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Smuggler’s Blues:

The Coast Guard’s Debut in the War on Drugs

P enn Shade could think of a thousand other places he’d rather be right then, over slamming through a short,

choppy sea in almost total darkness aboard a 26-foot motor surf boat from the cutter Dauntless towards a sportsfisherman.

Smuggler’s Blues: As an ensign in the Coast Guard,

but this would be his first encounter with known drug smugglers.

It was March of 1973 in the Bahamas,

and this interdiction would be the US Coast Guard’s first encounter with any drug or liquor smuggling vessel in nearly forty years— since the last.

“rum runner” had been stopped following prohibition.

As his boarding team clambered onto the Big L’s bow, Ensign Shade suddenly realized that he was scared to death.

Nevertheless, after working his way aft, he faced four men mustered in the cockpit and announced, with more confidence than he felt:

Smuggler’s Blues: “I smell marijuana and you’re all under arrest.”

This first seizure by the Coast Guard of a marijuana-laden vessel occurred more than decade after pot had become widely used in the United States.

Many Americans had experimented with LSD, heroin, peyote, and psilocybin mushrooms during the 1960s,

But the popularity of hard drugs had begun to wane by the end of the decade.

Demand for marijuana, however, skyrocketed as many new users, wary of the physical toll of hard drugs, turned instead to the weed.

By 1971 it was estimated that more than half of college students and 40% of 18-to-21-year olds nationwide had tried smoking pot.

Many Americans then, as today, felt that it should not be considered in the same category as hard drugs, or even that it should not be illegal.

Nevertheless, in response to the public’s increasing concern over rising drug use, the newly elected president,

Richard Nixon, sought to make good on a campaign promise to get tough on drugs.

A linchpin thousand other places he’d rather be right then, over slamming through a short,

Smuggler’s Blues: choppy sea in almost total darkness aboard a 26-foot motor surf boat from the cutter Dauntless towards a sportsfisherman.

As an ensign in the Coast Guard, he had completed hundreds of safety and compliance.

Boardings in the eight months since he graduated from the US Coast Guard Academy,

but this would be his first encounter with known drug smugglers.

As his boarding team clambered onto the Big L’s bow, Ensign Shade suddenly realized that he was scared to death.

Nevertheless, after working his way aft, he faced four men mustered in the cockpit and announced, with more confidence than he felt:

“I smell marijuana and you’re all under arrest.”

This first seizure by the Coast Guard of a marijuana-laden vessel occurred more than decade after pot had become widely used in the United States.

Many Americans had experimented with LSD, heroin, peyote, and psilocybin mushrooms during the 1960s,

but the popularity of hard drugs had begun to wane by the end of the decade.

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