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Looking Back: In 1990 Timothy Leary dropped in to Eckerd College to talk about legalizing drugs

This story appeared in the pages of the St. Petersburg Times on October 9, 1990. What follows is the text of the original story, interspersed with photos of the event taken by Times staff photographer Maurice Rivenbark.

IDEOLOGIES CLASH AT DRUG DEBATE

By Tom Zucco, Times Staff Writer

Monday night's debaters were as different as two people from the same planet can be. On the far left was Timothy Leary; on the far right, Guardian Angels founder and president Curtis Sliwa. The topic for the evening was the legalization of drugs and the audience was standing-room-only at Griffin Chapel on the Eckerd College campus.

TIMES | Maurice Rivenbark

TIMES | Maurice Rivenbark

Leary, 70, a former Harvard University psychology professor who in the 1960s led the fight for a chemically altered state of consciousness, was pro-choice on the issue. Sliwa, wearing a trademark red beret of the Guardian Angels, argued that even "soft" drugs such as marijuana should not be legalized.

Most people have only a one-sided vision of the Woodstock generation, Sliwa said. Today, as in the 1960s, inner-city poor suffer under the weight of drug addiction.

TIMES | Maurice Rivenbark

"If we legalize drugs," Sliwa said, "it will do to the inner city what alcohol did to the American Indians. It's a form of genocide. How can we sit idly by when a portion of the population is enslaved?

"We must consider the us in we," he said, "to be more important than the I in we."

TIMES | Maurice Rivenbark

From the beginning, Leary was clearly the crowd favorite, even though many of his admirers weren't even born when he coined the phrase "turn on, tune in, drop out."

Leary didn't counterattack Sliwa as much as he challenged the audience. And he noted at the outset, "It's curious to me that your college was named after a drug manufacturer."

"The real cause of neglect of the cocaine babies is the Bush administration," Leary said. "There is no prenatal care.

"The government has no business telling you, as an adult, what to do with your body or your mind. Is there anyone out there who really thinks they can look to Washington or Moscow to solve their problems?

"I'm not advocating drugs," he said. "I'm advocating T.F.Y.Q.A. _ think for yourself and question authority."

Pounding his fist on the lectern, Leary at one point turned the microphone around and faced Sliwa. "As for the suggestion that casual pot smokers should be jailed, Curtis, I got news for you. You ain't gonna do it."

TIMES | Maurice Rivenbark

TIMES | Maurice Rivenbark

Leary brought up the anti-drug commercial on TV that shows an egg in a frying pan.

"I got a fax from a friend that showed a plate with an egg, bacon and toast. It said, "This is your brain with bacon and toast.' I mean, that ad must have really p----- off the poultry industry and caused all sorts of psychological problems for kids who saw that commercial and then saw their moms cooking breakfast.

"Look," he added, "we are not going to solve the problem of drugs by saying "Just Say No.' We'll solve the problems by saying "Just Say Know.' "

To order reprints, license or download any image included above, please visit the Times image archive.

Contact Jeremy King at [email protected]

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