end to federal prohibitions on marijuana is generating more buzz for the Libertarian Party than it's received in years.
"He adds a lot of gravitas to the party because of his position," said Mark Selzer, California Libertarian Party southern vice chairman.
Eliminating drug laws, along with other "victimless" crimes, has long been part of the Libertarian Party's advocacy for personal freedom.
In California, its platform has attracted less than 1 percent of registered voters to join the party. But a handful of its candidates have won local elections, including Mendocino County District Attorney Norm Vroman and Calaveras County Supervisor Tom Tryon.
With so little support, spokesmen for the state's two leading Senate candidates said Gray's candidacy would have little effect on the race.
"If anything, it hurts Boxer a little bit with those that might be on the left side regarding the legalization of marijuana," said Sean Walsh, spokesman for Republican Senate nominee Bill Jones.
In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215, legalizing the cultivation and use of marijuana for medical treatment of qualified patients. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration didn't recognize the law and has raided cannabis clubs in the state.
Jones and Boxer agree with Gray that Californians should be allowed to use marijuana for medical purposes.
But Jones wants the federal Food and Drug Administration to regulate the pot and the physicians who prescribe it for patients. Without that federal oversight, Walsh said Jones opposes the operation of marijuana clubs and supports the DEA raids of those establishments.
Roy Behr, Boxer's longtime campaign spokesman, said he didn't know if the senator supports the DEA raids and couldn't reach her last week for comment.
Jones and Boxer disagree with Gray's call for ending all federal sanctions for the illicit weed.
As a result, Behr said Gray's campaign would have to focus on positions that are "ridiculously far out of the mainstream."
The judge, who's taken a leave from the bench to run, maintains his views are indeed "mainstream." He said his goal is to make Democratic and GOP leaders understand that by winning enough votes to force the parties to adopt his views on marijuana.
But the $100,000 he's raised for his campaign is far behind the $11 million that Boxer has collected and the $1.8 million raised by Jones.
Gray said he first decided to campaign against what he calls the nation's "failed" drug war after an incident in his courtroom reminded him of how money and manpower spent on fighting illegal drugs could be better spent on violent crime. A 17-year-old who robbed and beat prostitutes emitted a whoop of celebration when Gray - going along with the terms of a plea bargain approved by another judge - sentenced him to jail for just a few more weeks than the defendant already had served while awaiting trial.
Gray denounced the war on drugs in an April 8, 1992, press conference on the courthouse steps that set off a political brouhaha. The Orange County sheriff vowed to keep his cases out of the judge's court.
Gray focused on civil cases in which his views couldn't be cited as affecting the outcome, and published a book in 2001 that made him a nationally recognized advocate for repealing drug laws. He has appeared on dozens of television and radio news and talk shows, where his colorful quotes play well.
"I go home every day and take a mind-altering, dangerous drug," he said. "I have a glass of wine with dinner."
Gray also brings an unusual résumé to the cause. He's been a Peace Corps volunteer, a Navy officer who served briefly in Vietnam and a federal prosecutor who once held the record for the biggest heroin conviction.
Former Gov. George Deukmejian first appointed Gray to the bench in 1983, and he's earned praise for overseeing a 2001 legal settlement of a molestation case in which the Catholic Church paid the victim $5.2 million and agreed to significant reforms.
Since entering the Senate race, Gray has shifted his views to accommodate public opposition to drug legalization. Where he once advocated an end to the war on all illegal drugs, he now focuses on federal pot prohibitions.
He said states should decide whether marijuana is grown and sold within their boundaries and at what age a person could buy it.
In California, he said legal marijuana sales would produce $3 billion in tax revenues and savings by eliminating all pot-related law enforcement activities.
His platform is a hit among medical marijuana advocates, who made him a star attraction at a Merced County "Weedstock" rally in April.
In recent weeks, Gray has tried to expand his campaign to other issues by vowing to gut the USA Patriot Act and calling for U.N. troops to replace all American soldiers in Iraq by Christmas.
He has endorsed labeling for all foods with genetically modified organisms, gradually privatizing Social Security, and Palestinian calls for "justice" in their war with Israel. In some circles, these views are as controversial as his opposition to the war on drugs. But none gets as much attention as his marijuana views.
"It is the most critical issue facing our country today," Gray said. " ... It affects everything."
Jim Gray at a glance
Occupation: Orange Superior Court judge
Education: Law degree, University of Southern California, 1971; bachelor's degree, University of California, Los Angeles, 1966
Residence: Newport Beach
Family: Married, four children
Experience: Orange Superior Court judge, 1989 to present (currently on one-year leave to campaign); Santa Ana Municipal Court judge, 1983-89; Newport Beach civil law practice, 1978-83; Los Angeles U.S. attorney's office, federal prosecutor, 1975-78; U.S. Navy, Judge Advocate General Corps, 1972-75; Peace Corps, Costa Rica, 1966-68
Contact information: www.judgejimgray4senate.com
About the Writer
The Bee's Laura Mecoy can be reached at (310) 546-5860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.