Dope Detective

If it gets you high, chances are that James Hall knows more about it than anyone anywhere

Ten months later Congress passed a law that essentially made roofies weapons. The Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996 mandates up to an additional twenty years in prison for anyone convicted of using Rohypnol or other knockout drugs in the commission of a violent crime. In the days before the congressional vote, Phil Diaz, former director of drug abuse prevention policy for the Bush administration and now a consultant in Miami, was working in Saskatchewan, Canada. "I remember turning on CNN, and there was Jim Hall talking about roofies," Diaz recalls. "I thought, there's Miami taking the lead again. Jim was one of the first people in the country to spot abuse of roofies among young adults back when nobody was seeing it. The feds are usually behind the curve. Just when the DEA schedules one drug, the labs make another, or people find a way to abuse a legitimate drug, so you have that problem constantly, where people are misusing drugs. It's folks like Jim and organizations like Up Front -- which are terribly underfunded -- that give us the epidemic at the front end, when we can do something about it."

At about the same time last year that U.S. Customs banned roofie importation, efforts in Tallahassee to persuade the state legislature to reclassify Rohypnol as a schedule-one drug (possession and trafficking, as with heroin, carrying the harshest possible penalties) were unsuccessful, largely owing to lobbying by its Swiss manufacturer, Hoffman-LaRoche. But Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth issued an administrative rule temporarily decreeing Rohypnol to be a schedule-one substance; this past March the lobbyists retreated and the legislature made the rule a law.

Speaking on national television and remonstrating with senators was probably not what Jim Hall's high school classmates in Silver Spring, Maryland, thought he'd wind up doing. The younger of two sons of a Methodist minister, Hall studied history at a solid Methodist school, West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, West Virginia. After receiving his B.A. in 1966, he found a job teaching social studies to seventh through twelfth graders in Frederick County, Maryland. During the summers, he took graduate courses at the University of Dayton and Indiana University. Despite his long hair, in the style of the times, Hall says he knew little about drugs. "I'd seen alcohol, of course, and I knew people were taking diet pills so they could stay up and get their term papers done." That, however, was about the extent of his familiarity with the many mind-altering possibilities in the Sixties. His introduction to the world of illegal drugs came when the school principal chose him to present a new "drug curriculum" to his students. "I remember getting the film strip out of the box and putting it on the projector, putting a record on -- it had all this psychedelic stuff. It was some of the earliest modern drug education in a period when probably more college-age students than high school students were getting involved. I guess that was kind of like the first time I realized this field existed."

In 1970, after four years of teaching, Hall left the classroom to become the national director of a college fraternity, Theta Xi, a job that took him to more than 200 campuses per year. His interest was in management, not really in social issues, but he recalls being impressed with the great changes that had occurred on college campuses during the years he'd been away and that continued while he was with the fraternity, until 1978. That year his brother persuaded him to move to the remote coal-mining country of Matewan, West Virginia, to manage three mines he was opening. After two years Hall was ready to leave the isolation of the Appalachians. He moved to Washington, D.C., about the time Ronald Reagan became president. "I wanted to go back into association management," he recalls. "I was in Washington, the association capital of the world. I was interested in getting more public policy focus, and one of the jobs that was available was working with a drug policy group."

Hall's new employer was a foundation whose staff generally favored liberalizing drug laws, he says. He wasn't especially conservative, but his co-workers were definitely more left-leaning. "I think probably they hired me," he recalls, "because they thought I would fit well with the Reagan administration in my three-piece suit."

After a year with the foundation, Hall had become quite interested in drug policy and quite disillusioned with how it worked in real life. "It was an area in which I saw great ambivalence and lack of understanding," he says. "Many people had ideas based more on ideology than reality."

That was when Hall read "Paradise Lost," a 1981 Time magazine cover story about Miami in the wake of the notorious Dadeland shootout among cocaine traffickers, an incident that revealed the spectacular extent of the drug trade in Dade and its destructive effects on life in paradise.

The soft-spoken Hall quit his job in early 1982 and took his three-piece suits to Miami. "The War on Drugs was starting, and in wartime it's best to go to the front lines," he explains. "I think my family background gave me the sense of wanting to do something about a complex issue that seemed to baffle everyone." The first time he opened the Miami Herald classified section he saw an ad seeking an executive director for the Up Front Drug Information Center. The organization, founded in 1973 by attorney Tracy Brown, was then basically a reading room in Coconut Grove. The director at the time, University of Miami anthropologist Pat Morningstar, was leaving, and Up Front's federal funding was not certain beyond one year. Hall was hired by the board of directors with a mandate "to keep the organization alive for another year." He has been able since then to maintain Up Front's principal source of funding from the state agency then called Health and Rehabilitative Services (now the Department of Children and Families) and to supplement that with contracts for writing reports and manuals and holding classes and workshops.

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