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Transmissions from The Timothy Leary Papers: Declaration of Independence for Dr. Timothy Leary


The topic of drug criminalization cannot be avoided when discussing the Leary Papers; specifically, the laws governing marijuana. Although Leary is most closely associated with LSD-25 and other psychotropic drugs from his work at Harvard, the International Federation of Internal Freedom, Castalia Foundation and the League for Spiritual Discovery, the drugs centered in his research were not criminalized until after his first drug-related arrest.

The root of Leary's legal troubles stemmed from his arrest in 1965 while crossing the Mexican border with marijuana in Laredo, Texas. At this time, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was on the books, penalizing the transfer and dealing of marijuana and hemp.

Leary's conviction was overturned by the US Supreme Court in 1969 when the Act was ruled unconstitutional. The court found that the Marijuana Tax Act violated the 5th amendment against self-incrimination, in Leary vs. the United States. Congress responded by passing the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, creating the currently enforced five classifications of substances based on their potential for abuse. Marijuana, fell under schedule I, along with LSD (aka acid), psilocybin (mushrooms), mescaline (peyote) and heroin.

Leary was arrested a second time in 1968 for marijuana possession after having his car searched in Laguna Beach, California. He began his sentence in 1970 at a low-security prison in San Luis Obispo. He escaped in September with the help of his wife, Rosemary (née Woodruff). This is when his life takes on even more dramatic turns. Reportedly, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love and the radical group the Weather Underground helped smuggle the Learys to Algeria, where they stayed with Eldridge Cleaver and others associated with the Black Panther Party.

Appeal for Swiss Asylum

By 1971, Leary and Rosemary left Algeria and eventually arrived in Switzerland, at which point the document, Declaration of Independence For Dr. Timothy Leary July 4, 1971: Model Statement in Defense of the Philosophers Personal Freedom was delivered to Swiss authorities on Bastille Day, July 14. Written by Allen Ginsberg and signed by other notable members of the San Francisco Bay Area Prose Poets' Phalanx, the statement outlined his legal problems and petitioned the Swiss government to grant him permanent exile on the following basis:

...That although this original conviction of Dr. Leary was overthrown by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Federal police bureaucracy in America indicated its continued hostility to his 'publicized activities' (namely, essays and speeches on drug usage theory) by trying him again for the same minor event, and by such abuse of language succeeded in having Dr. Leary sentenced to a 10-year jail term...

Whatever one's opinions, or natural or national preferences amongst intoxicants, Letters, religions, and political or ecological theory, the Bay Area Prose Poets' Phalanx hereby affirms that Dr. Leary must certainly have the right to publish his own theories... The case of Dr. Leary is outright a case of persecution of ideas and texts—the persecution of his philosophy. Though arrested for grass, he was sentenced for Philosophy. Jailed for grass, he was long prisoned for Opinion. Denied bail for grass possession, he was detained behind barbed wire for Ideological Heresy.

On July 8th, a letter was sent to PEN Club President Thomas Fleming, Committee on Censorship and Prisons and the PEN Club Executive Board with the attached declaration requesting the adoption and submission of the statement to the International PEN Club before a final decision from the Swiss authorities was reached. The literary and human rights organization, International PEN, was founded in 1921 during the First World War, with branches throughout the world including the PEN American Center. Thomas Fleming showed his support, along with Arthur Miller, International Vice President, and David Dempsey, Chairman, Writers in Prison Committee, in a cable sent July 15th, from New York to the Swiss Ministry of Justice, Zurich.

An "Asylum of Leary Committee" was headed in Switzerland with branches in the States, England and Germany. The efforts of these committees inspired individuals to write letters of support to the Swiss government. The Swiss authorities did eventually imprison Timothy Leary. He was held at the Prison du Bois-Mermet in Lausanne and held briefly in solitary confinement. He was released August 1st., Swiss National Day. [1]

Timothy Leary continued to receive support from friends and the public for his perceived legal persecution. In 1973, Leary was apprehended in Afghanistan with his partner, Joanna Harcourt-Smith, and deported back to the United States where he served three more years in prison.

[1] Greenfield, Robert. Timothy Leary: A Biography. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc, 2006. 426-7.


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Leary Archives Blog 4/17/12

This is an excellent summary of the complex events surrounding Timothy Leary's ultimately successful attempt to find asylum in Switzerland with his wife, Rosemary, following his prison escape, and the Leary's "house arrest" by Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria. The outcry from the world literary community, initiated by Allen Ginsberg, prevailed over the agenda of U.S. authorities. President Richard Nixon, who had described Leary as "the most dangerous man in America," personally sent John Mitchell, his Attorney General, to Berne to pressure the Swiss government to extradite Leary back to the U.S. The Swiss refused, citing their long tradition of granting asylum to political prisoners who were exiled because of their published writings. The Watergate Scandal soon brought down Nixon and Mitchell. G. Gordon Liddy, architect of the failed Watergate break-in who also led the raid on Millbrook in 1966, was imprisoned, and unfortunately Leary met the same fate after he was apprehended in Afghanistan.


always enlightening. every transmission makes me realize what an impact he had then, and now thank you gary

Allen Ginsberg was the first

Allen Ginsberg was the first to respond in 1994 when I wrote to a bunch of people telling them I was going to put together a Festschrift for Tim. Allen sent this document. It is one of the comical and significant events in Leary's epic life. That the homophobic and anti semitic Nixon would lose to Ginsberg's stream of consciousness is just pure poetry. I wish it were more well known that we still suffer Nixon's pain from this defeat. That crazy bastard taped his often drunken rants explaining why he wanted a marijuana policy "that would tear the ass of them." This is the Controlled Substance Act under which millions of Americans have been busted for pot that Nixon's own advisors said was safe and should not be criminalized. Nixon's rants reveal the extent he was motivated to go after the anti war movement, those followers of Leary, and defy all those gay, Jewish psychiatrists who were trying to bring down civilization: May 26, 1971, Time: 10:03 am - 11:35 am -- Oval Office Conversation: 505-4 -- Meeting with Nixon and HR 'Bob' Haldeman RN: "Now, this is one thing I want. I want a Goddamn strong statement on marijuana. Can I get that out of this sonofabitching, uh, Domestic Council?" HRH: "Sure." RN: "I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them. I see another thing in the news summary this morning about it. You know it's a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob, what is the matter with them? I suppose it's because most of them are psychiatrists, you know, there's so many, all the greatest psychiatrists are Jewish. By God we are going to hit the marijuana thing, and I want to hit it right square in the puss, I want to find a way of putting more on that. More [ unintelligible ] work with somebody else with this." HRH: "Mm hmm, yep." RN: "I want to hit it, against legalizing and all that sort of thing." I'm delighted to find this blog, being led to it today by Michael's posting of the Dock Ellis story, I spent many hours with Tim going through his archives, him scribbling all over them, telling stories. Those were great times....
It's a national disgrace that so many groups embraced the scientifically unjustified Controlled Substances Act as both rational and necessary legislation that it became a punitive "War" on drugs almost immediately. The unwinding of that catastrophe may have just started, but so many organizations with vested interests have learned to profit from the criminal markets created by Nixon's resentment that it may take decades before the damage can be stopped. Like the Holocaust, it will never be undone.

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