I kept a confident, positive look on my face as the Governor of Louisiana, Alicia deVray, prepared to sign the document that would enact the first free drug community in the world. She turned and looked at me, I nodded encouragingly, she looked at the horde of reporters holding cameras, phones, recording devices and signed. There was a long moment of silence, then a round of weak, tentative applause from the legislators. Alicia wasn’t looking her usual ebullient self as she chatted with legislators, supporters and opponents of the controversial free drug community. CNN asked me to say a few words and I praised the Governor and the state legislators for their forward thinking in pioneering a solution to end the criminal distribution of drugs. Fox News accused me of destroying the fabric of America by giving away free drugs. I smiled politely and said:
“We will end drug crime in America,” then I followed Alicia to her office.
As soon as we were alone, she murmured:
“This better work, M, or they’ll lynch us on the biggest tree in Baton Rouge.”
“Don’t worry, Al. You’ll dangle a lot prettier than me,” which made her giggle.
The day we met at first year Tulane Law, she said: ‘Call me Al’. I replied: ‘Call me M’, and our friendship was born. We became best friends through school, stayed close as her career soared in the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office, elected D.A, the State Senate, now in her second term as Governor of the Pelican State. Despite our entirely different directions, mine starting in the Orleans Parish Public Defender’s office that led to our occasional clash in the courtroom which she invariably won, since most of my clients were obviously guilty to judge and jury alike. But as Al climbed the political ladder, I started a foundation using my trust fund until I could raise money whose express purpose was to legalize drugs so we could end the criminal drug trade that was polluting and corrupting America.
Once Al got to the State Senate we didn’t spend as much time together, but we texted, phoned and skyped regularly. When I came up with the idea of a planned community where drugs were free she teased me unmercifully. Her attitude began to change when a benefactor donated five million dollars and promised more. I immediately hired a Nobel prize winning economist, a criminal psychologist, a statistical analyst and a software developer. We started by reviewing the bulk of the literature on drugs and crime, which was extensive. My particular focus was on criminal profits, drug cartels and the cost to the nation for drug related arrests, trials and incarceration. When the cost to society passed one hundred billion dollars a year I started thinking about solutions.
Al laughed at me when I first proposed a community where drugs were free and everything else resembled a normal community. There would be a police department, fire, sanitation, EMT, courthouses, stores, shops, restaurants, three levels of housing dependent on employment and income, or subsidy. For those who didn’t want to work but wanted to use drugs there was basic housing, food allotment, health services and a monthly stipend. Al stopped laughing when I showed her the cost of operating a free drug community of 5,000 population was between 70 and 75% less than a regular community with drug crime.
“What do you want from me, M?”
“If I can’t get another state to let us start a demonstration project, let me do it here.”
“You know how controversial this would be. It would start a firestorm of righteous objections.”
“Sure. But we know that prohibition never works. The 18th amendment, Volstead Act, banned booze, then gave birth to organized crime. The drug trade is international, poisoning our country and much of the world.”
“Why couldn’t you commit to saving the environment?”
“Because I didn’t want to spend my life fighting the fossil fuel industry.”
When we finished our first demonstration model I asked my benefactor for ten million dollars to fund the construction and staffing of the community, with the goal of its becoming economically self-sufficient. He promised the money and I began searching for the right state to start our project.
I didn’t try Nevada because the gambling industry was a negative element in the American way of life. The Governor of New York was publicly outraged, but wished me luck privately. The Governor of California thought I meant a drug-free community and offered help, until an aide whispered in his ear what I intended. I got a very polite farewell. The Governor of Florida kept asking where I’d get my drugs and derided my explanation that we’d buy them on the international market.
“You’ll be supporting the drug business,” he insisted.
“That’s a byproduct, sir. We’ll demonstrate that when drugs are legal the related crime and corruption will disappear.”
“It sounds like a hippie idea. Not interested.”
Arizona, Massachusetts, Indiana and North Carolina wouldn’t even give me a hearing. Which led me back to my pal Al, in Louisiana. I found a struggling town upstate on the bank of the Quachita River that with an infusion of capital would be great location. I visited the mayor and gave him an overview of the project, then operational details. His biggest concern was with the extreme addicts and the possible threats to the townspeople.
