“To Live Outside The Law” by Leaf Fielding
In the late 70s, “Operation Julie” was a big, big deal, however it was measured. The UK’s biggest drug bust, the most protracted drug court case, the longest drug prison sentences. It frightened drug dealers by the force of the law used against it while, paradoxically, in the longer term, enlightened them to the vast easy profits to be made. This is the story from one of the misguided altruistic hippies at the centre of the operation to flood the UK with almost limitless supplies of the mind-expanding drug, LSD.
Leaf Fielding was almost born to play a part in the drug scene that had been influencing British culture ever since “The Beatles” endorsed and the Government banned the most powerful recreational drug to cross the Atlantic. He enrolled at Reading University in 1966, just as the USA was ramping up the Vietnam War and prior to the summer of love, when youth around the world were realising their power and questioning the politics that informed their lives.
Part of the alternative lifestyle was an acceptance of drugs, there being a belief that this was one way to break the shackles of a perceived overburdening traditionalism. Along with many of his peers, Leaf was open to experiment with drugs and it was not long before his first hit of the “King of Psychedelics” and, with it, the zeal of the convert.
Descriptions of his subsequent trips are as eloquent as it is possible to be when one considers he is trying to record and explain a complex life-changing dream. With the idealistic fervour of youth, he then wanted to give everyone this holy sacrament with the intention of changing the world.
Historically, the naivety with which he and like-minded hippies went about their mission is an eye-opener in these days where the headline “Drugs” is usually mentioned along with guns. All they needed was a friendly chemist with the right ingredients and a supply network. The customers were not in short supply and the burgeoning festival scene provided the perfect shop front.
The book details the rapid expansion of the trade and uses alternating chapters to also chronicle Leaf’s free spirited roaming and subsequent decline, ending in an eight-year prison sentence. The full weight of the police – who named Operation Julie after one of the policewomen on the case – and the justice system was thrown into the fight against what was seen as a pernicious drug that was poisoning the minds of the young.
In hindsight, we can question the punitive sentences for a crime that had its “acid casualties” but has also been called a positive life-changing experience for those that admit to using it in the past. Fielding seemed to have accepted and served his time as a lesson hard-earned and that the story is retold without rancour or self-pity is a testament to his love of a world that he thought LSD would only improve.
This book is an easily read small story within a larger one and serves as an interesting historical document that poses the question: What if he had succeeded in his mission to turn on the world? Would all be chaos or peace?
To Live Outside The Law, Serpent’s Tail, Paperback, £6.99.