Allison Margolin's 'Just Dope': A Life in California and Cannabis

Allison Margolin, the author of "Just Dope"

Allison Margolin’s tell-all Just Dope: A Leading Attorney's Personal Journey Inside the War on Drugs follows in the considerable footsteps of Dr. Carl Hart’s memoir-style drug policy books. Like Hart, who revealed his heroin use in Drug Use for Grown Ups, Margolin cops to an affinity for cocaine and Ecstasy in her 20s.

"I was fascinated by L.A. women who used drugs and partied and lived glamorous lives," she writes. "I studied them like an anthroploogist who was a fan." 

Margolin is a lawyer like her father Bruce, who's discussed at length. She grew up in Los Angeles where Bruce made a name for himself as a drug-defense specialist and NORML chapter head. So pot was a common denominator in the house.

"In 1970, [he] was one of the most successful self-made lawyers in Hollywood," she explains. "He quickly built a criminal practise - sustained by an endless stream of people who had been caught on marijiuana possession, a felony - and found he could get his clients off becasue of a warrant issue. The money was quick and easy. Bruce bought a house, bought a car, he seemed unstoppable."

Allison smoked pot at Columbia University but that was it. By the time she graduated and was accepted at Harvard Law School, thanks to a boyfriend, Allison steered towards coke and then MDMA. Margolin describes herself as a former addict. Much of the focus of Just Dope is addiction.

Margolin: "I was fascinated by L.A. women who used drugs and partied and lived glamorous lives." 

Perhaps writing legal briefs prepared her for this sort of prose - Margolin says she always wanted to be a writer first. The story Margolin tells is compelling and she delivers it with ease. Margolin’s a natural-born non-fiction scribe. While she devotes a lot of the 208-page book to the politics of drug legalization as well as the history of prohibition, which has been told many times in numerous books, it’s her personal story that stands out.

Margolin’s Polish maternal grandmother Guta survived the Holocaust. Hearing how she made it to the U.S., against all odds, is the starting point for Margolin. Though her father has numerous children, Allison grew up an only child in Beverly Hills. Born in 1977, she’s a Hollywood girl, a celebrity gazer. River Phoenix’s overdose death outside the Viper Club in 1993 shook Allison to her core. How could someone who supposedly didn’t like or use drugs suddenly die of an OD? Margolin’s young mind wanted to know. She devotes a chapter to Phoenix, delving into his family upbringing in a religious cult, Children of God. Margolin related to Phoenix, a hippie kid with seemingly cool parents. But Bruce, despite defending the likes of Timothy Leary, wasn’t as cool as he seemed.

"He is definately self-centered in the way that a lot of New Age/Be Here Now types cite spirituality as an excuse for neglecting the people in their lives," she notes about her father. "More likely, Dad was more worried about materialism, because he thought that was his biggest issue, when in reality, he had more of a problem with how he treated others."

Six years later she too got hooked on drugs, but luckily never ended up on the sidewalk emitting her last breaths like Phoenix. Margolin acknowledges her privilege many times, especially in the “Juliet” chapter during which she recounts fighting her first husband over custody of their daughter. Allison’s marijuana smoking during pregnancy was used against her. She eventually won that battle and remarried.

The story Allison Margolin tells is compelling and she delivers it with ease. 

Margolin, known as "L.A.'s Dopest Attorney," admits to her faults in several later chapters that cover some of her more difficult  legal cases. She defended medical-marijuana clinics and dispensary collectives that skirted the law before Califiornia legalized cannabis in 2016. "The journey from drug prohibition to legalization is bound to be fraught with problems," Margolin says. "California, considered by many to be progressive, is experiencing a messy transition."

She calls the state's current regulations "ridiculous" and points to local control that permits cities to opt out and not sell cannabis as a primary example. "Any commerical area should allow a dispensary or delivery service, period," she argues. "That would eliminate a lot of issues."

If there's a silver lining to legalization, Margolin contends, it's the decline in opioid deaths in states like California where legal access to cannabis provides a relialbe alternative to pharma options. "Compared to the rest of the country, California has not been hit as hard by the opioid epidemmic," she observes. "States with legalized medical or recreational marijuana have lower rates of opiate addiction."

After quoting the 2018 figure for opioid deaths (47,000 - that figure has since climbed to over 100,000) - Margolin, ever the pot activist, reminds: "Meanwhile, there is no recorded case of anyone ever dying from a marijuana overdose."

Shrewd and sweet, Just Dope, is a terrific read. It's highly recommended.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.