Everyone’s seen Blow, right? You know, that film where Johnny Depp plays “Boston George” — the guy who smuggled massive quantities of cocaine from Mexico to the U.S. in the 1970s and early 1980s as a member of the infamous Medellin Cartel, responsible for over 85 percent of all the cocaine on the U.S. market — and who lived through all the insanely wild situations that eventually landed him in federal prison for almost 20 years.
I spoke with George by phone recently as he sat poolside at a hotel, riffing on all-things ganja — his perspective on the plant before he went to prison in 1994, and the inevitable legality of weed today since his release in 2014. And rather than drill him about his crazy smuggling days (which can easily be Googled or, heck, watch Blow again) I got to get a sense of who this guy really is, how two decades in prison affects one’s life, and what his take is on the state of marijuana — before he went to prison and now today. Turns out, the man behind the curtain is a witty, smart, sweet guy, with one hell of a life story.
Born to a middle-class family in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1942, George Jung began recreationally smoking marijuana at 24 years old, and always sold a portion of what he bought so he could break even. After dropping out of college and heading to sunny California in 1967, he realized the enormous profit potential represented by smuggling the cannabis he bought in California back to his native New England. In search of even greater profits, he soon expanded his operation to flying the weed in from Mexico to Cape Cod. (Yep, he flew the planes himself. Read on to hear his personal recollection of this.)
At the height of his marijuana enterprise, Jung and his cohorts were reportedly making $250,000 a month (equivalent to over $1.5 million now). It all came crashing down in 1974, when Jung was arrested in Chicago for smuggling 660 pounds (300 kg) of marijuana. He argued with the judge about the logic of sending a man to prison “for crossing an imaginary line with a bunch of plants.”
After a bit of technical difficulties, I got my tape recorder working and enjoyed an hour on the phone listening to Boston George spin some yarns — and we laughed, a lot.
LK: I’m fine with the actual interview part — it’s the damn technology that gets me.
BG: I hate the technology.
LK: I like the old days of reel-to-reel, the actual, visceral reality of seeing tape rolling by.
BG: Yeah, I want pay phones back. [laughs]
LK: So, did you hang out in the San Francisco scene at all back in the day? Did you see the Grateful Dead? What was your relationship with music all these years?
BG: Funny, just last week I was at the Cow Palace with Jerry Garcia’s daughter, Trixie.
Yeah, I hung out in the San Francisco scene a lot. I lived in Sausalito and I lived in Stinson Beach. I used to go up to Mt. Tamalpais all the time and watch the sunrise and take acid and all that stuff. [laughs]
LK: What music were you listening to? What years were these?
BG: This was in the late-’60s. I liked Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The Rolling Stones were okay, but they didn’t really turn me on. I love the blues more than I do rock and roll. John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton. I used to go to the Fillmore and see her. And I used to hang out in blues joints all the time.
LK: Did you ever see Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin?
BG: Yeah, all the time. I knew Janis and I knew Jimi. You know, it was easy to know those people when you were young and you were rich. I was 27 or 28.
LK: Was this during your pot era, or had you segued into cocaine yet?
BG: That was in my pot era. Then when I went into my cocaine era, I got to meet anybody I wanted to meet whenever I wanted to meet them.
LK: I loved the title of your book before it got made into the Blow screenplay: Grazing in the Grass Until the Snow Came. You’re a wonderful writer, by the way. I love your letter to your father when you were in jail, it was absolutely beautiful.
BG: Thank you.
LK: Have you always had a creative outlet, and do you have one today?
BG: Do I have any creative outlets? Trying to get up every morning when the sun comes up. That’s my creative outlet.
LK: Do you mind my asking how old you are today?
BG: On August the 6th I’ll be 74.
LK: Ah, you’re a Leo.
BG: Yeah, one of the Leos. Left-handed too. A real existentialist son-of-a-bitch.
LK: Oh yeah. You like to be the center of attention — and you sure were, George!
BG: Yeah, that’s true!
LK: Do you still smoke pot? Do you have a medical card?
BG: [laughs] I’m on probation! In fact, I just went to court this morning, federal court, for drinking on YouTube.
