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Welcome to the Jungle. Chapter 8, Survival of the Fastest: Weed, Speed, and the 1980s Drug Scandal that Shocked the Sports World

Welcome to the Jungle. Chapter 8, Survival of the Fastest: Weed, Speed, and the 1980s Drug Scandal that Shocked the Sports World

cannabis world news heritage history Randy Lanier standing by Cannabis leaf emblazoned sports car

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Hello, my name is Randy Lanier. I am the CEO of Freedom Grow, a non-profit 501c3 organization that helps cannabis prisoners and their families. I served 27 years of a life sentence for cannabis. I am very aware of the struggles and hardships families face every day due to prohibition. I am also a former International Sports Car Champion, Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year, and published author. If you want to know more about my journey, please watch my documentary on Netflix. It is on the “Bad Sport” series, and the second episode is titled “Need For Weed.” You can also read my recently published book titled “Survival of the Fastest.”

Freedom Grow is a grassroots organization that ‘Brings Light To Dark Cells’! We are made up of volunteers. Many of our volunteers have been to prison for cannabis or have had family members who have been impacted by prohibition. Our mission is to help cannabis prisoners find freedom while we support their sacrifices with commissary money, prison outreach, family outreach, and public education. We currently have almost 250 cannabis prisoners and 170 children on our outreach list. Through our ‘Wish Program,’ we help our loved ones with finances, reading material, ‘special wishes,’ and support. We also host an annual school drive and holiday drive.

I am requesting a call to action! For Freedom Grow to increase our support and continue showing love to the cannabis prisoners and their families, we need more sponsors! Our mission is to see that our loved ones have access to the books they want to read and commissary money to pay for phone calls and emails so they can stay in touch with their families. The average prisoner earns 12-25 cents per hour, so we believe it’s necessary to help them with funds as much as possible. This helps make the duration of their incarceration a little easier! If you would like to learn more about our organization or make a donation, please visit our website at freedomgrow.org.

cannabis world news history heritage cover of Survival of the Fastest book

Please enjoy this excerpt from my book: Chapter 8

Spring 1982

The Ursa Major was ready to go. Ben and I were amped to take our business international, to risk our necks and our freedom to bring a massive load of the finest sticky weed on the planet into South Florida. In March 1982—two months after the 24 Hours of Daytona—we took off from Miami airport on a commercial flight bound for Colombia. When the jet plane’s wheels lifted off the pavement, I felt the cold hand of destiny gripping the back of my Neck.

This was to be our first full-scale smuggling operation, using our own source we hoped to cultivate in the jungle. We were full of hope and determination. I carried a healthy bit of fear in my gut. Ben perhaps not so much. He wasn’t afraid of anything, or at least that was how he acted.

We landed in Barranquilla. We had tourist visas, and we flew into this specific airport because we didn’t want anyone to know where we were really going: Santa Marta, a port city on the Caribbean Sea. Ben had a potential source there that he had found through someone he’d term. I also had a potential source, which I had found through South Florida networking. But we really had no idea what we were getting into.

The whole marijuana scene was changing in 1982. When I’d started out bringing in loads of weed from mother ships in the Bahamas in the late ’70s, South Florida felt wide open, like there were no consequences. Sure, the Coast Guard monitored the seas. But think about it like this: I was one of countless small-time smugglers bringing in a plant that damn near everyone wanted in the 1970s. I didn’t know anybody who got long prison time for cannabis offenses. Ben did four years, the most of anyone I knew. In 1976, Jimmy Carter ran a presidential campaign promising to decriminalize weed, and he got rid of federal criminal penalties for possession under an ounce.

Everyone was smoking in the late ’70s. It even seemed to me like there were a lot of cops. But now, a few years later, in the early ’80s, times couldn’t be more different. So much cocaine was coming into South Florida. It was everywhere. Snowbanks of the stuff. Most of that coke was coming from Colombia. Cartels had formed around Medellín and Cartagena, and gangs and kingpins were rising up on the streets of Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. There was a noticeable increase in violence in Miami, and weed got lumped in with cocaine as an evil presence. Ronald Reagan’s incoming administration in 1980 made a sharp turn in federal policy concerning not only cocaine importation but also the whole drug universe, which included pot.

