Skip to main content

Legendary Pot Activist John Sinclair Dead at 82, OR Governor Signs Bill to Recriminalize Drug Possession, More... (4/2/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on

Hawaii activists are pressing for action ahead of a Thursday deadline for a marijuana legalization bill, Oregon will make drug possession a misdemeanor as of September 1, and more. 

Poster for the John Sinclair Freedom Rally featuring John Lennon and Stevie Wonder, among others, in 1971.
Marijuana Policy

Hippie Radical Pot Activist John Sinclair Dead at 82. Poet, political radical, musical mover and famous pot prisoner John Sinclair has died in Detroit at the age of 82. Co-founder of the White Panther Party, Sinclair was arrested for giving two joints to undercover officers in 1969 and sentenced to 10 years in state prison. 

But his imprisonment made him a cause célèbre and a campaign for his release that culminated in a 1971 concert at the University of Michigan Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor where major stars including John Lennon, Stevie Wonder, and hometown hero Bob Seger called for his release. 

Lennon even compose the song "John Sinclair" and performed it along with Yoko Ono at the concert: "They gave him 10 for two/What else can Judge Colombo do/We gotta set him free," Lennon sang, immortalizing his subject.

One day before the concert, the state legislature voted to reduce the penalty for pot possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. Three days after the concert, Sinclair was released after serving 2 ½ years of his 10-year sentence. 

"For me, it’s like coming into a whole different world from the one I left in 1969," wrote shortly after his release. 

But it was still a world where marijuana remained illegal, and Sinclair continued his reefer advocacy, helping to propel Ann Arbor's move to a $5 fine for pot possession and celebrating when Michigan legalized it in 2018.

"I’m the pioneer. I was the first one in Michigan who said marijuana should be legal, and they said I was totally nuts," he said in 2019. "I’m proud to have played a part in this. I spent nearly three years in prison because of marijuana."

He also played a role in the Detroit music scene, managing for a time Mitch Ryder, as well as infamous revolutionary Detroit rock band MC5, known for such songs as "Kick Out the Jams" and "Motor City is Burning," a commentary on the 1967 race riots. 

And he remained a radical and a proud New Leftist. Once the White Panther Party dissolved in 1971, Sinclair formed and became chairman of the Rainbow People's Party, a Marxist-Leninist organization promoting the revolutionary struggle for a "communal, classless, anti-imperialist, anti-racist, and anti-sexist ... culture of liberation."

"In those times, we considered ourselves revolutionaries," he said in 2013. "We wanted equal distribution of wealth. We didn’t want 1 percent of the rich running everything. Of course, we lost."

And we can't forget that he helped create the University of Michigan Hash Bash, a yearly celebration of the weed and served as a state coordinator for the Michigan chapter of NORML. 

His was a revolutionary life well-lived. 

Hawaii Activists Urge Action as Deadline Looms for Marijuana Legalization Bill. A marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 3335, must move out of the House Finance Committee by Thursday to stay alive. Some observers expect a chilly reception for the bill if the committee even takes it up, but activists are urging supporters to contact House Speaker Scot Saiki (D) and House Finance Committee Chair Rep. Kyle Yamashita (D) to not only take it up but to pass it. 

"With your help, legalization has made it the furthest it has ever gotten in Hawai’i," wrote Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. "It’s cleared the Senate, three House committees, and two House floor votes. But the last House floor vote passed by a single vote and prosecutors and police departments are pressuring lawmakers to kill the bill. "If the bill isn’t scheduled for a hearing in the final committee—House Finance—by tomorrow, and it isn’t heard and reported out by Thursday, it dies and we have to come back next legislative session."

The bill is based on a legalization plan drawn up by Attorney General Anne Lopez (D) and would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of weed and five grams of concentrates. It would also set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. 

House bill sponsor Rep. David Tarnas (D) said Monday he had "no additional information" on whether the bill will move. "We are all awaiting word if the House Finance Committee decides to schedule SB 3335 for a hearing," he said, noting that the proposal "has earned more support from more legislators than any other cannabis legalization bill" in Hawaii’s history."

If the measure does not advance this session, Tarnas continued, "I will work to improve this bill during the interim and introduce a new bill next session so we can continue this important work."

Drug Policy

Oregon Governor Signs Drug Recriminalization Bill. The state's short-lived experiment with drug decriminalization will end September 1. That is when the bill that makes simple drug possession a crime once again, House Bill 4002, will go into effect after it was signed into law Monday by Gov. Tina Kotek (D). 

The bill, which undoes the results of a 2020 voter initiative creating decriminalization, also contains provisions that will expand funding for drug treatment.

"For what the Legislature came up with, it’s not where we were before Measure 110 — it’s a different approach," Kotek told reporters during a news conference in March. "There are some people who believe that some connection with local law enforcement is a helpful motivator for some folks to get into treatment. I think what you see in the bill is an attempt to say if that is true, let’s make sure folks are getting to treatment."

While the bill makes drug possession a misdemeanor, it also allows arrested drug users to "deflect"' from the criminal justice system into treatment programs. But it leaves that aspect of the new law up to the counties, and only 23 of the state's 36 counties have signed on to the diversion plan. 

"It’s not enough to write the word ‘deflection’ in a bill, you actually have to create the apparatus and they did not create the apparatus or fund it," said Sandy Chung of the ACLU of Oregon, which opposes the new law. "We’ll see whether the counties actually succeed in creating those programs."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.