War (on drugs) is over

Highest greetings from Amsterdam. My name is John Sinclair and I've been a marijuana legalization activist ever since I founded Detroit LEMAR (LEgalize MARijuana) in January 1965, following the receipt of a LEMAR flyer sent from New York City by poets Allen Ginsberg and Edward Sanders, the progenitors of this movement. 

Between 1964 and 1968, I was harassed by the Detroit Narcotics Squad for smoking, dispensing and advocating marijuana use. I served six months in the Detroit House of Correction in 1966 for possession of a half-ounce of weed, and I served 29 months of a 9-1/2-to-10-year sentence for possession of two joints of marijuana — a crime then defined as a Violation of State Narcotics Laws (VSNL) — between July 1969 and December 1971.

During this time I was held without appeal bond in maximum-security prisons in Jackson and Marquette while my legal appeal wound its way through the Michigan court system. In March 1972, the Michigan Supreme Court decided that marijuana was not a narcotic. My conviction was reversed and the marijuana laws were declared unconstitutional. 

Thus there were no marijuana laws in Michigan for three weeks until the current state legislation punishing marijuana users with a year in prison for possession went into effect. This dreadful new law was commemorated by the first Hash Bash gathering on the Diag at the University of Michigan on April 1, 1972.

That was 38 years ago, before many of today's marijuana smokers were born. The Michigan State Police, county sheriffs and municipal authorities have ruled our world with their war on drugs ever since — or at least until the 2008 elections, when 62 percent of Michigan voters approved medical marijuana use and mandated a system of licensing and regulation for medical marijuana patients that is currently legal throughout the state.

The point of this initiative is that medical marijuana users in Michigan are no longer criminals to be subjected to the misdirected and often vicious treatment dealt out by the drug police, prosecutors, courts, drug treatment and prison systems. 

Citizens who qualify as medical marijuana users may now be licensed by the state of Michigan, and their suppliers, or "caretakers," may also be licensed by the state to provide patients legally with a reliable supply of two-and-a-half ounces of marijuana at all times.

Medical marijuana is a good thing, and this is a good law. I have always believed that marijuana is a medicine particularly well-suited to the needs of people suffering from many maladies. Like Louis Armstrong, I always thought of weed as more of a medicine than a dope, and I believe, with Dennis Peron — the activist and leading force behind California's medical marijuana proposition more than a decade ago — that all marijuana use is medicinal. 

(For the record, I'm involved in Trans-Love Energies Compassion Collective in Detroit's Eastern Market, though conflict of interest precludes me from writing about it here.)

The new marijuana laws across the country enable medicinal users to emerge at last from under the cloak of opprobrium thrown over us and become legal, registered, state-approved smokers of the sacred herb that has served us so faithfully through the long and bitter years of the war on drugs.

We urge all our fellow medicinal marijuana users to consult your doctors, gain certification as medical marijuana patients, register with the state of Michigan and carry your patient cards with you at all times. Caregivers should register with the state along with your patients, and convert your legal status from criminal drug dealer to authorized medicine provider. 

At the same time, with respect to medical marijuana patients and their caregivers, we must point out to the state, county and municipal police forces throughout Michigan that the war on drugs is over, whether you want it or not. Lay down your arms, turn your swords into plowshares, and join us in securing a sufficient supply of medicine for our citizens who require marijuana for health.

At this historic juncture, we urge the forces of law and order to accept, in good faith, the will of the voters, the changes in established law and the altered legal status of registered medical marijuana patients and their caregivers. You are no longer authorized to arrest these people and treat them like criminals. The game is up! The war is over, and we insist the law enforcement community recognize and respect the rights and the dignity of these citizens now and at all times in the future.

The police raids on compassionate care centers and other gathering places for medical marijuana patients and their caregivers are reprehensible and must be stopped at once. Law enforcement means enforcing the laws on the books, and the books have now been rewritten by the citizens of Michigan. Read them and weep. The war on medicinal marijuana users is over. Stop the raids!

I have never understood what laws and law enforcement have to do with what's going on inside our heads. What difference should it make to anyone what we use to get high on? I'm not a fan nor a user of alcohol, for example, but I wouldn't ever want to try to make someone stop drinking it, and I really couldn't consider arresting and jailing and imprisoning them just because they want to have a drink. If they get drunk and do something wrong, arrest them for what they did wrong, not for drinking.

The same goes for recreational drug users. If they do something wrong, whatever they might be on, arrest them for that. If they aren't doing their job, punish them for that. If they're robbing and stealing to support their drug habits, bust them for the criminal acts. But what's going on inside their bodies is their business and their business only. Like the poet says, we have a right to our bad habits.

The sick thing is that the laws against recreational drug use have been used to create a vast police-state apparatus on the backs of people who get high. As a result of these laws, we have legions of drug police, drug courts, drug prosecutors, drug judges, drug probation officers, drug treatment programs, jails, prisons, parole officers and other factotums of this vicious war on recreational drug users.

This ugly picture won't disappear as a result of the new medical marijuana laws, but the frame will move off those of us who use marijuana within a medicinal context for the many things that ail us. As we have seen, the police forces will have a hard time letting go of their long-held attitudes, beliefs and practices regarding the ingestion of marijuana and the criminal status of its users, but once they accept the new rules of engagement we will all have a better world to live in.

Me, I've been criminalized by the marijuana laws all my adult life. I've lived in constant fear of arrest, spent three years in prison on marijuana convictions, and snuck around ever since trying to keep them from seeing what's in my pockets. 

Now I've got my medical marijuana patient card and a caregiver who's registered with the state as my official supplier — and that's a great big step in the right direction. But my goal will always be the full legalization of recreational drugs and the complete dismantling of the machinery of the war on drugs. —Amsterdam, Sept. 17-18; London, Sept. 21, 2010

John Sinclair celebrates his 69th birthday with live music (of course) Saturday, Oct. 2, at the Bohemian National Home, 3009 Tillman (22nd), Detroit; call 313-420-7487 for information.

Former Detroiter John Sinclair is an author, broadcaster, longtime activist, subject of a John Lennon song and one-time manager of the MC5, featured elsewhere in this issue. He will appear bi-weekly in this space. Send comments to
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