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John Sinclair - Free the Weed: A Look Back - January 2020

This is a re-print of a digital archive copy of the Dec 12, 1971 New York Times article printed the day after the rally in Ann Arbor to free John Sinclair, which ultimately led to the legalization we now enjoy.

ANN ARBOR, Mich, Dec. 11 (1971)—John Sinclair, a radical poet, serving the 29th month of a nine‐and‐a‐half to 10‐year sentence for possession of marijuana, answered a telephone in prison last night and heard 15,000 young people who were protesting his imprisonment roar, “Free John, Free John.”

The call was placed by Sinclair’s wife Leni from the cavernous Crisler Hall at the Univenity of Michigan, where the young people paid $3 each to attend a night of music and speeches in support of Sinclair.

The rally was the biggest event so far in a campaign that began shortly after July 28, 1969, when Judge Robert J. Colombo of the Detroit Recorders Court sentenced Sinclair to a long prison term for giving two marijuana cigarettes to two undercover agents who had won his friendship.

John Lennon, the former Beetle, and his wife Yoko Ono, flew in from New York and appeared for 10 minutes at about 3 A.M. when the arena was filled with a cloud of marijuana smoke coming from thousands of marijuana cigarettes that were passed from person to person.

It was Mr. Lennon’s first major public appearance in the United States in two years. He performed several new numbers—one dedicated to the Attica rebellion and another to the struggle in Northern Ireland. The last number, which brought wild applause, was a song dedicated to Sinclair.

Backed up on an African drum played by Jerry Rubin, one of five defendants found guilty of crossing state lines to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Mr. Lennon and his wife sang:

Was he failed for what he done? Or representing everyone? Free John, now, if we can ?? the ditches of the Man. Let him free, lift the lid, Bring him to his wife and kid.

The concert was scheduled to end at midnight, but it broke up at 3:30 A.M. At one point, Sinclair’s wife called him in Jackson State Prison and put his 4‐year‐old daughter Sunny, on the line.

“Hi, whatcha doing?” Sunny asked during the call, which was amplified for the audience. “I’m trying to get home,” Sinclair replied. “I want to be with you.”Then, referring to the possibility of his being released, he added:

“It’s got to happen. It’s going to happen. It’s got to. I’m shaking. I don’t know what to Say.”

“What they try to do,” isolate Sinclair continued, “is to isolate us, make us feel alone. Make us think we’re all alone.” After a pause he said, “Say something to, me” and many in the audience stood and shouted, “Free John!”

Sinclair has become a symbol to many youths of what they regard as the injustices of marijuana laws. To those on the left, he has also become a symbol of the use of such laws to entrap radicals for their political beliefs.

Sinclair has been kept in isolation and under strict security during most of his prison term.

The prison authorities have maintained that it is necessary to isolate him because he has tried to win other prisoners to his ideas and has defied prison regulations.

Since September, 1970, when Sinclair was put under strict security — but not maximum security—he has been able to correspond with 10 people, his literature has been censored (he cannot read The Village Voice, for example) and he can receive five visitors three times a month for 90 minutes.

Sinclair’s wife Leni said in an interview that the isolation of her husband, a prolific writer, from other prisoners was one of the hardest things to bear until a week ago, when he was made a trusty and transferred out of strict security.

Mark Stickgold, his attorney, said in an interview that, even though Sinclair’s confinement had been relaxed, he would still press assult contending that Sinclair’s constitutionals rights were violated when the prison authorities isolated him.

The Federal court of the Eastern District in Michigan has turned down three motions by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office to dismiss the suit and has granted Sinclair a trial.

In one of the answers to the suit, Frank J. Kelly, the Attorney General, noted that it was Sinclair’s third arrest on drug charges and that he had traveled throughout the state urging young people to use marijuana.

There is also an appeal pending before the Michigan Supreme Court in which Sinclair argues that he was trapped by the police into the marijuana charge and that the sentence was too harsh.

At a hearing on the appeal last Nov. 3, two of the seven State Supreme Court justices sharply questioned the attorney representing the state on the justness of the sentence and the state law under which Sinclair was convicted, which held that possession of heroin and marijuana were both felonies.

Earlier this week, the Michigan Legislature passed a bill that reduced the penalties for possession of marijuana and other drugs. Many state legislatures throughout the country have recently passed similar bills.

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