Photos: Flashing back to the days when Laguna Beach was an LSD mecca

Before Laguna Beach became known for multimillion-dollar houses and high-end art galleries, the city was home to a group of hippies who called themselves the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. They used LSD as a path to enlightenment and claimed to be the world’s biggest suppliers of psychedelics in the 1960s and ’70s.

Documentary filmmaker William A. Kirkley grew up in Newport Beach and heard stories of the Brotherhood from his father-in-law, who had spent time in Laguna in the ’60s. Kirkley’s interest led him on a 10-year path to make “Orange Sunshine,” a documentary that screens at the Newport Beach Film Festival this weekend and next week.

“I couldn’t believe that something that interesting happened in such a conservative place,” Kirkley said. “Laguna Beach has always had this kind of magical quality to me. With it being an artist colony, there’s something really special about it.”

The Brotherhood was a way to tell a different, more underground, story of the place.

But people weren’t so willing to open up about a history that involved selling drugs, evading police and time in prison.

“We never did any of this to get notoriety or fame,” said Carol Griggs Randall, one of those who was there to experience this time in Orange County’s history.


John Griggs was the nucleus of the Brotherhood. He was a bit of a troubled kid. His first experience with LSD came after he and his friends robbed a Hollywood movie producer at gunpoint, relieving him of his drugs.

In an interview in advance of the film’s screening, Griggs Randall and husband Mike Randall remembered their friend.

Griggs was a small guy, but a larger-than-life personality, Griggs Randall said. She was a teenager from Garden Grove when she met him and fell in love.

“Everybody loved him,” she said. “Everybody thought they were his best friend. He was that way. He was so genuine.”

LSD changed Griggs irreversibly. “Once he woke up, he realized, oh my God, all of humanity could use a shot of extra love, how to treat each other,” Griggs Randall said.

She and Griggs married young and bought a house in Fountain Valley with their already growing family. Griggs would trip with his friends and eventually Griggs Randall joined in. Through parties, dances and at the beach, Griggs and others came together, including Randall and Travis Ashbrook, who grew up in Rossmoor and also spoke with the Register about his time with the Brotherhood. They were experimenting with other drugs when they switched to LSD.

“When we started taking psychedelics, it changed the whole dynamic of everything,” Randall said. In college, he thought he’d be a businessman. Once he tried LSD, he switched to studying philosophy and religion.

As a group, they moved to Modjeska Canyon and started a church, with LSD as their sacrament. They aimed to introduce it to everyone and called themselves the Brotherhood of Eternal Love.

“Of course, that did not work out,” Kirkley said.

The Brotherhood sold hashish to fund the making of LSD. They were able to bring drugs across the country, to the East Coast, at a time when airline security was far less stringent than today.

The Brotherhood moved to Laguna Beach in 1967 to set up its acid-making operation. The members opened Mystic Arts World, a store, art gallery and gathering place on Pacific Coast Highway. They began distributing doses of acid that came in orange, giving them their signature product, Orange Sunshine.

Griggs Randall described Laguna Beach at the time as a low-key beach town. “It was a haven for whoever, odd or different, and everybody fit in there.” She paid $90 a month to rent a three-bedroom beach shack. “It was wonderful.”

The operation grew. Street-level drug dealers appeared, getting acid from Brotherhood members and claiming to be a part of the group, though they weren’t tied to its spiritual aspect.

“It just turned into something way bigger than we thought,” Ashbrook said. “We weren’t organized crime. We were unorganized crime.”

Police began focusing their attention on the Brotherhood, especially when Timothy Leary showed up. Leary, a writer and psychologist, was a vocal advocate for using LSD and a major figure in the 1960s counterculture. President Richard Nixon called him the “most dangerous man in America.”

Kirkley includes in “Orange Sunshine” an interview with Neil Purcell, the retired Laguna Beach police chief who in 1968 arrested Leary. Leary was charged with possession of marijuana, LSD and hashish. Purcell’s take on the hippie scene in Laguna at the time is decidedly different than the Brotherhood’s – in the documentary, he says that he aimed to arrest as many people as possible for illegal drug use.

In the meantime, Leary had moved in with the Brotherhood. When Leary announced he was going to run for governor of California, he brought more unwanted scrutiny to the group. Things were changing rapidly, Griggs Randall said.

But Griggs’ death in 1969 after ingesting psilocybin definitively ended the Brotherhood as it once was.

“It’s hard to explain,” Ashbrook said of Griggs. “(He was) a very dynamic guy. Lot of energy, lot of love.”

Members of the Brotherhood scattered. Arrests came later, sometimes after years of evading police and moving from place to place. Randall and Griggs Randall were living in Colorado in 1981 when Randall was arrested. He said he served five years for conspiracy to smuggle hashish and for passport fraud. Ashbrook served 11 years in prison for hashish smuggling and tax evasion.

“So much happened during that compressed little period of time,” Ashbrook said. “So much happened that it was unbelievable.”


Decades later, Kirkley heard bits of the Brotherhood story. When he decided to make his documentary, he found he needed a lot of persistence.

“When I started working on it, nobody wanted to talk to me,” Kirkley said. “It was really difficult to break into that circle.”

Kirkley interviewed street-level dealers who had associated themselves with the Brotherhood and the police who pursued the Brotherhood. After seven years, he had finished a film about drug smuggling in Laguna Beach.

It wasn’t the movie he wanted it to be. He hadn’t talked with Randall and Griggs Randall, two people at the heart of the Brotherhood. Kirkley had been in touch, but they were wary. After all, Randall said, this is also a story about illegal activity. Kirkley had to prove his sincerity.

“Finally, he said he’d be willing to completely start over,” Griggs Randall remembered. “And I said OK, now we’re talking.”

In “Orange Sunshine,” Kirkley mixes re-enactments, some filmed to look like old home movies, with present-day interviews. The end result puts more emphasis on the bonds between the founding members of the Brotherhood, and a love story, rather than the criminal enterprise.

Ashbrook, Griggs Randall and Randall are now in their early 70s. But this period of their youth set the stage for the rest of their lives, Randall said. These days, Ashbrook is a consultant for a medical marijuana company. Griggs Randall and Randall run a jewelry business in San Anselmo, near San Francisco.

“We never outgrew the ’60s,” Randall said. “If you have a spiritual awakening, you never outgrow it.”

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