06/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

High Time for Change?

James Gray is on a crusade. You might guess that a conservative judge from a conservative county would advocate for the prohibition of marijuana, but based on his experiences, he is adamantly pro-legalization.
After witnessing first hand what he calls the utter failure of our current policies of drug prohibition -- marijuana in particular -- he cites unnecessary prison growth, increased taxes, increased crime and corruption, and the loss of civil liberties as the unhealthy side effects of an anemic policy in need of drastic reform.

He sat down with KCET-TV correspondent Judy Muller to share his thoughts as part of an investigative report Muller has completed on the lack of city oversight that has led to a proliferation of unlicensed marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles .

Judy Muller: I have to start by saying it's been a decade since I first interviewed you on the subject, do you see any progress over these years? |

Judge Jim Gray: I have been spending 17 years now discussing this issue publicly and I'm shocked that we are still in this same problem today because it's so obvious that what we are doing isn't working .... [the public] accepts this present policy for all of its failures in order to protect our children and the problem with that approach is that drug prohibition puts our children in harms way for two really big reasons: number one is, its easier for our young people to get marijuana if they want to -- that's the key -- than it is a six pack of beer. And two is that adult drug dealers will trust our kids to go out and sell drugs in our communities. Who are they going to sell to? People like me? No they're going to sell to their 15, 16, 17-year-old peers, thus recruiting more children to a lifestyle of drug usage and drug selling and it's all caused by drug prohibition. So for those people that think we want to keep these drugs away from our children, we are doing it wrong -- we couldn't do it worse if we tried.

JM: So you're just some sort of left wing, political, radical nut? You don't come to this position from some political point of view?

JJG: I hate these drugs so much and the harmful effects that can come from them that even as a conservative judge in a conservative county I want to change away from drug prohibition so that we can keep the drugs away from our kids so that we can stop causing all this harm. Let me ask your viewers a question that I have puzzled with myself -- can they come up with even one positive thing as the result of prohibition of marijuana? And if they start saying "oh it's to keep drugs away from our children," they're wrong. It's easier to get marijuana than alcohol. If they say "hey we are going to reduce violence, we're going to perpetuate the rule of law," they're wrong -- it's the opposite. 60 percent of all of the drug cartel profits in Mexico come from the sale of marijuana. It isn't the drugs that are causing the harm, it's the drug money. So if you're trying to keep away from this crime, bring these laws under the government's control and protection.

JM: We take in taxes -- about 14 million per year -- from medical marijuana dispensaries that have been legalized. That's a lot of money. What would happen if we legalize marijuana as Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has proposed and you have supported? |

JJG: AB390 would treat marijuana like alcohol and what would happen if that were to occur? Three things -- all of them good: one is we could save literally a billion dollars that now we spend in tax payer money to eradicate marijuana as well as to prosecute and incarcerate non violent marijuana offenders. And by the way, you can tell how successful they are in its eradication of marijuana as the number one cash crop in California today. [And] we can tax it to bring in revenue of 1.3 million. A lot of people in the legislature are afraid to touch the issue because they need political cover to do it and are afraid of voter backlash. It's up to us as the voters to show them that this is what we want. Candidly, I go home after work and often take a mind altering drug -- namely wine with dinner. It can be dangerous, far more dangerous than marijuana, so just regulate [marijuana], control it, and tax it and we'll be far, far ahead of where we are today.

JM: But has marijuana been de facto legalized by medical marijuana propositions... all you have to do is go to a doctor, say you're not feeling good and a whole lot of doctors will write you permission to go to one of these places.

JJG: The medical marijuana issue is really amazing. We as voters in 1996 passed Proposition 215 by 56 percent of the vote and still a decade later leaders in California still have not come up with a program to regulate this. I've never seen so many people so anxious to be regulated by the government as the dispensaries of medical marijuana. Does marijuana work? Well there's no direct evidence by government study -- and Feds say all the time 'there's no study showing its an effective medicine' and you know, they are right. Yet it's beyond hypocrisy because it's the federal government that controls marijuana and numbers of reputable groups, the Centers for Disease Control, the University of California schools and others have requested to conduct studies and they have been denied. The government does not allow this research to take place and then they sanctimoniously say there is no research that shows it. It's beyond hypocrisy. I view it as chutzpah.

Don't miss KCET's story about marijuana clinics in Los Angeles