“The neighborhood of new housing will be separated from the rest of the town, with most of what they’ll need right there. People will be selected so we’ll know they are basically content with their allotments. If they want better houses they’ll have to work for it. Your police department will be supported by a highly-trained, ex-military group who will patrol 24/7 and peacefully resolve any problems. We’ll install a sophisticated camera and monitoring system to support law enforcement. The money we’ll bring in for construction, services and operations will bring your town back to life.”
“We have 1,800 citizens who would have to approve any project.”
“If you and your main supporters approve our project we’ll only need a good size majority, say 1,400 to 1,500.
He grinned. “You make a good case. I’ll arrange for you to meet with some concerned citizens. If they approve you can present it to everyone at a town hall meeting.”
“I’ll bring my experts.”
One evening two weeks later we met with the town council and prominent citizens. They were dazzled by my Nobel Prize winning economist, fascinated by my criminal psychologist and impressed by my director of security, a former Ranger Lieutenant-Colonel and a childhood friend, Paul Morein. A few citizens were afraid of being known as a drug town, but the promise of the infusion of lots of money won them over. Only the Sheriff was resistant. I won him over with a single statement.
“The supplemental security force will cooperate fully with your department and provide new cars and equipment.”
He looked at me suspiciously. “Do you hunt?”
“Not any more, sheriff.”
“Do you fish?”
“Not for a while.”
“Are you related to Jean Dubonne?”
“He was my grandfather. Did you know him?”
“I met him a few times when he was Attorney General. A good man.”
“A very good man,” I asserted.
He gave me a big grin. “I’ll support your project, son.”
I smiled back. “Thanks, sheriff. That’ll make things a lot easier.”
The town hall meeting a few weeks later was a study in local politics. Everyone important spoke out in favor of the project and almost all the citizens approved. The usual opposition of conservatives wanting things as they were, a few evangelicals and some scaredy cats objected vigorously, but to no avail. After an intense, short campaign the vote was 1,726 against 53, with 21 abstaining. So with the town’s approval and with the Governor’s signature we were ready to establish a legal free drug community.
Now that the town committed to the project, I sent them summary copies of the contract that each applicant would have to sign to participate. I had drawn up a complex document that would protect the town and the project sponsors from legal repercussions, which included a short series of rules:
1) Abstain from all criminal acts.
2) Do not operate vehicles, machinery, or any dangerous equipment while under the influence of intoxicants.
3) Possession of weapons is forbidden.
4) Abide by the laws of the community.
5) No resuscitation from overdoses.
There were more rules but there was time to refine them as we started the recruiting process for approximately 3,0000 candidates for the program. The next goal would be to finalize the planning of the community with housing, stores, restaurants, a drug dispensing building, security building, social services… The list went on. Everything was outlined in the project proposal. Now we would have to construct the new town while we selected the population.
We had decided on initial recruitment efforts in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Metairie and Lafayette, assuming word would spread to the Parishes. Of course if we didn’t get enough free drug wanters from Louisiana, we’d expand the search to neighboring states. I was walking on air. Years of hope and effort were about to become a reality.
The next step of implementing the plan was to acquire the land which was easy with the cooperation of the town authorities. They wanted to remove one holdout with eminent domain, which I rejected. I went to see the crusty old farmer and told him his new neighbors would be busy, but wouldn’t impose a threat to him. When I told him I was happy with his remaining there and opposed eminent domain he became friendly and invited me to go fishing with him. It was obvious we didn’t have to complete all the new living facilities at once, but we had to have all support services ready when the first… I had to find a name for them… Accords. I’ll try that.
I went over the list of the services that had to come first and a supermarket and medical services were still the priority. We had been negotiating with several supermarket chains who were interested in opening in… Accordia?... Now we’d finalize our choice. They would be guaranteed a minimum of two years of earnings by the Accordia foundation. We’d have time to work out the economics of the community so people could start paying for their purchases. It was easy to get nurses who were well paid and delighted to work in a new well supplied, well equipped facility. We made our arrangement to hire medical school graduates as interns, who would work under the supervision of two local doctors.
I was going to throw a party and invite all my friends, the project planners and of course my favorite Governor, AL. After all the project was officially launched. It could take a year or more to see the proof of the theory that free drugs did away with related crime. So it was time to celebrate the beginning of the dream scheme come true.
Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director and worked as an art dealer when he couldn't earn a living in the theater. He has also been a tennis pro, a ditch digger and a salvage diver. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines and his published books include 36 poetry collections, 14 novels, three short story collections, one collection of essays and seven books of plays. Gary lives in New York City. Gary recommends City Harvest.