The way the feds saw it, and the message they were sending out into the communities, was that weed was a gateway drug. A schedule I narcotic. You smoked the stuff, and the next thing you know, you’re hooked on LSD and cocaine, howling at the moon and jumping off buildings. From my point of view, it was all bullshit. This plant heals the planet and its people in so many ways.

cannabis world news history heritage image of Randy Lanier in racing jacket, arms folded

In 1981, Reagan signed a bilateral extradition treaty with Colombia. In October 1982, not long after Ben and I flew down to Colombia, Reagan officially declared America’s War on Drugs. That meant, among other things, a war on the outlaws in Colombia, exactly where Ben and I were now headed. Meanwhile, in Colombia, Pablo Escobar was elected to Congress.

In Barranquilla, as we expected, customs detained us at the airport because we were American. There weren’t a lot of American tourists going to Colombia in 1982; it was thought of as a dangerous place because it was. The officers took Ben into one office and me into another, and as they searched my suitcase, they were talking to each other about a pair of headphones they found in my bag. I didn’t speak the language, but I got the hint. I gave them my headphones, and they let me go.

When you first step out of an airport in Colombia, you walk into a wall of heat and humidity. To get from Barranquilla to Santa Marta, Ben and I hired a driver at the airport, and we traveled for hours in a creaky old car down half-ass roads that had more potholes than pavement, roads that hugged the coastline. We’d pass nothing but jungle and a few one-room shanties for miles, then in the middle of nowhere, we saw little settlements with thatched-roof homes up on stilts. These people had nothing. They were completely impoverished.

At one point, we came up to a stop sign at this dirt road intersection in the jungle, miles from any building of any kind, and we saw this kid—he must’ve been ten years old—come out of nowhere carrying a stick with fish tied to it. He was trying to sell us fish.

“Damn, man!” I said to Ben. “Where the hell did that kid come from?”

We drove along the coast and finally made it to our hotel, Port de Galleon, right on the Caribbean, outside the city of Santa Marta. The hotel had a restaurant that resembled an antique galleon ship. The entire hotel was surrounded by a chain-link fence and patrolled by what looked like military but were, in fact, private security guards. We checked in and made some calls from the pay phone in the bar. Ben called his connection, and I called mine. No luck yet on either side.

There was a lot of waiting. The beer in the hotel bar was room temperature, and a TV in the corner showed soccer games and the news in Spanish. Ben and I had known each other by this point for over a decade, and we were used to each other, so we didn’t talk much. We had very different temperaments, like hot and cold water. I was a hippy. Ben was more gangster. He was on the phone constantly, and I could tell he was pissed off that things weren’t happening fast enough. We’d come all this way, and we weren’t sure either of our connections was going to show up.

Finally, one night, this dude appeared at the bar. He was about five foot six with stained teeth, a well-trimmed mustache, and dark chocolate–colored eyes. It was Ben’s guy. He couldn’t speak English, but Ben spoke decent Spanish—something he’d picked up from his Colombian cellmate in the joint. In between drags on a cigarette, the guy told us we were going out in the morning to look at product. We were to meet a boat at a place called El Rodadero Beach. He said he would come by to pick us up and take us there.

That night I lay awake in my hot hotel room staring up at a creaky ceiling fan. I felt like Captain Benjamin Willard in Apocalypse Now as he was about to go on his mission. Scared. A little drunk. Wondering what was in store for us. For all I knew, this Colombian was going to take us out into the jungle, rob us, and leave us for dead.