LK: Drinking on YouTube?
BG: Yeah, and the judge said, “Well, did anybody test him? He was drinking in the back of a limousine, that’s legal. What did he do wrong?” She said, “YouTube is the admissible evidence? I’m going to have to ponder this.” She said, “Was he allowed to drink anyway? You thought that he was intoxicated?”
I was allowed to drink, so, you know, I’ll beat this.
LK: Well, alcohol is legal. Actually, I just did an interview for The 420 Book with a woman who is now sober but she smokes weed. She says that pot’s not the gateway drug — alcohol is the gateway drug. She thinks that alcohol, because it’s legal, is way more lethal than all the other shit. How do you feel about that?
BG: Well, pot became illegal I think in 1934 because of William Randolph Hearst. That’s the only reason. It was because he owned all the logging industries in the Pacific Northwest, and he owned all the newspapers in the world. He also made paper bags and whatever, and it was all about economy, money. That’s why he had it made illegal because pot is a perfect crop. It’s environmentally friendly, it’ll last forever, and you can make newspapers out of it and whatever you want. That’s the reason it became illegal.
And as far as alcohol, it’s had its ups and downs in life. In the 1880s, half the country was drunk, right? And stoned. And we still became the greatest country in the world, which, you know, to think we have to outlaw drugs to keep us the supreme ruler of the universe is ludicrous. It’s a fallacy. Foolishness.
I don’t know if there’s any gateway drug. Some people are born with addictive personalities. It’s not about getting into drugs. You can do drugs, or let drugs do you. You can grow up in the wealthiest families in the world and go to Harvard and if you have an addictive personality, you can become a drug addict. That’s just the way it is. If I do go upstairs, I’ll ask god about this, okay? I’ll send you a postcard.
LK: Do you remember your very first trip flying down to Mexico for weed?
BG: Yeah, I remember that day distinctly! [laughs] I didn’t have an instrument reading, just visual flight rules from this guy who taught me how to fly. He looked at me, this old man, his name was George too, and he said, “Just remember, boy, you’re only as good as sundown.” Then, when I was flying up to Baja to make it to the dry lakebeds in 29 Palms by Palm Springs, the sun started to go down and I started to get really paranoid. You know, talking to God, like, “Just hold on for another hour!”
I was a pretty happy guy when I saw Fat Tuna standing on top of the motorhome out in the dry lakebed in the desert, waving to me.
LK: Eventually, obviously, marijuana is going to be legalized. Do you think the outlaw — the rebel — is gone? Is this the end of the outlaw?
BG: The outlaw will never be gone. I was born an outlaw. But as far as breaking the law? Like the football player who loses half a step and for 20 years they cheered him and now they start throwing beer cans at him, you know? But he doesn’t want to quit because he loves it so much. They don’t understand that he loves it, but if you lose half a step or half a punch if you’re a prizefighter, you don’t belong in the game any longer. You’re just what becomes known as an old fool. And, you know, even when you’re young you’re a fool sometimes but when you’re old, you’re a fool all the time.
Actually, all I can give out is words of wisdom to those who will listen.
LK: I had the honor and pleasure of being friends with Timothy Leary. He gave some advice when I was hanging out with him in New York when I was 23 that I’ve never forgotten. I said, “What the hell you hanging out with me for? I’m just a silly little music journalist from San Francisco. And he said, “You are intelligent.” And I said, “I am? I’m not that well-read, but I like to ask questions and explore stuff.” And he said, “Linda, intelligence is the ability to see the relationship between things.”
BG: That’s right! It’s true. I mean if you’re ever around people that are unintelligent, you know, it’s like sitting amongst rocks or frogs or whatever [laughs]. It’s one of the greatest gifts god has bestowed upon us. The question is, why did god create one or two or five percent of the population with superior intelligence, and the rest of them are all morons? My dad used to tell me 90 percent of the people in the world are morons, and the other 10 percent are in danger of being contaminated by them. And I said, “Well, what do you think I am, dad?” He said, “Well, we’re gonna see, aren’t we?
