I'm crossing the English Channel on the Stena Line steamship as I write this, moving on from London to Amsterdam for the next 10 days, and then on to Italy. It was a rough April in the Motor City with one cold, gray day after another and the Tigers foundering until I left, but London was bright and sunny almost every day, and the weather should just get better from here.
England is a rough place to cop good medicine, and marijuana is considered illegal in every application — not at all what you'd call smoker-friendly. I ventured outside the city one day to visit my religious leader, the Rev. Ferre (as we'll call him) of the THC Ministry, and he made sure my medicinal needs were well taken care of.
In fact, I just sneaked my last smoke from that stash in my little cabin on the ship so I could write this column, and soon after I arrive at the Hook of Holland in the morning I'll be back at my regular stand at the 420 Café in Amsterdam, where you can always buy your weed over the counter whether you're sick or well and the price is always the same.
The THC Ministry is based in Holland and operates under the slogan, "We use cannabis religiously — and so can you!" I'm proud to be a member of the ministry, and it takes me back before the advent of socialized medicinal marijuana, when we thought perhaps the solution was to highlight the spiritual and indeed religious aspects of the sacrament as a way to escape the heavy hand of the narcotics police.
The brilliant hallucinogen called peyote had been established as a religious sacrament used for spiritual purposes by several Southwestern Native American nations, and many beatniks, hippies and fellow seekers had gained experiential knowledge of its potency as a spiritual force.
Many of us felt the same way about marijuana: that its spiritual properties and potentialities qualified weed as a religious sacrament for ritual use and equally beneficial in navigating the vicissitudes of daily life as well, much as prayer itself seems to work for the Christians and other faithful. Our daily marijuana use went well beyond the concept of recreational drugs — it was integral to our work and play in equal measure, and helped us keep our minds to the mental grindstone at all times.
Eventually, we sought to register an entirely different definition of marijuana from the orthodoxy enshrined and promoted by the forces of law and order. Not only were marijuana and associated psychedelic or euphoriant substances neither narcotics nor "dangerous drugs," they were in fact benevolent and had manifestly evident healing powers and could serve to help bring their adherents into alignment and closer harmony with the natural forces of the universe.
I can't remember exactly when, but at some point in 1969-1972 we formed the First Zenta Church of Ann Arbor, a nonprofit ecclesiastical corporation chartered by the state of Michigan that held marijuana, hashish, peyote, psilocybin and other psychoactive natural substances as sacraments central to the church and the religious and spiritual lives of the congregation.
Now these tenets we held true, plain and simple, but the underlying social idea was that members of the Church of Zenta could thenceforth rely on the constitutional doctrine of freedom of religion as their protection against conviction for possession and use of narcotics — or later, "controlled substances" — under the state's marijuana laws. Zenta members used marijuana religiously, as the THC Ministry puts it today, and were entitled to protection as religious practitioners following the basic tenets of their creed.
There were other benefits of ecclesiastical corporation: Organized religious bodies didn't pay sales or income taxes; their real estate transactions were exempt from taxation as well; and their forms of worship, however diverse or divergent from the Christian norm, were given wide latitude by the temporal government. Churches were churches, another order of being from the rest of the social order, and our church was determined to join their number and enjoy equal protection under the law of the land.
Like our other efforts to combat the narcotics laws and the incipient War on Drugs based in their idiotic assumptions — for example, as I've said many times before, marijuana was never a narcotic — the establishment of the First Church of Zenta was meant to deny and counteract the demonization of recreational drug users by the dominant social order as the first line of offense against us.
If you can create a mythology centered on the demonization of illicit drug use and the characterization of illicit drug users as dangerous criminals and enemies of conventional society, deploying ever-increasing numbers of narcotics police to stomp out this evil seems to follow.
When this tissue of horseshit (to quote William Burroughs) is stripped away and the stigma of evilness is removed, the marijuana smoker is revealed instead as a harmless seeker of spiritual truth or a suffering patient in need of medicine. These are not reasonable targets for prosecution as criminals, and the police must move back at least a few steps and sheathe the dreaded nightstick of drug law prosecution.
Now that we have legalized medical marijuana as a potential source of relief for a whole panoply of aches and pains, both physical and mental, and recommends that the state of Michigan certify the applicant as a registered medical marijuana patient, we've taken a big first step away from the reviled War on Drugs. Perhaps it's time to renew the religious argument as well.
Briefly put, we need all the help we can get i to wrest the jackboot of the War on Drugs off the necks of marijuana smokers in our society.
In closing I'd like to point out that I've completed this column upon my arrival in Amsterdam, working my way through my various obligatory stops — the 420 Café, the Cannabis College, the Hempshopper on the Singel Canal — checking in with my peeps around the Centrum and trying to honor my commitment to the paper and my readers at the same time. At the end of the month, I'll be on my way to Florence, Italy, on a personal mission, and I'll file the next column from there. Happy trails! —420 Cafe, Amsterdam
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