***

In the morning, we made it to El Rodadero Beach at sunrise, and these Colombians showed up with what they called a cayuca. It was a forty-foot-long canoe hacked out of a tree, with a little diesel engine MacGyver’d onto the back and a seat for a driver to steer the thing by rudder. We got in there—Ben and I and a couple of Colombians—and headed north into the ocean. The whole time, the guy in the back steered the boat with one hand while bailing water out with the other using a coffee can. The water was up over my ankles.

“Ben,” I said, “this guy ain’t bailing fast enough. We’re going to freakin’ drown out here.”

Ben didn’t say anything. He rarely showed any emotion

unless he was angry. We kept motoring, and El Rodadero Beach disappeared from behind us. The cayuca trip took about four hours. All we could see were empty beaches with huge mountains rising up behind them, all covered in jungle. The ocean water wasn’t like in Florida; it was brown and murky. By the time we arrived at our destination—a quiet cove with a little horseshoe beach set in the jungle—it was already noon, and I was worn out from the heat and the sun.

We jumped out into shallow water and pulled the cayuca up onto the beach. Nobody else was there. Then, the Colombian who’d steered the boat made a loud whistling noise, and suddenly, all these Colombians came out of the jungle with rifles and machetes. They were dressed in camouflage, like revolutionaries. Ben talked to them in Spanish, and they told us to follow them. We started hiking up a mountain. There was no trail. A Colombian in front hacked a pathway through the jungle with a machete, and I later learned that these guys didn’t want to use any pathway that somebody might find, so every time they hiked up this mountain, they had to hack a new path. The ground was wet, and my shoes were caked in mud.

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Bugs. Heat. Thirst. Unfamiliar animals shrieking.

Every now and then, we stopped, and the Colombians made that whistle sound again. Each time, more guys came out of the jungle with rifles. I realized we were being watched. We couldn’t see them, but they sure as hell could see us.

After hours of hiking, we got to a campsite. The Colombians had hacked tree branches down and built a level platform on a mountainside. Their ingenuity impressed me, that they could do that on this crazy steep pitch without any modern construction equipment. A guy brought out some raw vegetables and some pieces of chicken. I didn’t eat the chicken; this was not a place I wanted to come down with food poisoning. Again, the whistling sound, and again, more guys showed up. One of them had a burlap sack full of weed, and I was thinking, finally, we get to see some product. They gave me a knife so I could cut open the bag. I took a look. I took a sniff.

We’d heard about this weed. It was called Santa Marta Gold. It was the gooiest, gummiest, stickiest weed I’d ever seen, beautiful buds of yellow-gold flecked with silver-white crystals and small blond hairs. I motioned to them to ask if we could smoke some of it, and one of the guys produced matches and a pipe that had been whittled out of wood. I sucked that delicious smoke into my lungs and breathed dragon smoke.

“This is gooooood,” I said, inspecting a bud in my hand. “This weed is the reeeeeeaaaal deal.” I considered for a second and asked, “Where’s the rest of it?”

Turns out, they’d brought five hundred pounds of it down from the mountain, which was bagged up, ready to go. There was some confusion. The Colombians started talking to one another, and one of them kept looking at me and laughing. I asked Ben what they were saying.

“They didn’t expect us to want more than five hundred pounds,” he said.

One of the Colombians left us and headed up the mountain by himself, and we were told to wait. After about an hour, he came back and told us that it was OK; we could keep going. We started hiking again, and finally, we got to the top of the ridge. That’s when I saw it: a whole mountainside covered in cannabis, basking in the sun. It was a beautiful sight. It smelled like money. There were a dozen Colombians hanging around, and one came forward. He was the only guy that didn’t have a rifle over his shoulder. He said something in Spanish.

“What did he say?” I asked Ben.

“He wants to know how much we want.”

I moved my eyes toward that sunny ridge covered in Santa Marta Gold.

“Tell him we want all of it,” I said. “The whole goddamn Mountain.”

Excerpted from SURVIVAL OF THE FASTEST: Weed, Speed, and the 1980s Drug Scandal that Shocked the Sports World by Randy Lanier with A.J. Baime. Copyright © 2022. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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