Paul’s Pot-Bust Shocker Makes Him A Jailhouse Rocker

by Harry Wasserman
Paul McCartney arrested in Japan for marijuana “I think we should decriminalize marijuana and I would like to see a really unbiased medical report on it,” said pop singer Paul McCartney after being deported from Japan for bringing almost half a pound of marijuana into Tokyo for an 11-concert Wings tour that had to be cancelled.
“I spent my time [in the Tokyo jail] making a mental list of all those drugs which are legal but dangerous. We’re all on drugs –cigarettes, whiskey and wild, wild women. Society thinks alcohol is terrific, yet it kills. Cigarettes can kill. They are worse than marijuana. It’s just not true that marijuana can kill. What about the little old ladies on Valium? Think of aspirin’s danger to the stomach.”

Sir Paul McCartney
Sir Paul McCartney
McCartney said he preferred the limited decriminalization of pot in the United States to Japan’s harsh drug laws under which he had faced up to seven years of imprisonment and a possible fine of up to $2,000.

The former Beatle’s stand on pot first surfaced in the heady days of Sgt. Pepper and the Summer of Love. McCartney helped pay for a full-page advertisement in the London Times of July 24, 1967 that called for legalization of pot possession, release of all prisoners on pot possession charges and government research into marijuana medical uses. The ad, sponsored by a group called Soma, was signed by 65 Britishers including all four Beatles, their manager Brian Epstein, author Graham Greene, psychologist R.D. Laing, 15 doctors and two members of Parliament.

McCartney used to be an active supporter of the Legalise Cannabis Campaign, the British NORML, whose current sponsors include rock star Commander Cody, actress Julie Christie, and classical guitarist John Williams.

Prior to the mishap in Japan, McCartney was busted three times for pot. He paid a $2000 fine for smuggling hashish into Sweden in 1972, was fined for pot possession in Scotland that same year and was fined $240 for growing pot on his Scottish highlands farm in 1973. His wife Linda was arrested in Los Angeles for pot possession in 1975, but the charges were dropped.

These busts had resulted in Japan denying McCartney admittance to the country on previous occasions but Japanese Immigration Bureau officials changed their minds after continual pressure from music promoters such as Udo Music, which eventually booked the Wings tour. McCartney’s arrival in Tokyo was his first visit since a Beatles tour in ’66, and Japanese police confirm that he was a marked man because of his past busts.

On January 16 McCartney was arrested by Japanese customs officials at Tokyo International Airport when they found two plastic bags in his suitcases containing 219 grams of marijuana (approximately 7.7 ounces).

“I didn’t try to hide [the pot],” says McCartney. “I had just come from America and still had the American attitude that marijuana isn’t that bad. I didn’t realise just how strict the Japanese attitude is.”

McCartney was taken in handcuffs to a government office while Japanese officials decided what action to take. There is no immediate bail in Japan. Customs officials quoted Paul’s first admission of smuggling after five hours of questioning: “I brought some hemp for my smoking.”

The next day, says Paul, “I was taken to the narcotics headquarters, handcuffed and a rope tied around me, led along like a dog.” While McCartney was interrogated for six hours, 200 fans held a vigil outside the bureau, some weeping, others screaming “Paul! Paul!” Linda and other Wings members were also questioned but not charged. Narcotics officials say McCartney was “relaxed and cooperative,” insisting to the narcs that he brought the pot into Japan for his own use.

After the interrogation, narcotics agents tried to return McCartney to jail but were forced back into the bureau by hundreds of screaming fans who blocked the way in a hysteria reminescent of early ’60s Beatlemania. Riot police were called in to restore order, and McCartney was eventually taken away.

On January 18 the Tokyo District Court permitted the public prosecutor’s office to detain McCartney for up to ten days for questioning.

“At first I thought [the jail] was barbaric,” McCartney said. “But underneath their inscrutable exterior the guards were quite warm. We joked and we had sing-songs, songs like ‘Baby Face’ and ‘Red Red Robin’. I also got a few requests for ‘Yesterday’. I would sing and they clapped. It was a bit of a laugh.”

He described a typical day in jail: “I was woken up at six in the morning, then had to sit cross legged for roll call. It was like Bridge on the River Kwai: They shouted out ’22’ (his prison number) and I had to shout back ‘Hi.’ But I did it. I wasn’t going to go against the system.”

After inspection he was given a bowl of seaweed and onion soup–“not the greatest thing in the morning if you’re used to cornflakes.” Breakfast was followed by 20 minutes of exercises. Lunch was bread and jam. In the afternoon came questioning by narcotics agents.

At night he read in his cell but lights went out at 8 pm. He said he tried to sleep on a thin mattress and admitted, “I like a soft bed. But I have no complaints. All in all I was very well treated.”

McCartney was denied a request for his guitar but was allowed to have his entourage bring him extra blankets, clothes and hot food. He made friends with two fellow prisoners, one doing time for murder and the other on a similar pot charge.

Paul’s lawyer, Lee Eastman, was flown into Tokyo to plan the defense with the help of Japanese lawyer, Tasuko Masuo. The prosecutor, Keiji Yonesawa, was discussing the case with D.W.F Warren-Knott, a first secretary of the British embassy, on January 19 when a call came in from Sen. Edward Kennedy back in the States. “Senator Kennedy said he wanted to inquire about McCartney’s case,” says Warren-Knott, “because McCartney and his rock group ‘Wings’ might be giving a concert in the U.S.” If McCartney had been convicted he could have been refused a U.S. visa under current immigration laws.

McCartney was finally released and deported on January 25. When asked why he was turned loose, McCartney balked, “Don’t ask me, ask them. They just told me I could get out.” Japanese authorities said they decided against the jail sentence because of his ignorance of their strict laws. “We always give some weight to clear signs of repentance,” one official added.

The incarceration cost McCartney the revenues from the cancelled Wing dates, plus an additional £200,000 to cover losses incurred by Udo Music, as well as £10,000 a day expenses for his lawyers and family.

This was McCartneys second deportation. The first occurred nearly 20 years ago, when he and George Harrisson were expelled from West Germany after starting a fire in a Hamburg rock club by igniting a condom.