A Column by John Sinclair
I’m completing my five-month residency in New Orleans working with Dave Brinks & Jimmy Cass to help establish the N.O. Institute for the Imagination, but I made a quick trip to Michigan last weekend to join MMMR publisher Ben Horner for a little series of three visits to medical marijuana sites in Flint, Ann Arbor and Detroit and to take part in the opening of the late Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead project at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD).
Since I started smoking marijuana as a student at Flint Junior College in early 1962, I’ve had a hard time separating my love of getting high and enjoying the mental health it engenders from my love of art, music and poetry. They’re all part of the same experience to me, and I wouldn’t even think of one without the other.
Visiting my home town of Flint, Michigan is always a source of intellectual and emotional thrills that I don’t get anywhere else, because this is where I grew up and began to form the idiosyncratic world-view that’s directed my life for half a century now. Between 1961 and 1964 I started getting involved with jazz, I started writing poetry and arts criticism, I started smoking weed, I started going to Detroit to hear live music, and I had my first psychedelic experience with peyote that changed my life forever.
That was in the fall of 1963 on a trip to Detroit one night to see Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers at the Minor Key coffeehouse, and it turned into a trip of quite a different type when my pal, the painter Jams McCracken, pulled out a shoebox full of peyote buds he’d sent away to Texas for in the mail, began to prepare them for our ingestion and launched me on a psychic journey from which I’ve managed somehow never to return.
Three months later I graduated from the Flint College of the University of Michigan, where I had edited the campus paper called The Word and directed the Cinema Guild. I moved to Detroit in April 1964 to go to graduate school in American Literature at Wayne State University. Soon I had a good weed connect through my friends in the jazz scene and a lot of new friends in the WSU neighborhood that seemed to radiate outward from my basement pad in the Forest Arms Apartments at 2nd & Forest.
That October I was busted by Detroit and Michigan State Police narcotics officers for selling a dime bag to a guy I knew who had been compromised by the state police and faced a mandatory minimum 20-year prison sentence as a result, so he passed it on to me. At the time I was deep in the process of organizing the Detroit Artists Workshop with a bunch of characters from the neighborhood—painters, poets, musicians, 8-mm filmmakers, and other artistic characters—and we went ahead with our planned Grand Opening on Sunday, November 1, 1964.
From that point on artistic production, cultural activism and advocating the legalization of marijuana have been my mode of life, and I’m proud not to have wavered in my commitment for nearly 50 years. Now, in my old age, I’m enjoying the ripened fruits of my activity and reaping the benefits of a lifetime of making friends, shaping and disseminating my art works, and advancing the cause of legalization to the point where we can take our medicine without police interference and look forward to full legalization in the foreseeable future.
Public opinion in the U.S.A. has finally passed the halfway mark in terms of popular support for legalization of marijuana, and mark my words, when that figure finally reaches 60% we’ll start to feel a seismic shift in the political sphere as the vote-thirsty professional politicos wrench themselves free from their decades-long embrace of criminalized weed to begin to recognize the need to bring the War On Drugs to a shuddering conclusion at last.
One of the most hopeful signs I’ve seen on this trip to the U.S.A. is the new fellowship facility at the Genesee County Compassion Club (GC3), of which I am a proud member. I visited there a year ago in April for a 420 Party and was deeply impressed with the positive nature of the operation and the human warmth of the environment created by the GC3 members and staff.
But in the past year of fear and trembling within the Michigan medical marijuana community behind the vicious attacks on our outlets by General Shuette and his legions, GC3 has intensified its remarkable program of providing the highest possible experience for its members by doubling its physical size and opening an expanded meeting area with booths, tables and chairs, and a coffee bar in the center of the room where first-class liquid refreshments may be obtained.
Along with the World Famous Cannabis Café of Portland, Oregon where I visited last year, GC3 is the closest thing to an Amsterdam coffeeshop I’ve encountered in the U.S.A. So many outlets I’ve dropped in on in the past few years have seemed to center solely on dispensing some medicine and getting the patients back out the door, with no time, space nor inclination to provide the requisite opportunity for fellowship that’s so important to the healing process.
I had a great time at the Genesee County Compassion Club not far from where I smoked my first joint in Flint over 50 years ago, but I’ve run out of space to go much further. One of many high points of my trip to Michigan was starting off my week with an editorial in the Detroit News on Monday, May 13 titled “Let’s end Michigan’s war on drugs” written by Luke Londo, a “conservative activist” student at Northern Michigan University in the U.P., in support of Rep. Jeff Irwin’s bill in the Michigan legislature to decriminalize marijuana.
I had the benefit of hearing Rep. Irwin speak at some length about his legislation when I appeared with him and my old pal, Atty. Dennis Hayes at the OM of Medicine Center in Ann Arbor following my visit to the GC3. Jeff’s hopeful of getting a hearing for a measure which would basically bring the rest of the State of Michigan up to the standard set in Ann Arbor over 40 years ago with the institution of the $5 fine for marijuana offenses.
Young Mr. Londo characterizes the War on Drugs as “an abysmal failure” that’s wasted a trillion dollars and asserts that “marijuana is safer than alcohol…a true gateway drug.” I laughed out loud when he said that “the only thing in harm’s way of a marijuana user is an unattended bag of potato chips” and smiled even wider when he claimed that 65% of “his fellow Millennials…support legalization of marijuana.”
Londo closes by pointing out that “Decriminalization is the right thing to do for Michigan. More than $325 million annually is spent fighting it, and marijuana is more accessible than ever.” That’s a good thing, and decriminalization is a fine idea, but full legalization is the only correct answer to the “marijuana problem.” FREE THE WEED!
May 17-19, 2013
© 2013 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.