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May 6, 2006 - Kitchener-Waterloo Record (CN ON)

Pot Smuggler's Story Is Movie Material

Canadian Brian O'dea Lived The High Life, Then The Low Life, Then Wrote It All Up In A Thoroughly Engaging 'Confession'

By Terry Pender

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

HIGH: CONFESSIONS OF A POT SMUGGLER, by Brian O'Dea ( Random House Canada, 358 pages, $34.95 ).

There was a time not long ago when the marijuana smuggler enjoyed top spot in the counterculture's pantheon of heroes.

They were unarmed soldiers of fortune, and romantic outlaws.

Before the rise of hydroponics, cloning and indoor grow-ops, it was up to the smugglers to meet the demand of the vast and growing markets for marijuana.

Back in the day, mule trains carried bulging packs of pot out of the mountain jungles of Colombia down trails to protected coves on the coast where sailboats waited to take on loads of herb. Or small and large planes flew to South America, landed on dirt runways, picked up loads of weed, and headed back north.

Ocean-going ships packed their holds with tonnes of dope from Southeast Asia, cruised across the Pacific Ocean and transferred the contraband to smaller boats off the West Coast, which brought it ashore.

In the late '70s, author Robert Sabbag set the stage with a book called Snowblind: A Brief Career in the Cocaine Trade.

The book quickly achieved cult status, and cemented the smuggler's reputation as counterculture hero. In 2002, he did it again with Loaded: A Misadventure in the Marijuana Trade.

Then came the movie Blow, starring Johnny Depp as the smuggler George Jung, who established the cocaine market in the U.S. in the '70s. The movie was based on Jung's memoir called Blow.

An enterprising Canadian director should do the same thing with Brian O'Dea's remarkable book about his remarkable life.

Brian O'Dea came of age in 1970s Newfoundland just as the counterculture blossomed in this country.

For decades, he smuggled marijuana into the United States, made millions of dollars, got hooked on cocaine and quit cold turkey.

Then he started helping junkies, coke addicts and alcoholics quit their habits and shake their demons.

Then he was busted by the Drug Enforcement Agency in California and did 10 years hard time on Terminal Island.

The book is a quick and engaging read. One chapter details important milestones in his life. The next chapter relates his experiences in prison.

The book makes a moving and human case for the decriminalization of drugs by detailing the stories of some of the Terminal Island inmates.

Many of the inmates are serving sentences of 10, 20, 30, 40 and even 50 years for marijuana-ecstasy-cocaine-heroin offences.

The U.S.-led war on drugs sees killers get less time than marijuana smugglers.

At one point in the book, O'Dea writes about a short exchange he had with a fellow inmate, Dean.

"How's your living area with the return of los Cubanos, Dean?"

"Noisy, but we have got a pretty good corner where I am now."

"Who's in with you?"

"Mark and Rosenburg and one other guy I don't think you know, Cummings, a murder-mutilator. He killed some buy and chopped off his hands, feet and head and put them together on a hill without a torso. They never did find the torso. Some kind of white supremacist."

"How much time did he get?"

"Six years. Manslaughter. They couldn't find the torso."

This book has as much to say about the crisis in American prisons as it does about marijuana smuggling, and both subjects make for a fascinating read.

O'Dea made international headlines when he took out a newspaper advertisement in the mid-1990s that said, in part: "Having successfully completed a 10-year sentence, incident-free, for importing 75 tons of marijuana into the United States, I am now seeking a legal and legitimate means to support myself and my family.

"Business experience: Owned and operated a successful fishing business, multi-vessel, one airplane, one island and processing facility. Simultaneously owned and operated a fleet of tractor-trailer trucks conducting business in the western United States.

"During this time I also participated in the executive level management of 120 people worldwide in a successful pot-smuggling venture with revenues in excess of $100 million."

These days, O'Dea lives in Toronto, where he works as a television and film producer.

This book is a very good read.

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