- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

WEED MAN
By John McCaslin
Thomas Nelson, $24.99, 300 pages
REVIEWED BY JOHN WEISMAN

Can a nice white boy from Harbour Island (a tiny Eden-like island off Eleuthera in the Bahamas), a kid who doesn’t drink or smoke or do ganja, become a top-tier kickboxer, make millions as a marijuana smuggler, go to Prince Charles’ wedding to Diana Spencer, live the good life, get busted and come out the other end a nice white boy who still lives on Harbour Island?

That’s the premise of award-winning Washington Times columnist John McCaslin’s “Weed Man,” the incredible story of a Conchy Joe (that’s how white Bahamians are known) named Jimmy Moree, aka Jimmy Divine.

The majority of the story takes place in the 1970s. Barely out of his teens, newly married and running a dive shop on Treasure Cay in the northern Bahamas, Jimmy was jogging on the beach, “rounded a point and had fun trying to jump over a large bale of what appeared to be hay. ‘I ran a bit farther along the beach and there was another bale, wrapped in burlap like the other one, with three stripes on it,’ Jimmy recalls. ‘And that’s when I said to myself, What’s hay doing in the Bahamas? So I stopped jogging and noticed that other bales were floating in with the surf. And then it hit me: This isn’t hay. This is weed.’”

Forty bales of Colombian weed, to be exact. Forty bales of high-octane Colombian rocket fuel weed, to be more exact. Jimmy immediately reported what he’d found to his friend Sarge, a Royal Bahamas Police officer whose immediate reaction (and reported straight-faced by Mr. McCaslin) was: “Do you know anybody who might want to buy it?”

It turns out that Jimmy did: a 270-pound Conchy Joe known as the Chief. The Chief, a native Bahamian, had made his name in London as the executive chef at the five-star Dorchester Hotel, then moved to Paris where he cooked at the George V Hotel. But the Chief missed his Bahamian roots. “He packed up his kitchen knives and mixing spoons,” Mr. McCaslin writes, “and, upon arriving in Nassau, launched a catering business that would in time provide its customers with more than food and beverage.”

The Chief sold Jimmy’s 40 bales (that Sarge had conveniently stored in the local police station for safekeeping). And proving that a policeman’s lot is not always an unhappy one, Sarge and Jimmy’s share of the sale came to $380,000 — almost 200 grand apiece.

Needless to say, Jimmy found that smuggling weed through the Bahamas into the United States was a lot more profitable than running a dive shop. And so he and the Chief went into business. By Christmas of 1974, Jimmy and his crew were handling freighter loads that in one instance totaled 100,000 pounds — that’s 50 TONS of marijuana at one time.

“Like somebody in the crew said one time,” Mr. McCaslin quotes Jimmy, “we were making more money than the Beatles.”

Unlike many in the drug trade, Jimmy never used any of the substances he smuggled. In fact, he was — and remains, Mr. McCaslin writes — a teetotaler. And to Jimmy, what he did may have been illegal, but it wasn’t wrong. All he did was to satisfy America’s insatiable demand for marijuana (according to Drug Enforcement Administration estimates, Americans were toking upward of 35,000 pounds of marijuana a day in the early 1970s), and use some of his illegal gains to make the lives of his friends and relatives more comfortable.

“‘And that’s what it was all about, making a difference in people’s lives,’ Jimmy says. ‘We weren’t hurting anybody; we weren’t killing anybody. Yes, we were breaking the law, but we weren’t bad people. We were just weed people.’”

In one of the few disappointments of the book, Mr. McCaslin neither follows up on this moral/ethical point with Jimmy, nor takes issue with Jimmy’s naive and self-serving rationalization. Because the fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as victimless crime. Jimmy’s efforts ultimately helped fund and develop the Colombian drug cartels as well as terrorist organizations such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

The tradecraft Jimmy used to smuggle weed was the template that was employed in the 1980s for the hemorrhage of Colombian cocaine that, to this day, continues to come north. If Jimmy and Chief were making hundreds of thousands of dollars, then the American Mafiosi involved in the drug trade and the Colombian cartels were making hundreds of millions. Indeed, the drug enforcement authorities have in the past seized sea-going containers crammed full of U.S. currency. That money buys power and influence.

Still, Jimmy’s story is fascinating. And it even has a happy ending. The Chief, addicted to cocaine, meets a bad end. Jimmy is arrested. He serves time in a federal prison, then returns to Harbour Island. Today, according to Mr. McCaslin, Jimmy does carpentry and lives with his second wife, Hannah, in a beachfront house, content to tell stories about his adventures.

John Weisman’s latest novels, “SOAR,” “Jack in the Box” and “Direct Action” are all available as Avon paperbacks. He can be reached at aresddog@gmail.com.

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