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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

It May Be Illegal But Is It Wrong?

Swim Together, acrylic, resin, paper, wax, tape and ink on canvas with original poetry, 40"x30", 2005, Stuart Sheldon

If you found 20-pounds of pot floating in the sea, what would you do? 

My stocky dad and his lanky boat partner, Dan, didn’t think a boat of just 21-feet warranted a name, but unofficially ours was the Thick and Thin, a tip of the visor to a friendship that began in kindergarten and still endures 75 years laterI grew up on that modest dive boat, communing with tropical fish, my freckly face pressed into a little yellow mask.

One summer day, when I was 12, we three sped home across Biscayne Bay after a typically exhilarating day amidst parrotfish and barracuda and brain coral. Suddenly, what appeared to be a large crate bobbed in the distance. As we pulled up alongside the jetsam*, my dad insisted on bringing it aboard.

We’d caught ourselves a “square grouper.” 

This was the mid-70s, when I knew nothing of drugs but that they were bad. I’d not yet discovered that a large portion America’s contraband came through my backyard.

Once on deck, the burlap-encased bale appeared to be water tight, wrapped by pros in some god-forsaken, machine-gun protected place, I imagine. I watched, mesmerized and confused, a buck-toothed by-stander, skinny as an eel and clad in a only a bathing suit. The mere idea of 20 pounds of marijuana floating like seaweed (no pun intended) shocked my wet-behind-the-ears, middle-class sensibility. My shock increased as my dad and his Harvard-trained lawyer partner had this conversation:

“We need to call the police,” said Dan, his voice deep, his patrician eyes stern. “Wait a minute … Let’s think about this,” said my shirtless father, tan fingers raking his dark curls repeatedly. “What is there to think about, Art?” Dan barked. “Let’s just get to shore and review our options.” “Options?” “I’m just saying this would make some mighty fine Christmas gifts,” my dad said, as he hit the throttle and pointed the boat home.

My prepubescent moral compass told me we either had to dump this overboard or call the police. STAT.

Yet, my dad, who did not smoke pot at the time (he dabbled a bit later on), had some very dear friends who did. And, in his ever-generous approach to those he loved, he wanted to do them a solid.

As we planed off, I stared straight off the bow into the distance, the green mangrove coastline punctuated by an occasional high-rise. These waters were my domain, my protectorate. Now, an intruding force had infiltrated my sanctuary. The wind whipped my eyes as we sped toward a profound decision.

“Dad, you have to turn it in,” I said, walking back to join him at the helm. “Maybe,” he said, his stubbled jaw set.

Were we to be drug smugglers now? What if the marine police boarded our boat for a routine inspection?

As I hosed down the dive gear back at the dock, Dan and my dad placed the bale onto the grass beside our slip. The cops were called. And irony of ironies, they shook down Dan pretty hard, as if he was anything but the good citizen this act proved him to be. “Where is the rest of it?” they kept asking him.

Treasure or Treachery? This is NOT my father. image courtesy of

Treasure or Treachery? And, no this is NOT my father. image courtesy of

I was much relieved by my father’s choice. But here’s the rub. Then, as now, federal law deemed pot evil. But federal law once deemed slavery good.

Law is not always truth. And law is not always right.

Laws are contextual and can be dangerous when employed inappropriately. As I’ve aged, I’ve come to realize that my dad’s thought process was not as unreasonable as it appeared to my young mind. In fact, today’s national trend toward legalization bears out his naive intuition. He simply wanted to help his buddies enjoy their private time, save money and avoid interaction with drug dealers. That was genuinely kind of him. That said, no matter how selfless his intentions, getting caught with 20-lbs of dope would have altered the course of his life forever. “Oh, you were trying to help your pot-smoking pals with their private stashes … in that case, case dismissed,” the judge would surely have said to him. Ha! He’d probably just be getting out of jail now.

My dad has always impressed me with his gut sense of right and wrong. I respect the fact that he gave this particular situation a good thinking over … and then did what was reasonable.

Hopefully, his friends enjoyed the neckties they got for holiday gifts.

*Flotsam is floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo. Jetsam is part of a ship, its equipment, or its cargo that is purposefully cast overboard or jettisoned to lighten the load in time of distress and that sinks or is washed ashore. That’s one of those things one can live a lifetime without ever learning. You’re welcome.

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