EDITOR’S NOTE: Points welcomes historian Peter Maguire, author of Thai Stick: Surfers, Scammers, and the Untold History of the Marijuana Trade (Columbia University Press, 2013), co-written with Mike Ritter and featuring a foreward by David Farber.
Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.
I would say that it’s the first serious and scholarly history of the marijuana trade. I’m an historian: I’ve written scholarly books on the Nuremberg Trials and the Khmer Rouge and very serious subjects. But I grew up around the marijuana trade and around smugglers. So I applied the same scholarly methods to a different subject that, up to this point, has been treated very lightly.
What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?
I think that they would find the relationship between smugglers and the DEA much less adversarial than they imagined. Instead of the usual narrative of cops-and-robbers, the tale is one of mutual self-respect. The DEA respects the smugglers and their organizational skills, particularly later on when they are moving 20 tons of marijuana across the Pacific. That’s no stoned, disorganized, hippie operation anymore. For the smugglers, their view of the DEA is that the agents were just doing their job. One DEA agent in particular, James Conklin, who is one of the stars of the book, really seems to be respected by all.
And I think in light of changes in American drug law and policy, this book is particularly salient. It’s one thing to legalize marijuana, but what about the people who were impacted by drug convictions for minimal amounts of marijuana? I’m almost to the point now where I feel like there needs to be some kind of reparations for the War on Drugs, particularly marijuana.