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John Sinclair - Free the Weed 99 - June 2019

#99 - By John Sinclair

Hi everybody, it’s nearing the end of May and still too cold for comfort, but I’m writing my 99th consecutive column for MMReport and next month I’ll celebrate number 100 in this series. That’s quite an achievement for a beat-up old man like myself, seeing that I was almost 70 years old when I started writing here in the first issue of this magazine released at Hash Bash 2011.

I’m still struggling with a plethora of physical problems in my old age but I’m making big progress and even starting to take some steps across the room without my walker holding me up, so that’s something else to be happy about as well. Shoot, I’m just happy to be alive and still kicking, and I’ll enjoy this blessed state as long as they let me.

When we started the marijuana legalization movement in Michigan more than 50 years ago, our dream was that we could get the boots of the police and courts off of our necks and put an end to their right to arrest and imprison us for getting high and getting other people high as well.

The community of marijuana users was a small one that grew person by person as we passed our joints from one friend to another and then made sure they would be able to get high when they wanted to by supplying them with portions of our own hard-come-by stash. The weed came from Mexico in relatively small amounts and found its way from user to user in a slow and organic process that became faster and larger as the years went on.

The marijuana community experienced natural organic growth as more and more people learned how great weed was and the beautiful things it did for one’s physical health and mental outlook. Marijuana use spread exponentially until millions of people were smoking it and singing its praises. Musicians were especially susceptible to its allure and found that smoking weed enhanced the creative process in amazing ways.

Our cannabis culture, predicated strictly on getting high and sharing, burgeoned throughout the sixties, culminating 50 years ago in August 1969 when half a million obviously stoned music lovers gathered in the mud at Woodstock to get high together and dig some incredible music. 

Although hippies had consistently been aware of the growth of our alternative culture year by year throughout the decade, the massive gathering of long-haired dope fiends at Woodstock was the first indication experienced by square America that something big was going on which they couldn’t understand—or, as the Bard put it, “something is happening but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?” 

The first to understand were the right-wing maniacs in the White House led by Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and Attorney General John N. Mitchell. They began the hasty erection of an impenetrable wall around the citadel of American mainstream culture by declaring a “War on Drugs” aimed at hippies and at the black community, the two seedbeds of effective opposition to the government and its ever-spreading war in Vietnam.

The War on Drugs transformed hippies from innocent seekers of truth and mental enlightenment through music, marijuana and LSD into serious criminals subject to harassment, arrest, prosecution, conviction on felony charges, and lengthy prison sentences. Every marijuana smoker was a target of local, county, state and federal narcotics police, for the simple reason that the authorities chose without any scientific basis to classify marijuana as a narcotic.

The next sector of the establishment to catch on to what was happening with the hippies was the music business, which quickly built a whole new empire on the bands and singers that had played at Woodstock and their comperes.

Within an incredibly short time the music community was transformed by the entertainment industry from a loose culturally aligned group of bands and creative artists seeking new forms for musical and emotional expression to a money-hungry constellation of recording stars reaping millions of dollars from their record contracts and radically altering the shape and content of their music to find a uniform sound more easily graspable by the masses.

Concomitantly the generation of hippies from the sixties was growing older, graduating from college, coming home from the armed forces, bearing children, getting jobs and facing the reality of making a living in America. By the mid-1970s they had been transformed into a new generation of hard-working consumers making good money but subject to drug testing in order to keep their jobs and climb the corporate ladder.

By this time the cultural movement that had arisen in the ‘60s was over and its advances and insights thrown onto the junkheap of history by the corporate media that had taken over completely from the underground newspapers and “underground” FM radio stations that had emerged as central components of our movement. 

Cultural venues were no longer intimate clubs, dance halls and ballrooms holding from a few hundred to a couple of thousand people who danced and listened to the music of bands who worked without the benefit of a hit record on the radio. Now the music was presented in large concert halls and sports arenas without a trace of intimacy or human communion, at exorbitant prices and in ugly settings with terrible audio and visual presence.

Perhaps worst of all from this writer’s perspective was the beginning of the end of the original cannabis culture we had created during the hippie period and its transmogrification into a crass commercial proposition centered on which weed was the “best” and how much money could the grower and retailer get for it.

Now with the coming of legalization the commercial proposition is maturing and getting bigger and bigger, threatening to overwhelm the surviving remnants of the classic cannabis culture like the concept of care-givers that was ensconced in the Medical Marihuana Act passed by the voters in 2008. Recently the big marijuana corporate sector has been taking out full-page ads attacking care-givers and grass-roots growers and calling their weed dirty and unhealthy.

This is some sick shit, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to get worse and worse. That’s why I keep harking back to the “good old days” of the cannabis culture and try to make sure that some of the roots of our movement continue to persist and grow, however tenuously. 

My good friend and co-conspirator Dr. Christian Greer has let me use a couple of paragraphs from a current work of his to close out this ruminative column. Christian is examining the marijuana culture and the phenomenon of cannabis legalization from the perspective of cannabis sacramentalism and says:

“Over the last half century, despite persecution by governments at every level all around the world—and there is no way to underemphasize the violence committed by the law against cannabis users—hip people developed a refined culture of street-level cannabis sacramentalism.

“In the modern era, to be certain, the repeal of cannabis prohibition on the federal level will lead to an even greater increase in the number of marijuana users, and it is not improbable that a portion of these people will assign spiritual significance to what their predecessors in the ‘60s called ‘the holy herb.’

“While the legalization movement has grown from medical to what they call ’recreational’ use, we should be clear that the phrase ‘recreational marijuana’ is a legal euphemism coined by state legislators during the prohibition era of the War on Drugs campaign. Indiscriminately imposed on a variegated ecology of ‘hip’ social customs and practices, this piece of legal jargon obscures the religious dimension of cannabis use.”

Well, amen to all that, and let’s try to cling to some of the positive modes of marijuana history despite the commercialism that surrounds us and keep up the pressure to Free The Weed!

May 19, 2019

© 2019 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.

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