March 15, 1994, Tuesday, NASSAU AND SUFFOLK EDITION
SECTION: VIEWPOINTS; Pg. 85
Other Edition: City Pg. 39
LENGTH: 615 words
HEADLINE: Narcs Should Let The Deadheads Be
BYLINE: By James Bovard. James Bovard is the author of the forthcoming "Lost
Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty."
THE DRUG Enforcement Administration and local police are decimating the
Deadheads. Deadheads are fans of the Grateful Dead, many of whom follow the band
from concert to concert and no doubt will be present for the group's six-day
appearance starting March 23 at the Nassau Coliseum.
Although the name "Deadhead" sounds ominous, Deadheads tend to be aging
hippies or naive college kids in ancient Volkswagen buses, lost souls who love
to talk about peace and nature and happiness and love. Cynics often joke that
Deadheads should "Get a life!" Instead, the DEA seems to believe that Deadheads
deserve prison sentences long enough to destroy their lives. Use of LSD - a
hallucinogen - is widespread among Deadheads.
Since 1990, LSD arrests have tripled nationwide, and most of those busted
have been Deadheads. Roughly 500 Grateful Dead fans are serving terms for LSD
violations in state prisons, says a group called Families Against Mandatory
Julie Stewart, director of the organization opposed to harsh penalties for
drug violations, observed, "In the last round of Grateful Dead concerts on the
East Coast, there was a trail of people left in jail afterwards." When the Dead
played last June in Louisville, local police arrested 272 fans within two days.
Some arrests resulted from police scouting campsites used by Deadheads and
discovering 13 persons using marijuana.
Gene Haislip, DEA's chief of LSD enforcement, told USA Today: "We've opened a
vein here. We're going to mine it until this whole thing turns around." Yet,
although federal agents are working round-the-clock to wreck hundreds of
people's lives with long prison sentences for selling speckles of LSD, LSD
itself killed only three people in 1992, according to the federal National
Institute of Drug Abuse. Far more lives are being destroyed as a result of the
abusive federal prosecutions than as the result of using the drug.
The purge against the Deadheads is largely the result of a quirk in federal
drug-sentencing laws. These laws, known as mandatory minimums, dictate that a
prison sentence is determined by the weight of drugs sold. LSD is usually sold
in sugar cubes or on blotter paper.
Federal prosecutors count the weight of the sugar or paper as if it were pure
LSD. (The LSD dose itself is usually smaller than a pinhead). As a result, a
person who sells a single cube of sugar - with only 50 cents' worth of LSD -
faces a mandatory five years in federal prison if convicted. Someone who sells
five sugar cubes faces 10 years in prison. Stanley Marshall of El Paso, Texas,
was arrested in 1988 for possessing less than a gram of LSD. But, since the drug
was on 113 grams of paper, Marshall got a 20-year federal prison sentance.
Many busts occur as a result of undercover drug agents aggressively
encouraging Deadheads to sell them illicit drugs. Some DEA agents are
practically on a witch hunt, searching for people whose lives they can destroy
with bits of paper and cubes of sugar. Even if someone refers an undercover
federal agent at a concert to someone rumored to be selling drugs, the person
can be convicted of being part of a conspiracy to distribute illicit drugs.
Dennis McNally, the publicist for the Grateful Dead, declared, "It's much
easier to arrest some hippie kid than it is to walk into a crack den in the
inner city, where somebody might open the door with a semiautomatic."
As long as Deadheads are nonviolent, the DEA should leave them in their
cloudy-headed peace to enjoy their music. The crime problem in this country
does not consist of adults who consume loaded sugar cubes, but felons who shoot,
rob and rape their fellow citizens.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Copyright 1994 Newsday, Inc.
March 22, 1994, Tuesday, CITY EDITION
SECTION: VIEWPOINTS; Pg. A35
LENGTH: 297 words
HEADLINE: Don't Stereotype Deadheads
BYLINE: Paul Matulic. Manhattan
James Bovard is right to criticize the Drug Enforcement Administration for
entrapping fans attending Grateful Dead concerts in LSD busts, and he is correct
to imply that LSD use is the least of this country's drug problems ["Narcs
Should Let the Deadheads Be," Viewpoints, March 15], but he does his readers a
disservice by perpetuating false stereotypes of Deadheads in general.
Bovard characterizes fans of this 29-year-old improvisational band as tending
to be "aging hippies or naive college kids" and says that "use of LSD is
widespread among Deadheads." As a long-time fan who has attended shows since the
early 1970s, I can quite comfortably say: Wrong on all counts, Mr. Bovard.
The Grateful Dead are by far the most interesting and successful full-time
live music act in the history of modern music. (How many bands can claim never
to have played the same concert in nearly three decades?) They are an eclectic
and improvisational band that draws from a myriad of musical inspirations; it's
no surprise that one can characterize the fans in the same way. Deadheads cover
every age, socio-economic class, occupation and political orientation.
