Highest greetings from the Motor City, where I’m continuing to recover from the physical issues that plagued me all last year and are now beginning to recede somewhat as I get ready to travel south to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras this coming month—no better healing atmosphere to be had in these States.
I’m talking about February, but as I write this it’s the 24th of January, a momentous date for me because that’s the day my serious troubles with the law started when I was arrested in 1967 and charged with dispensing marijuana to a police agent 33 days previously: To wit, on the 21st of December, 1966 I had given two marijuana cigarettes to an undercover policewoman attached to the Detroit Narcotics Squad.
I know it’s hard to understand, but marijuana was labeled a narcotic under the state drug laws—actually, much as it is still classified by the federal government today, over 50 years later!—and marijuana offenders were formally charged with V.S.N.L.: Violation of State Narcotics Laws. The penalties provided by these laws were a maximum of 10 years in prison for possession of marijuana and a minimum mandatory sentence of 20 years with a maximum of life imprisonment for selling, distributing, or giving away marijuana.
My first marijuana arrest was in the fall of 1964 for selling a dime bag of weed to an undercover State Police officer. I was a graduate student in American Literature at Wayne State University and was allowed to plead guilty to possession, the sales charge was dropped, and I was sentenced to a modest fine and two years’ probation.
The next year I was the victim of an elaborate set-up by the Detroit Narcotics Bureau when I was convinced to obtain a dime bag of weed from a friend of mine for a guy who turned out to be an undercover policeman. He drove me to my friend’s house, paid for the weed, and then had me arrested on a sales of narcotics charge.
By this time I was not only a confirmed marijuana smoker and former weed dealer but also a budding marijuana legalization activist—the first in the state of Michigan. With the help of my parents I engaged an attorney not only to defend me on this trumped-up charge but also to challenge the constitutionality of the Michigan marijuana laws.
Since I was charged with sales of narcotics I was facing a mandatory-minimum 20-year prison sentence if convicted of copping the dime bag for the undercover cop. After thoroughly studying the issue—then a new concept—my attorney let me know that we couldn’t possibly go up against the law itself because of the terrible consequences of a loss in the courtroom. He confessed that he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if we lost the case and I was sent to prison for more than 20 years.
So once again I pled guilty to a reduced charge of possession of narcotics, the sales charge was dropped, and I was sentenced to another three years’ probation—with the first six months to be spent incarcerated at the Detroit House of Correction. I did my time between February 24 and August 5, 1966, a period during which very few citizens of any sort were locked up for marijuana possession.
In fact, at the time the concept of an alternate way of life in America was just beginning to surface in different parts of the country, emanating from San Francisco and the West Coast and based in music, marijuana, non-conformity, and the idea of sharing. This was a beautiful thing, but it was just beginning to catch on, and the authorities were determined to do everything they could to stamp it out before it could take hold in he general populace.
As Richard Nixon’s former policy aide John Ehrlichman confessed to Harper’s magazine in 2016, "We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
While I was a prisoner at DeHoCo I seriously considered the idea of rejecting marijuana and the legal nightmares it had brought into my life as a poet, alternative journalist and community arts organizer. I spent five months and 18 days without a single toke and I thought I could live like this if I had to in order to escape being locked up again.
But when I was released in August 1966 I was welcomed back into my neighborhood west of the WSU campus with a big party at the Detroit Artists Workshop called The Festival of People. Everyone was smoking weed, and the idea of doing without was absurd.
Two months later the Grande Ballroom opened with the MC-5 as its house band, I became close friends with the band’s lead singer, Rob Tyner, and the Grande’s poster artist, Gary Grimshaw, and with some other friends we began scheming up an organization called Trans-Love Energies, a hippie music and arts collective which first emerged as something called The 1967 Steering committee.
From this point legalization of marijuana became an important focal point of our activities simply because marijuana smoking was such an essential part of our lives. At the time, there weren’t so many people like the readers of this publication: our numbers were very small, but constantly growing. Very few people exposed to the practice of marijuana smoking were not immediately attracted to its wondrous rewards, and the community of pot smokers expanded with each joint passed from one hippie to another.
As the nation of dope smokers grew, the government’s commitment to the War on Drugs intensified commensurately. The lies got bigger and bigger, more and more smokers were arrested and jailed, assets were seized, freedoms were forfeited, and the repression barreled on out of control until 1996 when the first medical marijuana legalization was voted into being in California.
Utilizing the popular “domino theory” against the people who conceived it, the marijuana legalization forces have gradually overcome the barrage of lies and idiocy concerning marijuana and have won over more than a majority of the population to the concept of freeing the weed. Here in Michigan, 51 years after the “lightning campus dope raid” on the WSU campus that netted 56 violators on January 24, 1967—of which only this writer was ever convicted and sent to prison on these charges—a large majority of voters are ready to legalize weed in November once and for all.
After a lifetime of struggle against these liars, bullies, violent conmen and thugs posing as the American law enforcement community, I’m delighted finally to be on the verge of victory in the War on Drugs, and I look forward to 2018 being one of the best years ever. Free The Weed!
January 24-25, 2018
© 2018 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved