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When Lee 'Scratch' Perry attempted to free Paul McCartney from a Japanese prison

Paul McCartney’s relationship with his preferred herb of choice, marijuana, dates back to a time when Bob Dylan introduced The Beatles to the green plant back in the 1960s, and, since then, he’s never been one to turn his nose up when a little something is being passed around. His penchant for cannabis has inadvertently landed him in more than his fair share of trouble, but none more so than when it led him to serve a short time in a Japanese prison; fortunately enough for Macca, he had Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry by his side as protection.

The incident occurred after McCartney arrived at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport with his wife, Linda, and their four children on January 16th, 1980, for what was his first visit to the city since The Beatles embarked on their immensely popular tour of 1966. While the plans had been set for a long 11-city tour with his band Wings, what actually ensued was a nine-day stint in jail as a reported half a pound of marijuana was found in McCartney’s baggage. Japan is famously strict when it comes to the use of narcotics, and McCartney had pretty much lived the last 20-years of his life as rock and roll royalty, but even his great fame and fortune wouldn’t get him off the hook on this occasion.

“I still am hazy as to how that happened but it did,” he told James Corden in 2019 about the incident. “I had some marijuana in my suitcase and I ended up in jail [for] nine days. Scary.” While the situation was undoubtedly terrifying, Macca began to lighten up to the idea somewhat. By the end of his time inside, the Beatle was sharing a communal bath with other inmates: “By the end, I was like, ‘Come on! In for a penny. I’m going in with the boys,'” he said.

“When the fellow pulled it out of the suitcase, he looked more embarrassed than me. I think he just wanted to put it back in and forget the whole thing, you know, but there it was. I didn’t try to hide it,” Paul recalled about the incident he knew he was in trouble with Performing Songwriter in 2011. “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. I made a confession on the night I was arrested and apologised for breaking Japanese law, but they still wanted to know everything. I had to go through my whole life story—school, father’s name, income, even my medal from the Queen,” Macca continued.

“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,” McCartney recalled thinking.

His old bandmate, John Lennon, made a good point on the situation even though he does hang Paul out to dry somewhat, “If he really needs weed, surely there’s enough people who can carry it for him. You’re a Beatle, boy, a Beatle. Your face is in every damn corner of the planet. How could you have been so stupid?”.

Even if Lennon wasn’t on his side, he needn’t worry, as the voice of reason, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, was in his corner helping Macca’s fight for justice. The Jamaican dub pioneer had always been a firm believer in the power of the plant, so he did what he thought was right and wrote to Tokyo’s Minister of Justice — which you can read in its beautiful entirety below.

21 JANUARY 1980

ARK OF THE COVENANT
5 CARDIFF CRESCENT DR.
KINGSTON, JAMAICA
AIR WHITE SMOKE SIGNAL
EARTH MOON BASE
JUDA ONLY LAW HOUSE
ISRAEL LIGHT HOUSE

MINISTER OF JUSTICE
1-1-1 KASUMIGASEKI
CHIYODA-KU
TOKYO, JAPAN

Dear Sirs,
I LEE PIPECOCK JACKSON PERRY would LOVE to express my concern over your consideration of one quarter kilo to be an excessive amount of herbs in the case as it pertains to master PAUL McCARTNEY.

As a creator of nature’s LOVE, light, life and all things under the creation sun, positive feelings through songs, good times and no problems. I find the Herbal powers of marijuana in its widely recognized abilities to relax, calm and generate positive feeling a must.

Herbs is his Majesty’s. All singers positive directions and liberty Irrations. Please do not consider the amount of herbs involved excessive.

Master PAUL McCARTNEY’s intentions are positive.

BABY BLUE GREEN STAR
PIPECOCK JACKSON
LEE “SCRATCH” PERRY
BANANA I PEN JA
NATURES LOVE DEFENDER

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