Take a walk through the parking lot tomorrow at Nassau Coliseum and you'll
see more VW micro-buses than you've seen in a while; but if those vehicles
comprise more than 2 percent of all those in the parking lot, I'll eat my shirt
(which is not tie-dyed). But that's the only strange substance I'll consider
eating, and I'm with the majority of other fans. In terms of mass intoxication,
any local football game will surpass the levels seen at any Dead show I've
attended in years.
It's simply impossible to stereotype Grateful Dead music. Let's not saddle
the Dead's fans with grossly inaccurate stereotypes.
March 22, 1994, Tuesday, NASSAU AND SUFFOLK EDITION
SECTION: VIEWPOINTS; Pg. A37
LENGTH: 165 words
HEADLINE: A Hazy View of Drugs
BYLINE: Rawn Johnson. Bethpage
Obviously, James Bovard ["Narcs Should Let the Deadheads Be," Viewpoints,
Mar. 15] sees the world through the same haze many deadheads do. His plea that
we pity drug dealers serving prison terms fits with the typically liberal
"criminals-arevictims" philosophy. It is odd how Bovard refrains from using the
word "dealer" anywhere in his article, opting instead for "possessing,"
"selling" and "distributing." Maybe "dealing" is too strong a word for these
I am a son of one of Bovard's nonviolent hippies. My father has virtually lost
contact with both of his children and has never seen his grandson. Far more
families and lives are destroyed by drugs than anyone knows, and every dealer
sitting in prison is one less dealer with the opportunity to ruin someone's
Bovard is wrong. The crime problem in this country does include adults who
consume drugs - and other people who believe they shouldn't have to be held
accountable for their actions.
March 24, 1994, Thursday, NASSAU AND SUFFOLK EDITION
SECTION: VIEWPOINTS; Pg. A47
LENGTH: 556 words
HEADLINE: Should We Tolerate Deadheads' Drug Use?
BYLINE: Matthew Friedman. Dix Hills; Thomas A. Fordham Jr. Stony Brook
Regarding John Bovard's article concerning the targeting of Grateful Dead
fans by narcotics officers ["Narcs Should Let the Deadheads Be," Viewpoints,
March 15]: Of course law officers are targeting Deadheads! These concerts
attract a disproportionately high number of substance abusers, who flout the law
by lighting up or taking a hit.
Is Bovard claiming that large numbers of people committing crimes together in
one concentrated area should be excused from their conduct? Or that the penal
Newsday, March 24, 1994
code should be suspended when the Dead come to town? I certainly hope not.
I am definitely not a prude. In fact, I would consider myself a fan (though
not a fanatic) of the Grateful Dead; they are talented musicians and fascinating
personalities. Their music evokes an era that many enjoy waxing nostalgic over.
But I certainly do not have to be high on cocaine to enjoy "Casey Jones." Fans
who abuse drugs might aver that an hallucinatory state of mind is necessary to
experience the Dead in all their glory. In fact, these fans are not hearing the
Grateful Dead - rather, they are hearing a distorted, sensory-impaired version
of their music, while at the same time risking the health and welfare of
themselves and those around them.
Bovard tries to defend the use of LSD by Deadheads, proudly bragging that
"only" three people died from the use of the drug in 1992. To that I say: Three
dead is three too many. And how many others are suffering ill effects years, and
even decades, later? Witness band leader Jerry Garcia, who has had several bouts
of illness due to his earlier indulgences.
As long as our government says that taking drugs is a crime, our narcotics
officers have every right to go after Deadheads, and go after them hard. If
followers of the Grateful Dead would simply confine their pot-smoking and acid
trips to the security of their homes, and not publicly and blatantly violate
the law in a futile attempt to visit a time long since vanished, there would be
no harsh penalties and prison sentences to complain about. You get what you pay
for, and you pay for what you get.
Matthew Friedman. Dix Hills
James Bovard is perfectly correct in his observation that it is not
drug-using Deadheads who cause violent crimes, "but felons who shoot, rob and
rape their fellow citizens."
When citizens clamor about how quickly murderers and rapists are being
released from prison, they shouldn't forget that period of drug hysteria not so
long ago when they demanded mandatory sentencing to keep drug convicts behind
bars. Under this law, they must spend at least 85 percent of their sentence in
prison. No such restriction keeps murder, assault or rape convicts behind bars,
so when the prisons are overcrowded, it's the most violent sort who go free.
Many of these violent felons are released after serving only one-third of their
actual sentence! No wonder the average citizen no longer feels that justice is
being served, nor does he or she feel safe walking down the street.
The answer begins with an end to mandatory sentencing for drug offenses, and
ends with a realistic, progressive movement to decriminalize drugs. As many
Newsday, March 24, 1994
prominent judges have already concluded, only then will we have the space to
keep the really violent threats to society locked away!
Matthew Friedman. Stony Brook