LK: I love that you had a really close relationship with your dad. From what I can gather, you had a really good papa.
BG: He was a wonderful guy.
LK: When you were doing what you were doing all those years, was your dad on your mind? Were you thinking, “Shit, sorry dad …”
BG: No! I used to go see him all the time. One time I gave him a hundred thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills and he put them in a security box in a bank nearby his house. We both had the keys. A couple months later, I was driving by and I didn’t have any money in my pocket and I thought,”I’ll go in the box and get a few thousand, what the hell, to get to the Cape.” And I went in there and there was only like five thousand left. I asked him, “What did you do with all that goddamn money?” And he said, “There are a lot of people around here that needed money and I helped them.” He said, “What the hell do you care? You make it faster than they print it.”
LK: So he kind of looked the other way? He obviously loved you very much. He didn’t necessarily approve but he didn’t tell you no, did he?
BG: Well, the marijuana thing, he just accepted it. But when I crossed over the line into the cocaine world, he looked at me and said, “I’ve lost you.” and I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I can see it in your eyes. You’re not afraid anymore.”
LK: That’s the nature of the snow beast, I reckon. Do you remember the very first time you smoked pot?
BG: Very first time I smoked pot? Of course! It was when Tuna and I went off to California. I had just left the University of Tennessee, and we ended up in Long Beach, California. I was going to attend school out there with him. We’d both just fucked up at both schools. He was going to University of Colorado and got kicked out for taking his clothes off in the girl’s sorority house. And I got kicked out for drinking at the Wild Mouse — that’s what I majored in. I had just about burned out on college. When I went to University of Southern Mississippi, I played football, I had a 3.5 grade average. But then I found Mary Beth Hottie in her Mercedes convertible and that southern belle accent, and I decided to major in that.
LK: What was your original major before the women?
BG: My original major was marketing and philosophy.
LK: Well, I think you did pretty well with that original major!
BG: Yeah, I did. Then one day it all crashed and burned. My original intention was to go into the advertising business on my own because at that time, advertising was a new baby on the block. I just knew I could do it and get big accounts and make a lot of money and be successful at it.
LK: In one of your interviews, you said that for cocaine, it was all advertised for you. You didn’t have to do any advertising. It was everywhere.
BG: Right! I had Hollywood.I had the record industry. I mean, even Johnny Carson used to joke and laugh about it every night on his show. I had everybody marketing it for me. It was incredible.
LK: You mentioned Janis Joplin. Do you have a pot story with Janis that’s a real memorable, standout moment, you know, where you’re stoned out of your mind or whatever?
BG: With Janis?
LK: Or any of them, really, Jimi, Jerry — any of those people.
BG: Well, Janis made love to everybody but the dog, you know? [laughs]
My father told me never to brag in the locker room which girl you made it with. You should keep your mouth shut.
LK: She was often referred to as a not-so-attractive woman, but I heard she was really beautiful up close and personal.
BG: Janis’s beauty was in her talent, and if she had lived she would’ve been one of the ultimate greatest divas of them all. But unfortunately, she became lost unto herself. She had a genius talent. Genius.
LK: Did you go to Woodstock?
BG: No, I didn’t like going to those places. I don’t like crowds like that. What I really liked — I don’t know if you can even believe this but — were small piano bars at jazz clubs. I used to go there and hunt for lonely women. And you knew the minute you parked the car and walked in that there was going to be one on the barstool next to the piano player. And then, the next day,as the song says, “Maggie, I wished I’d never seen your face …”
LK: Rod Stewart! So music was always an inherent part of your life in your own sort of mellow kind of way?
BG: Right. My grandmother was on the stage. She was in vaudeville, and her son was a classical musician who could play anything, from blues to jazz. He could walk a piano across a football field, one hand. It was incredible. He was Irish: Jack O’Neill. I loved him dearly, too.My mama’s brother. He drove up from New Orleans one time with two whores in his Cadillac, and pulled into my house in Cape Cod. I said, “What the hell is this?” And he said, “I left my wife.” And I said, “What are you talking about? After all these years?” She was a southern Baptist, and he looked at me and said, “Yeah? Well, I’ll tell you something: You ever lived with a fucking nun for 35 years?”
