A column by John Sinclair
I’d like to begin by thanking everyone who made my birthday so much fun this year despite the numbers that have piled up since I was born in Flint in 1941. Friends in Lansing at the warehouse and compassion center at 1200 Marquette and at Matt Abel’s Cannabis Counsel building at 2930 E. Jefferson threw me a pair of parties for which I’ll be eternally grateful, and several special characters gave me the gift of weed which is always more than welcome.
After my birthday I spent most of October on the road, traveling first to New York City where I had the time of my show business life opening for my old friend Rodriguez—we were hippies together in Detroit in the ’60s—at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and playing with my pal Carlo Ditta from New Orleans at the Cutting Room in Manhattan. Then I stopped in Lowell MA to sit in with David Amram at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, the annual festival in honor of Jack Kerouac who grew up there, and continued north to Portland, Maine for a series of dates there and in Portsmouth NH and Belfast ME with the poet Gil Helmick & Part Time Buddhas and a fine ensemble of young Portland jazz players led by the Hardy twins, Kyle on tenor saxophone and Duncan on alto.
But before I left Amsterdam last month I sat for an interview with David Duclos, Ms. Red and Martijn van der Jagt from Sensi Seeds for their website at http://sensiseeds.com and I wrote a long introduction for this first of their forthcoming series of “interviews with inspiring personalities from the world of cannabis.” The first half appeared in these pages as FREE THE WEED 31, which ended with my incarceration in July 1969 to begin a 9-1/2 to 10 year sentence in the Michigan prison system for possession of two joints back in December of 1966. As promised there, here’s the second half:
Prior to my incarceration I served two years as manager of the Detroit band called the MC-5, during which time the band was signed by Elektra Records, released its first album recorded “live” at the Grande Ballroom, became well-known in the U.S. and beyond, and are still spoken of today for their tightly structured, incredibly high-energy performances.
During this period the organizations with which I was associated, Detroit LEMAR, Trans-Love Energies and the MC-5, were relentlessly persecuted by the Detroit Narcotics Police and other local authorities for our defiance of the narcotics laws, opposition to the War in Vietnam, active support of the black liberation movement, and inflammatory concerts and performances throughout the area and, later, around the country.
In May 1968 the entire Trans-Love Energies commune—including the MC-5, the Up, the Trans-Love Light Show, the Sun underground newspaper, and the Artists Workshop Press—fled Detroit and settled in Ann Arbor, where we carried on our activities in full force without fear of brutal police retaliation.
In November 1968 the collective reconstituted itself as the White Panther Party, a radical-left, anti-racist political collective led by the MC-5 that focused completely on the cultural and political revolution of the ’60s. Upon the release of the first MC-5 album in January 1969, we began touring nationally, spreading the message of the White Panthers and introducing our program of “rock & roll, dope, & fucking in the streets” to rebellious young Americans everywhere.
After I was imprisoned and held without appeal bond in Jackson and Marquette prisons my supporters staged endless protests and rallies over the next 29 months, culminating in the ‘John Sinclair Freedom Rally’ of December 10, 1971, which filled the 14,000 seat Crisler Arena at the University of Michigan. During this combination protest rally and festival, a great collection of artists and activists including Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs, Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale, Allen Ginsberg and John Lennon & Yoko Ono pleaded for my release, and Lennon wrote a song protesting my imprisonment and calling for my freedom that he performed with Yoko Ono during the Freedom Rally.
Just before this, my legal challenge to the state’s marijuana laws entered the Michigan Supreme Court in October of 1971 and the efforts of LEMAR and the White Panther Party continued to built support for reforming the state’s narcotics laws. Largely as a result of this movement and directly in response to my brief on appeal, on December 9, 1971—the day before the Freedom Rally—the Michigan Legislature admitted that marijuana is not a narcotic and reduced the sentences for cannabis possession to one year and four years maximum for sales.
Three days after the protest, on Monday, December 13, the Supreme Court finally released me on an appeal bond and I went home to Ann Arbor. In March 1972 the Supreme Court ruled on my appeal, overturned the marijuana laws, and released me from the remainder of my sentence. Shortly afterwards some 140 state prisoners were released from their sentences as well.
The Michigan marijuana laws were ruled unconstitutional and void by the Michigan Supreme Court on March 9, 1972, but the new drug laws enacted by the Legislature three months previously would not take effect until April 1. Thus Michigan was without marijuana prohibition for about three weeks in the spring of 1972, and at the end of this glorious period the marijuana smokers of Ann Arbor gathered on the Diag of the University of Michigan for what we called a Hash Bash to express our continuing determination to defy the drug laws.
Two days later Ann Arbor city elections were held with 18-year-old citizens allowed to vote for the first time, and a radical electoral party called the Human Rights Party won two seats on the seven-member City Council. Soon the HRP proposed an ordinance that would all but legalize marijuana in Ann Arbor, limiting punishment for any marijuana offense to the payment of a $5.00 fine. There would be no more arrests beyond the issuance of a violation ticket. This ordinance was passed and a new benchmark was created in the struggle to legalize marijuana which is now—40 years later— finally approaching victory.
During 1972 and 1973 I also served on the Board of Directors of a legalization organization based in San Francisco called Amorphia, in several ways the forerunner of NORML and subsequent groups. Amorphia, led by Dr, Michael Aldrich and Blair Newman, called for “free, legal backyard marijuana” and manufactured and sold Acapulco Gold rolling papers to raise money for legalization efforts, including the first California Marijuana Initiative in 1972. I toured California that spring and summer with a young lawyer named Keith Stroup to drum up support for Proposition 19, the first citizens’ initiative of its kind.
When Keith Stroup organized the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Amorphia was foundering badly behind its efforts to create the first hemp rolling papers under the Acapulco Gold brand and passed the legalization baton on to NORML. I continued to work in Ann Arbor and, after 1975, in Detroit for full legalization and in 1977 signed on as a lobbyist for NORML in its attempt to pass a bill championed by Rep. Perry Bullard in the Michigan House of Representatives. The bill failed amid a sea of idiocy in the Legislature and I retired from activism for the next 20 years.
Since then I‘ve continued to advocate for marijuana legalization during the course of my highly active career as a poet, writer, blues & jazz performer, journalist, disc jockey, radio presenter, broadcast producer, and leader of various cultural organizations too numerous to mention here. Now I’ve seen medical marijuana legalized in Michigan and recreational use authorized in Detroit, Flint, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, and other Michigan communities, and I still look forward to the day when the police, courts, jails and prisons will have nothing at all to do with our mental activities. Free The Weed!
September 7, 2013 >
New Haven CT
October 21, 2013