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John Sinclair

The hardest working poet in the industry

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A Column by John Sinclair


Highest greetings from the Orbit Room in Grand Rapids, where I’m attending the 13th Medical Marijuana Conference sponsored by the MMM Report, and welcome to the great state of Michigan, where the state legislature and the governor have just made the first positive step toward legalizing marijuana since it was declassified as a narcotic on April 1, 1972.

The best part of the new law amended the citizen-mandated Michigan Medical Marihuana Act of 2008 to allow for the manufacture and use of marijuana-infused products by qualified patients.

Then there’s the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act “to license and regulate the growth, processing, transport and provisioning of medical marijuana,” which is indeed a mixed blessing as we will see.

Finally, they’ve constructed the evil Marihuana Tracking Act and a seed-to-sale tracking system to track all medical marijuana from seed source to smoker, which extends and gives new life to the massive police bureaucracy dedicated to making life hell for marijuana producers and smokers of every persuasion.

In fact, this new law has been carefully designed not only to extend police powers with respect to medical marijuana patients, but also to multiply and provide funding for the expanded police presence in the medical marijuana community.

It’s a new thing for the government of Michigan to take any action on marijuana that could be construed as positive, but it’s not as if they’ve moved out of increased intelligence, knowledge or compassion but instead to head off further citizen initiatives that would take more power out of the hands of the law enforcement interests.

Quite frankly, this result is the exact opposite of what the citizens meant when we voted for the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act in 2008. What we want is for the police to be completely removed from playing any role in the world of marijuana. The police have no business with marijuana beyond harassing and persecuting smokers and producers of the weed.

I know I say this all the time, but the truth is that there’s nothing wrong with marijuana whatsoever. Marijuana is a benevolent herb, a naturally-occurring plant that has incredible healing powers and is good for the mind and spirit as well.

What people do with marijuana is of no concern to the forces of law and order. No one needs to be protected from marijuana. An arrest for marijuana use, possession or production can never be justified. I’m not opposed to regulations regarding the growing, distribution or sales of marijuana, but arrests and prosecution for marijuana “offenses” have no place in our society.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me outline my own experience with the Michigan marijuana laws. I first heard about marijuana in 1957 when I read a book called On The Road by Jack Kerouac. I wanted some at once, but there wasn’t any way to get any where I was until several years later, when a friend in Flint turned me on early in 1962. I’ve been a daily smoker ever since.

I moved to Detroit in 1964 to attend graduate school at Wayne State University as a budding poet and music journalist with a passion for contemporary jazz and poetry. I met a lot of fellow poets, musicians and creative artists and most of us smoked weed together.

From my constant presence at jazz clubs in Detroit, I got to know the guys who had the weed and I could purchase enough to take care of my personal needs and those of my friends who got high. This was essentially an act of compassion, but when the police caught up with me I was charged with Violation of State Narcotics Laws and taken to court to face a sentence of a minimum-mandatory 20 years in prison with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for selling $10 worth of weed to an undercover State Police agent.

Faced with this draconian punishment, I pled guilty to possession of the weed and received a sentence of two years’ probation. This was enough to convince me to stop selling small amounts of weed to my friends but not enough to make me quit smoking it. But I was outraged by the official claim that marijuana was a narcotic and, inspired by my friends Ed Sanders and Allen Ginsberg in New York City, I started a group called Detroit LEMAR to try to begin to correct this injustice by legalizing marijuana.

This changed my status with the Detroit narcotics police from user and former small-time dealer to a perceived major threat to their continued dominance of the marijuana community and, to make a long story short, I was targeted for persecution and solicited by undercover agents.

First I was persuaded to obtain a small amount of weed from a friend of mine and arrested again on the Sales of Narcotics charge. I wanted to mount a challenge to the constitutionality of the law, since marijuana was patently not a narcotic, but my lawyer persuaded me to cop another plea in the face of the mandatory 20-year minimum sentence upon conviction, and I was sent to the Detroit House of Correction for six months.

During this entire period I was functioning as a cultural activist at the Detroit Artists Workshop and somewhat of a minor public figure in the local arts community. Upon my release from DeHoCo I was targeted again by the Detroit Narcotics Bureau and convinced by an undercover policewoman to give her two joints just before Christmas of 1966. I was arrested and charged again with Violation of State Narcotics Laws—Sales to face the mandatory minimum 20-year sentence for the third time.

For this ordeal I was blessed with the legal representative if attorneys Sheldon Otis and Justin “Chuck” Ravitz and together we successfully challenged the constitutionality of Michigan’s marijuana laws, eventually proving before the Michigan Supreme Court that marijuana was not a narcotic and that a 10-year sentence for possessing marijuana was cruel and unusual punishment.

But this process ate up five years of my life, the last 29 months of which were spent in maximum security Michigan prisons without appeal bond while I waited for the Supreme Court to hear and decide my case.

For me, a poet, writer, cultural and political activist who liked to get high, every minute of this sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment, and not one minute of it was warranted. Marijuana had been wrongly defined as a criminal substance. I had done nothing wrong to anyone by using marijuana, and I was doing the copper woman a favor by giving her the two joints. Further, I was entrapped into making this transaction in violation of the law, and I was given a sentence longer and more strenuous than those customarily received by robbers and killers.

It was 45 years ago when I was released from prison and discharged from my 9-1/2 to 10-year marijuana sentence, but the police have continued to run amok for all those years, arresting and imprisoning thousands upon thousands of innocent marijuana smokers year after year after year.

Now I’ve preached for too long to finish my presentation about the new marijuana laws, so I’ll have to continue with that next month. But you see why I’m opposed to the police being part of the marijuana world where they have no business whatsoever, always have been and always will be.

Free The Weed!


—Grand Rapids

September 25, 2016

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