LK: Do you play an instrument?
BG: I play the piano and the harmonica.
LK: Looking back, how would you identify yourself?
BG: I was an impresario of the unorthodox.
LK: In an interview, someone asks you if you feel guilty about all the drugs you brought to all the kids. And you said, fuck that! No, I don’t feel any remorse because the evil in the world is about terrorists. That’s the evil.
BG: The evil is a country consumed with weapons. I watched it happen from the ’60s on, and now it’s total madness. Peopleare sitting in Congress and the Senate and debating whether to have only 10 rounds in a clip or a semi-automatic. That’s insane to me. You can’t have a society with 300 some-odd million people, and all of them walking around with fucking guns. That’s insane.
Basically, all these countries — I’ve been to the Middle East back in the ’60s, and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Turkey, and there was none of that going on. I mean, the hippies were going over there and buying hash and whatever. It was like a family of man. And then we started sending guns over there and filled all those countries with guns. What the hell is in somebody’s mind that wants to do that? I know that there’s trillions of dollars worth of profit in it, but it’s also insane.
We can have thousands and thousands of DEA agents running around trying to catch kids smoking a joint while people are walking into shopping malls and airports with bombs. I mean, what the hell is going on? Their priorities are crazy! I mean, would you rather have people down on the corner in the shopping mall smoking a joint, or would you rather have them with a bomb?
LK: On your escapades, you must’ve had to know how to shoot a gun to defend yourself.
BG: Well, a goddamn monkey can shoot a gun. I didn’t really have to use a gun because the person I worked for was a very serious, deadly man. Nobody really wanted to try to do anything negative to me because I was transportation. I was like United Airlines. Nobody wanted to screw with me. But, yes, of course I know how to use a gun.
Listen, I’ve been shot at, shot up and shot down and thrown off the horse so many times, I’d be embarrassed to tell you. But I’m an old, stubborn Dutchman and half Irish, and I kept getting back up on the horse and kept getting back up until the horse and I became one.
LK: You got a bullet in ya?
BG: [laughs] Yeah, I had one. It’s under my armpit, believe it or not. It went up and broke my collarbone.
I didn’t go to the doctor. I went to a Cuban pharmacy and they took it out. Then I just couldn’t drink with my left hand for about a half a year, so I learned how to drink with my right hand.
LK: Did it hurt like a son-of-a-bitch?
BG: Well, when it first happens, it’s like getting hit with a punch. It’s afterwards that hurts. It’s like a divorce. [laughs]
LK: Shifting gears here … Being around weed all those years, seeing all those crops, were you enamored by the beauty of marijuana plants?
BG: Yeah, they’re beautiful. They’re like an impressionist painting — a Monet or a Gauguin. They’re incredible. And nowadays, all these young kids at these cannabis and hemp festivals, they talk all these growing techniques and formulas, and I have no idea what the hell they’re talking about!
LK: How do you feel about the whole medical marijuana thing?
BG: It’s incredible.
LK: Have you tried topical cannabinoid-infused sprays to treat pain? I have a girlfriend who represents Xternal and Nternal.
BG: I’m not big into sprays and deodorants and aftershave and all that. When I shave, I use single-malt scotch for cologne.
LK: Though the government has been up in arms about legalizing weed, now they’re starting to realize that they can tax marijuana and they’re like, “Oh, interesting.”
BG: Well, the government is Wall Street. My nephew has big contacts with Goldman-Sachs and he tells me that they’re just waiting for this to happen, and they’ve got investment money all over the place.
LK: Funny how up in arms a little wonderful plant can get everybody.
BG: That’s true. It’s all about a little plant.
LK: Well, I guess the coca plant you could say the same thing about — but that’s a different beast.
BG: Well, it’s a good beast also, in moderation. Anything in moderation is good.
LK: Well, as Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead says, “Everything in moderation –including moderation.”
BG: Right. You have to learn the lesson and hopefully you survive it. I basically used cocaine as an energy force to be able to do what I did and be up for weeks at a time and be on top of my game. At least I thought I was [laughs].
