Kelly Slater and Peter Maguire on telling the 'untold story' of the marijuana trade
A year ago Swellnet obtained a copy of Thai Stick and got intoxicated on the story within. The book's full title is Surfers, Scammers, and the Untold Story of the Marijuana Trade and was written by Peter Maguire and ex-smuggler Mike Ritter.
Thai Stick is a genre-hopping book with wide appeal. So wide, in fact, that it's attracted the attention of clean-living Kelly Slater who recently bought the options for an episodic television series based on the book. As Kelly recently said on his Instagram account, his support for Thai Stick "In no way condones drug use or dealing of any sort. But [the book] does bring into question inconsistencies around drug laws and philosophical questions about personal choice and outlawing nature."
Swellnet recently spoke to Kelly and co-author Peter Maguire about the transition of Thai Stick from print to film and what their motivations are.
Swellnet: When did you buy the options to Thai Stick?
Kelly Slater: A few months ago. Maybe six months or so after I had read it.
Will you have any say in the screen depiction of the book?
I'm no filmmaker but I have opinions about the stories and visuals and I do have a little experience over the years. I'd just like to have enough control retained on the production side for Peter to have ultimate say in things.
Your personal stance on drugs, at least how it’s been presented through the media, would appear at odds with the content. How would you best sum up your present stance on marijuana use?
I personally choose not to use marijuana or drugs as a whole. It's a plant and it's beyond ridiculous that people have somehow decided making it illegal was the right thing. The end result is generally users going to jail who cause society no harm. But those are two different issues. Everyone has to make the right choices for themselves in life. I think life is great enough not to necessitate altering your mindset and I've never seen drugs lead people anywhere good in life.
That being said I don't really see marijuana as a drug. Nobody has ever died from using marijuana and more people today die of prescription drugs than drugs on the street.
And is this the motivation for optioning the book?
The motivation was simply it being an interesting story politically and personally. And with Peter living on the east coast [of Australia] not in contact with many people back in California and me knowing a lot of people in LA, I thought we could connect some dots and network a good thing together. In the recent change of mindset around marijuana in a legal sense, it seemed like the timing was right to create the interest with the right people. This can be as much an educational and travel piece as anything.
At present there are two projects evolving out of Thai Stick, Kelly and his team working on the aforementioned television series, and a seperate documentary series that's currently in production. Two projects? Yeah, the book is that good.
Peter Maguire and his co-author Mike Ritter have begun work on an episodic companion documentary. They have more than 1,000 hours of taped interviews from smugglers, DEA, CIA, Thai police, Thai smugglers, Khmer Rouge and many others.
While Maguire and Ritter were doing the Hollywood rounds they were approached by two young documentary film makers, Jeff Miller and Kevin Klauber. Miller and Klauber made "King Corn" and "20 Feet From Stardom", two docos that impressed Maguire and Ritter. The Thai Stick authors figured they were the right guys for the job. The documentaries will cover the years 1968-1983.
What stage is the documentary project up to?
Peter Maguire: Miller and Klauber have done preliminary interviews, met many of our sources and most important, earned their trust. We will start shooting soon but are securing a large enough budget to do this right once. This story is personally, very import to both Mike, myself, and our sources. Given that we began interviewing people more than 15 years ago many people who helped us greatly are now dead. We have also been touched by the many ageing surfer smugglers who have come out of the woodwork to embrace our book. One major smuggler showed up at a book signing in California. He spent 14 years in both Thai and American prisons, and although he did not want to be interviewed he came to shake our hands and tell us that he thought the book was fair and accurate. Although we respectfully disagree on the dangers of marijuana, the retired DEA agents we interviewed also thought the book was fair and concede that compared to meth and cocaine, the Thai marijuana trade looks positively innocent.
It’s a complex story. Will it document all the threads followed in the book or just the mainland smuggling operations?
There will be a great deal about South-east Asia, Bali, and North-west Australia. The original trade is Thailand to Bali to North-west Australia—a milk run compared to Thailand to California. You can’t tell this story without talking about the Vietnam War and its impact on a generation of Americans.
Marijuana legalisation is an emotional touch point in the US right now, has that effected how the story might be told?
Not at all.
What’s your thoughts on the marijuana legalisation issue?
The renewed war on pot proved to be yet another pyrrhic victory in the war on drugs. Although the US government shut down the Thai marijuana trade, what did they actually win? There was no reduction in either the supply of or the demand for marijuana; in fact, quite the opposite. By the mid-1980s, marijuana was the number one cash crop in the United States thanks to huge demand and an artificially high price. As everyone from economist Adam Smith to the Thai politicians who were pressed by the US government to crack down on pot have pointed out, political laws will always be less powerful than the economic law of supply and demand. Adam Smith was rolling in his grave; there is absolutely nothing conservative about legislating morality.
Not only did the price of this easily cultivated weed go through the roof, while law enforcement was playing cat and mouse games with non-violent pot growers, America was flooded with cocaine and its evil twin, crack.
American law enforcement is basically in the same place the US military was in Vietnam during the early 1970s. They have conceded defeat in the war on pot and they are now looking for a face-saving way out. However, there is none as it was a massive waste of time and resources. Today pot is basically legal in California and the marijuana industry is growing more quickly than even the tech sector. I have no problem with the DEA as they are foot soldiers following orders. The real problems are our spineless politicians, America is drowning in contradictions and some of the worst ones stem from the War on Drugs – whether it is the pot-smoking president who refuses to take a decisive position on legalisation, or the coke-sniffing Republican who cries “rehab” when busted.
Irrespective of the fact that today America is led by a president who was once a habitual pot smoker, his DEA head administrator refused to admit that heroin and methamphetamines were worse for a user’s health than marijuana. If a teenage, black crack dealer gets caught with a hand full of rocks, he will almost certainly do hard time in a state prison, but when banks like Wachovia are caught red handed laundering the Mexican cocaine cartel’s blood-stained millions, if not billions, as they were in 2008, they simply pay a fine – less than 3.0 percent of their annual profit. Today America has the largest prison population in the world and the nation is more drug-addled than ever. America has lost the War on Drugs. Today, by far the most drug-related deaths, more than heroin and crack combined, are a result of synthetic opiate abuse. Yet when an outspoken War on Drugs advocate like Rush Limbaugh is caught with 2000 synthetic opiate pills prescribed by four different doctors in less than six months, the contradiction is lost on America’s numb body politic.
The worst blowback effect of law enforcement’s successful efforts against marijuana is that, in places they were most successful, Hawaii and Thailand, marijuana got so expensive that users simply replaced it with far more destructive smokable methaphetamine. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, Americans consume 80 percent of the world’s opioids and 99 percent of the hydrocodone [the opiate in Vicodin].
Disclaimer: Peter Maguire's views on marijuana legalisation are his own and not necessarily shared with other people working on the project or with Swellnet.
'Thai Stick: Surfers, Scammers, and the Untold Story of the Marijuana Trade' is published by Columbia University Press. Visit the website.