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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Free the Weed 50 - by John Sinclair

 
   At the Hash Bash in Ann Arbor on April 4, I heard the crowd cheering FREE THE WEED over and over again. Speeches all afternoon on the Diag and at the Monroe Street Fair two blocks away repeatedly ended with the same exhortation. It seems to be an idea whose time has finally come.

     I’ve been saying FREE THE WEED in this space in MMMReport for 50 issues, since the magazine’s very first appearance at Hash Bash 2012. By the same token I’ve been saying it for 50 years now since we founded Detroit LEMAR (Legalize Marijuana) in 1965. I’m sure I said it at the first Hash Bash in 1972, and I’ll be saying it until the issue is finally put to rest sometime in the foreseeable future.

     Although I’ve been a marijuana legalization activist for half a century and done my part to advance the cause, I have to admit that I’m not much of a prophet. I thought this issue would be settled for smokers in Michigan back in 1977 after we had overturned the state’s marijuana laws, established the $5 fine for marijuana offenses in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and East Lansing, and acquired champions of the cause in the state legislature like Rep. Perry Bullard of Ann Arbor and Senators Coleman A. Young and Basil Brown.

     I was working as a lobbyist employed by NORML in 1977 to try to push Perry Bullard’s bill through the state legislature, but the level of opposition fueled by ignorance and superstition prevented our victory in 1977 and managed to freeze all progress on legalization for about 30 years, until the citizens’ ballot initiative in 2008 legalized medical marijuana in Michigan.
     For all these years of struggle against the marijuana laws we were primarily focused on getting the police out of our lives and making it possible to enjoy our smoking without interference from the state. Next was our concern to be able to obtain our medicinal and recreational marijuana quickly, easily, and without undue expense.

     One thing about marijuana smokers: we will always get our weed. It used to be brought in from other countries like Mexico, Jamaica and Colombia and efficiently distributed throughout America by a vast underground network of suppliers. Then Americans started growing their own, cheered on by legalization collectives like the one I was part of called Amorphia and its late-sixties slogan, “We want Free Legal Backyard Marijuana! Let It Grow!”

     The illicit cultivation and distribution of marijuana in vast quantities kept growing in step with the ever-expanding size of the illicit smoking population. Legalization of medical marijuana created a legal space for a lot of growers who now provide compassionate care for registered marijuana patients and service the medical dispensaries with their surplus.

     Here in Michigan the citizens’ initiative that legalized medical marijuana sidestepped the question of distribution and limited legal production and distribution to 12 plants per patient, to be grown oneself or obtained from a licensed caregiver who was in turn limited to five patients and a legal growing operation—including her own 12 plants—thus limited to a total of 72 plants.


      Absent any provision in the new law for the presence of dispensaries—or “compassionate care centers,” as they’ve become popularly known—licensed smokers in Michigan continue to struggle to establish legal means of securing our medicine. And despite the overwhelming public sentiment in favor of medical marijuana, the forces of the state, led by the Attorney General and the overwhelmingly Republican legislature, have done everything in their power to prevent a reasonable and logical solution to the problem.

     But legalization of recreational use of marijuana in four states of our union and the successful implementation of legal public marijuana sales in the states of Colorado and Washington has cast a new light on the issue. Presently legalization of marijuana seems to have a new life as a potential producer of substantial new tax revenues in the millions of dollars per year. There’s also a growing realization of the potential size and economic impact of the new marijuana industry where it’s become legal to grow, distribute and sell cannabis to the public.

     Since I started writing this column a week ago there’s been a flurry of marijuana stories in the press that I’ve been trying to keep up with, including front-page stories in the Detroit News and Free Press with titles like “Could pot solve our budget problems?” (Detroit Free Press, April 20).

     Two days earlier the Detroit News led with a lengthy front-page story called “Corraling Detroit’s pot shops,” reporting on the demand in certain sectors of the community for some sort of comprehensive regulatory system to control the burgeoning dispensary industry in the city.

     And these features were preceded on April 11 by a probing account in the Free Press by Bill Laitner headed “Statewide groups propose a flurry of pot proposals” and subtitled “Even the Republicans get behind petitions.”

     Suddenly the people who have persecuted the cannabis community even after legalization of medical marijuana are no longer worried about the community-based grower and caregiver and her patients. They’ve turned the telescope around at last and they’re looking out at a vast new vista of instant moola where there used to be a forbidding thicket of drug criminals and perpetrators.

     For those of us who were happy simply to escape the tarbrush of criminality, the coming developments in terms of legalization, growing, distribution and sales of marijuana are turning into something of a case of “be careful what you wish for.”

     There’s a group readying a petition drive for legalization in 2016 called the Michigan Responsibility Coalition including veteran legalization activist Tim Beck and what he calls “serious GOP leadership” which means to “set up a group of investors who would control the wholesale market for marijuana…with all the tax money going to the townships and cities.” They envision the appointment of 10 manufacturers of cannabis products that would enjoy a monopoly on production and distribution.

       
      If that’s not bad enough, there’s another group called the Michigan Cannabis Coalition, based in Pontiac and comprising “a bunch of business groups in Oakland County—some real estate guys, some investors, some agriculture guys—virtually all Republicans,” led by a guy named Matt Marsden, “now public affairs boss of the RevSix Data political consulting firm.”

     “Marsden’s group,” Laitner says, “would spur more economic growth by keeping the industry open to entrepreneurs, while letting Michiganders to grow up to four plants at home for personal use—no sales allowed, and only if their local communities approved.”

     Both of these groups want to take weed away from the people who brought it to this point and turn it over to big business and the vicious mechanisms of monopoly capitalism. Smoke that one over and see what you think.

     A third group considering a petition drive, called the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee, holds the progressive position. Based in Lansing, “the group’s goals include preserving Michigan’s medical marijuana act…[and] allow for the licensing of retail stores, called dispensaries.” Also: taxing retail sales of marijuana at 10%, and allowing growing of 12 plants at home not for sale unless a license is acquired.

     Thanks to Atty. Mark Abel, I’ve got a copy of their draft petition but I’m out of time and space to analyze it for you today. By my next column I should be able to report on the final language of the petition and what they plan to do with it.

     A final whiff of good news as I go to press: Michele Leonhart has resigned as head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. A Bush appointee who was kept on by the Obama administration as part of its idiotic persistence in keeping marijuana illegal on the federal level in every way, Leonhart refused during a 2012 hearing on Capitol Hill to say whether she believed that marijuana was less dangerous than crack cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin, saying that “all illegal drugs are bad.”

     Get out of the way, you numbskull, and we’ll sort this out for ourselves. FREE THE WEED!

© 2015 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.

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