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John Sinclair

The hardest working poet in the industry

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Friday, 01 April 2016 17:30
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A Column by John Sinclair

Highest greetings from Chicago, on my way by train from New Orleans to Grand Rapids for the 11th Michigan Medical Marijuana Conference, and then on to Detroit for a special occasion next week when the Kresge Foundation honors my ex-wife and mother of my children, the great photographer Leni Sinclair, as Detroit’s Eminent Artist of 2016.

This is quite an honor as she joins other old friends of mine, the poet and playwright Bill Harris and the late trumpet great Marcus Belgrave, in this select pantheon of eminent creative artists of Detroit. Leni’s photographic contributions to the cultural history of Detroit date back more than 50 years to the creation of the Detroit Artists Workshop, where we collaborated with Bill Harris and other poets like Robin Eichele, George Tysh, and James Semark, musicians Charles Moore, Ron English and Danny Spencer, painters Ellen Phelan, Howard Weingarden, and Larry Weiner, and a host of creative individuals to establish our own place in the heart of the city and develop an audience for our work in art.

Leni Sinclair was a committed artist from the beginning, a cultural and political activist, the backbone of the Artists Workshop Press and a pioneer in the marijuana legalization movement from the founding of Detroit LEMAR early in 1965. She and my dearly departed brother David Sinclair spearheaded the long effort to free me from prison on my 9-1/2-to-10-year sentence for feloniously possessing two joints of weed in December 1966. She also served on the Central Committee of the White Panther Party and the Rainbow Peoples Party in Ann Arbor and was an organizer of the first Hash Bash in 1972.

Leni and I were married in 1965 and gave life to our daughter Sunny in 1967 and Celia in 1970 before we separated as a couple in 1977. We continued to do work together and collaborated on raising our children and, since 2001, our granddaughter Beyonce. Leni’s photography is recognized all over the world and was recently featured in exhibits at the College for Creative Studies, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, and the Scarab Club, as well as exhibitions in London, Rotterdam, and Lille, France.

Now I’m writing again from Detroit on the day after Leni’s award ceremony—and, oh yeah, after she received the $50,000 stipend in the form of a check from the Kresge Foundation. That was a beautiful thing!

Before that came a weekend in Grand Rapids with Ben Horner and the cast of characters from this magazine, who combined to produce a fun-filled and very successful conference at the Orbit Room filled with people from Grand Rapids and all over western Michigan.

But this week I’m looking forward to the Hash Bash in Ann Arbor, where this magazine will be passed out for the sixth consecutive year and I’ll be celebrating with the hordes of tokers at the formal ceremonies on the Diag and following at the Monroe Street Fair. This is our 61st issue, beginning the 6th year of publication for Michigan Medical Marijuana Report, and as for the Cannabis Cup, this will be number 45!

I’m also scrutinizing the minions of law and order in the City of Detroit as they attempt to corral and close down scores of marijuana dispensaries that have sprung up in an entirely unregulated atmosphere since Detroit legalized medical marijuana in 2005 and further legalized marijuana use of all kinds in 2012. Both measures were passed by citizens’ initiative with mire than 60% approval by the voters, making crystal clear the position of Detroit residents on marijuana: we want some!

A responsible city council would have responded at once to the wishes of the people back in 2006 and drafted regulatory measures after the law was passed so that proper marijuana dispensaries could be opened and operated under a sensible licensing scheme. When the city legalized marijuana by initiative four years ago, the need for a rational regulatory system became even more pronounced.

But the city council turned its back on the citizen smokers and ignored the situation until police pressure and frenzied agitation by special interest groups, many religion-based, spurred them to take action against the dispensaries, which the city now estimated at 211. Each of these new city-based businesses was opened in an unrestrained atmosphere devoid of rules and regulations governing such establishments, and one would suppose that they have thrived in this environment because more and more facilities continue to open their doors to the smoking public.

In the first place, one would assume that a financially bankrupt and physically ruined city like Detroit would be happy to have over 200 new businesses of whatever sort. But above and beyond the potential tax and licensing revenues generated by this activity, give a moment’s thought to the idea of the city actually growing, harvesting and distributing tons of marijuana to the dispensaries and whatever other outlets may evolve.

The City of Detroit owns thousands of acres of empty land suitable for growing crops like marijuana, augmented by hundreds of vacant buildings equally suitable to growing massive amounts of weed—abandoned schools, fire stations, police installations and the like. Say the City were to embrace marijuana production and sales to its citizen smokers as a possible source of enormous municipal revenues.

This is not a pipe dream but something that could actually happen with a little civic foresight and a basic commitment to common-sense solutions to societal problems. But if this eventuality were ever to be realized, the kind of idiotic, non-scientific, superstition-laden system of beliefs which underpins our marijuana laws would have to be thrown out in its entirety and a completely new approach to marijuana use and availability would have to be adapted without reservation.

I hate to sound like a broken record, to use a popular metaphor from the glorious days of 78 rpm singles and vinyl albums, but what’s wrong with this whole insane system is that there’s nothing wrong with marijuana! It’s good for us. It deals with many of our medical problems in a very pleasant and effective way, and to top it off, weed gets us as high as we need to be to deal with the sick social order we inhabit.

At times like this it feels like I’m preaching to the choir, but it’s time for all the believers to unite behind this simple truth and keep pushing until we remove the police and courts and religious orders from our lives as marijuana smokers and FREE THE WEED once and for all.

One last note: I was a little more than optimistic when I reported last month on the proposed changes in the municipal marijuana laws in New Orleans. The idea was to remove the smoker from the arrest and/or ticketing procedure so popular in law enforcement circles. But in the end the police prevailed and will retain the right to arrest and prosecute marijuana smokers at will.

Remember, it’s not the size of the fine nor the extent of the punishment but the fact that the police can stop us and harass us and search us and seize our stash and run us in and subject us to criminal charges and ruin our lives from that point on.

Have a happy Hash Bash and let’s put legalization on the ballot and pass a new law this year! FREE THE WEED!

—Chicago > Grand Rapids > Detroit

March 17-24, 2016

© 2016 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.