Here is a story to warm a capitalist's heart: the law of supply and demand
is observed, the principals buy low and sell high (in more ways than one),
and they become very rich. It's a classic American rags-to-riches story.
There is a downside, but that, too, happens in business. Bigger, richer
players muscle in and take over, and eventually almost everybody goes to jail.

OK. The last part about going to jail doesn't quite fit as a business story
(devoutly as one might wish it would in, say, the Enron debacle). But then
the entrepreneurs in Robert Sabbag's story were dealing marijuana - tons of it.

Sabbag, whose previous book, Snowblind, was not about trekking in the
Himalayas, seems so intimately acquainted with the drug trade you have to
wonder who he hangs out with when he's not doing research. But the
knowledge serves him well. Loaded is a terrifically told tale that will
appeal to an audience well beyond the Cheech and Chong set.

It seems a long time ago now, but anyone between 45 and 55 will remember
the pot revolution of the late '60s and early '70s. Marijuana went from a
dangerous drug known only to jazz musicians and outlaws to being as
commonplace as your dad's rye and ginger.

All that pot had to come from somewhere, and it wasn't from the back 40 or
somebody's hydroponically tricked-out basement - apparently the most
frequent sources these days. Back then it came from abroad, thanks to the
resourcefulness of people like Allen Long.

Long grew up in Virginia and was a typical young man of his time, with
ambitions of being a rock star, a film-maker, a music-industry producer,
etc. Working on a documentary about marijuana smuggling from Mexico led him
to attempt to finance the project by adopting the activity he was filming.
The film was never completed, but the door was opened to a far more
lucrative occupation.

In the space of a couple of years during the mid-'70s, Long went from
smuggling a few kilos over the Mexican border to flying in tons of the
stuff from Colombia in a DC-3.

Sabbag makes the point that unlike most latter-day drug dealers, Long and
the people he sold wholesale to weren't in it just for the money. Like most
good businessmen, they believed in their product and they consumed a lot of
it themselves. (The book's title is a clever three-way pun alluding to the
cargo, state of mind and wallets of the dealers.)

"Counterculture ritual," Sabbag writes, "was ripe with a feeling of ease,
and Long himself took pride in his share of the responsibility for fueling
it. ... An entire generation was tripping to the same popular four-colour
fantasia."

This pot-high glow informs the book and is enhanced by a nostalgia for a
more free-wheeling time. Who can resist this high-flying cockpit exchange
between two of Long's cohorts:

"If I was a general, my army'd be cannibals, we wouldn't carry no food."
"Interesting, I can dig that."

Adventure and misadventure are part of the mix. Making contact with armed
and dangerous Colombian suppliers, crash landing on jungle airstrips and
evading the law provide lots of vivid anecdotal material.

Given that the events recounted in Loaded happened a quarter-century ago
and most of the participants were stoned at the time, it's curious that
Sabbag's subjects recalled so much colourful detail. His explanation is
that the particpants' sensibilities were heightened by their jagged-edge
risk-taking. Example: having just been buzzed by U.S. airforce jets upon
entering American airspace in his lumbering DC-3, "(Long) was high on
reefer and luxuriating in an almost unlimited supply of coke, he had an
oxygen hose stuck in the left side of his mouth, a cigarette sticking in
the other, he was holding a Heineken between his legs, he was flying that
airplane, and he was having the time of his life."

It all had to end, of course. Eventually, Long hooked up with the Miami
drug mafia, which was in drug dealing strictly for profit. Cocaine, much
easier to smuggle than bulky pot, was becoming the drug of choice among
users and suppliers, but Long refused to handle it. After a couple of
brushes with being rubbed out, he decided to retire.

Soon after, drug enforcement authorities penetrated his drug ring, and most
of his partners ended up in jail. He himself became a fugitive until 1991,
when he was arrested. Since his crimes were mostly old news by then, Long
got off relatively lightly - five years in the slammer.

Today he works in the music business and lives in Virginia with a wife and
two children. Unrepentant, he didn't even ask that his name be changed for
this remarkable story.


Loaded: A Misadventure On The Marijuana Trail

By Robert Sabbag

Little, Brown and Co., 327 pages, $34.95


Pubdate: Sat, 16 Mar 2002
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2002 The Gazette, a division of Southam Inc.
Contact: letters@thegazette.southam.ca
Website: http://www.canada.com/montreal/montrealgazette/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/274
Author: Bryan Demchinsky, Montreal Gazette