LK: I read that you said if you had a magic wand, you might’ve done things differently.You said that marijuana was all good, but when you slipped into the cocaine world, you kind of wish maybe you hadn’t gone down that road. Is that true?
BG: It is and it isn’t. It was a destiny. I had to go down that road. I don’t have regrets about any of it, really. Even the 20 years that I did. I feel that it was part of my journey. If you try to go back … regrets are like whispers of wind in time and they’re useless. So you might as well just enjoy what you’re doing unless it’s truly evil. Let the good times roll.
LK: What’s the best thing you got from being in jail? Obviously there’s a lot of bad shit.
BG: I did a tremendous amount of writing. I wrote three books, I helped write the screenplay for Blow. Those are the best things I did.
Everything else in there is totally redundant. Not having a woman for 20 years, to take that away — and the loss of privacy? Those are two things that are the quintessence of evil and kind of tear your heart out.
Writing all the time kept me sane. And once the movie came out, I had a tremendous amount of visits and other projects to work on. The name of the game in there is to find something to do, otherwise you become lost unto the machine. It’s what I call, “Wandering the hallways of always.”
I talked to a lot of minority kids who were given 20 or 30 years for crack. Their lives were devastated. They’ve changed the law a bit and are letting some of those kids out. You don’t take some 17-year-old kid standing on a corner in a ghetto with handful of rock and give him 25 or 30 years. It’s ludicrous.
LK: What about the first-time offenders with marijuana charges who are in there for 25 years?
BG: That’s even worse. Those kids don’t know that it’s going to happen to them because they don’t know law. And when you break the law, you better damn well know the law and what the penalty is for breaking it because if you don’t, you’re a fool. I knew exactly what the law was. I had a greyhound bus full of Jewish lawyers.
Listen, the system is a machine. How do you expect them to help a bunch of kids when we drop atomic bombs on people and give out medals for it? There is no rhyme or reason to any of it. But, we are who we are, and if you play by the rules in America — and even if you don’t or you don’t get caught — it’s the greatest party on earth.
LK: What’s your next book project?
BG: I’m working on a family history that dates back to the Mongols. I’m working with my Dutch family in Amsterdam. They’re giving me a lot of research. Hopefully I can get it done before Johnny Depp shoots me out of a cannon over the mountains or something. [laughs]
LK: It’s kind of funny that you’re Dutch, being that weed and hash are such a big thing in Amsterdam. That’s your roots. It’s coursing through your veins.
BG: Well, you know, the Dutch were great pirates, too. It is all coursing through my veins! Any kind of existentialism was just flowing hot when I was young.
LK: So you consider yourself a pirate then?
LK: So when you were a kid, you had that subversive, pirate-y personality?
BG: I was always a little radical in the neighborhood. When I was younger, I drove my mother crazy. She used to chase me into the bedroom with broomsticks. Irish temper.
LK: What were you doing?
BG: Throwing the dog off the garage roof and this and that, or whatever. Climbing the highest tree — things kids do.
LK: Pushing the limits.
BG: Yeah, pushing the adolescent limits. But then I turned out to be a pretty good kid in high school. I wasn’t a problem in high school at all. I loved sports and I loved taking the girls up to lover’s lane overlooking Quincy Bay on Friday nights. It was pretty good for me as a kid.
But when Tuna and I made it out to California, that’s where we found pot. I couldn’t inhale it because I didn’t smoke cigarettes, so they made a water pipe for me. Then I found out how much weed cost and rather than getting high, I became way more interested in the monetary value of it.
LK: So you weren’t smoking bong hits every morning?
LK: So would you say you have a non-addictive personality?
BG: I was addicted to the thrill of it all, the high. I was a thrill junkie. That’s basically what I was about. But like BB King says, “The thrill is gone. Gone away for good.”
LK: Everybody that reads this magazine loves marijuana. This is your audience. What would you like to say to them?
BG: Tell them to turn on, tune in — and don’t drop out. And … don’t vote for Donald Trump! [laughs]