Column John Sinclair Print E-mail
Liberation Day

Liberation DayCinco de Mayo, the 5th of May, is Liberation Day in Holland. It marks the end of the German occupation over the Netherlands during World War II.  This is when the Dutch people celebrate their deliverance from the brutal Nazi regime with festivals and gatherings throughout the country.

Liberation Day is a vivid reminder of what it means to have your country taken away from you; and your government and public institutions used  against you, all to serve the purposes of the enemy. It’s a jubilant affirmation of the inalienable human right to freedom and liberty and  self-determination. And it keeps alive in the national consciousness the triumph of humanism and democracy over the cruel system of oppression and exploitation imposed and enforced by Adolf Hitler and his psychotic Nazi regime.


Canadian AliesThe memory of Liberation Day— the 5th of May,  1945—remains fresh and potent in the Dutch mind because it was only 63 years ago that Hitler and his Nazi minions were defeated and driven out by the power of allied forces. While circumstances have changed and greatly improved in Europe since the end of World War II and with Germany   and The Netherlands now being fellow members of the European Union; few Europeans are able to forget the ruthless rise of the Nazis and their  unquenchable thirst for  power and domination that ruined so many lives in Europe for at least 5 long years in the middle of the 20th century.

An  extraordinary spirit of tolerance and personal freedom The tiny nation’s recent experience  with occupation and domination by the Nazi regime and  the joy of liberation from alien rule seems also to have engendered an extraordinary spirit of tolerance and personal freedom amongst the   populace. Dutch people fully enjoy their freedom as individual citizens to live and comport themselves as they may wish as long as they are not  harming others.

Demanding freedom from official  interference with their own chosen life-ways, the Dutch tend to extend this freedom to their  fellow  citizens across the board and let people enjoy themselves in their homes and their public pursuits. Professional sex activity is tolerated and  even licensed and allowed to thrive in its own district. Recreational drug users of every sort are not regarded as criminals and possession of small  amounts of one’s drug of choice is not regarded as a crime.

The Dutch allow free  use of Cannabis Most spectacularly, the Dutch allow free use of  Cannabis and provide for its retail sale over the counters of hundreds of licensed coffeeshops around the country. There are nearly 250 surviving coffeeshops in Amsterdam itself, warmly and efficiently serving the Cannabis-smoking community with top-quality Dutch-grown Marijuana and  imported hashish which may be smoked and enjoyed on the premises.

For an American, the situation in Holland is as close to a condition  of social  freedom as one can imagine. In the United States, Cannabis users are legally defined as criminals and hounded and persecuted by the  police all their lives as  smokers. Citizens are subject to drug testing as a condition of steady employment or for the successful completion of a  probationary sentence. They live in constant fear of police raids on their homes, businesses and the incessant stops; searches and seizures of   their personal stashes when arrested in their cars or public places.

They know what freedom means because of those who had none and those who fought to be liberated. The burgeoning American police state has been built on the framework of the government’s 40-year War on Drugs, in which  the preponderance of victims of the drug warriors are Marijuana smokers. Hundreds of thousands of American pot smokers are incarcerated in    federal and state prisons as we speak, but they represent only a mere fraction of the citizenry victimized by the police and courts simply for  smoking Marijuana.

LiberationA vast industry of punishment and social pain has been erected on the backs of American Marijuana smokers. Legions of  special narcotics police stalk the streets of our communities seeking to harass and arrest every Marijuana user or supplier they can find. The  arrestees are dragged before special drug courts and tried by special drug prosecutors in front of special  drug judges armed with the most draconian set of drug laws  imaginable.

Once convicted, usually following a guilty plea arranged by one of the thousands of lawyers who specialize in defending drug cases, the smoker is fined, sentenced to a probationary term and ordered into a drug treatment program to insure that the cited  ecreational drug use will abruptly cease. Their urine is assessed in drug testing labs and their conduct scrutinized by drug treatment  professionals, drug probation officers and the ever-present drug police.

That’s a whole lot of people and facilities lined up against Marijuana smokers and dedicated to their capture and punishment. Thousands and thousands and thousands of Americans are employed at taxpayers’  expense by the insane  mechanism created by thisWar on Drugs. From the drug police at the front end of the deathly funnel, through the ranks of  the defense lawyers and prosecutors and judges who deliver the verdict, to the probation departments, drug treatment centers, jailers and  penitentiary  guards at the ass end of  the system; a vast force of drug law enforcers prospers by delivering severe punishment to an entire national community of recreational Marijuana smokers.

My own experience with the law goes back to 1964, well before Richard Nixon declared a  War on Drugs in the early 1970s, and when the population of pot smokers in America was relatively tiny. I lived in Detroit, and Michigan law  mandated sentences of 1-10 years upon conviction for possession of drug war Marijuana and a minimum mandatory 20-year sentence for sales or  dispensing, with a maximum of life imprisonment. Marijuana was classified as a narcotic and considered no less serious a violation than heroin, cocaine and other drugs.

After a series of arrests and convictions for Marijuana possession I ended up in prison, first for 6 months in the Detroit  House of Correction in 1966, and finally on a 9-1/2-to-10-year sentence of which I served 29 months in Marquette and Jackson prisons before my  legal challenge to the constitutionality of the state laws was successful and the Michigan Supreme Court overturned the narcotics statutes in March  1972. Thereafter called a “controlled substance,” Marijuana remains a serious criminal matter, carrying one year for possession and 4 years for  sale.

In the city of Ann Arbor, where I lived after my release from prison, Marijuana smokers organized for  political action and brought about the enactment by the City Council of the $5 Marijuana fine for any Cannabis violations. Similar ordinances were passed in Ypsilanti and East Lansing,  but the forward motion of the Marijuana liberation movement came to a grinding halt by the mid-‘70s and remains only a brief moment in history today. 

Since my release from prison 36 years ago, I’ve managed to avoid arrest  while smoking quietly each day, but the shadow of the drug police is always hovering overhead no matter where you are and is even more ominous  when you’re driving your car. Carrying a small smoking stash in public or even toking in your home can bring serious grief if you’re  apprended, and the pothead lives in a continuous state of terror even if the police remain at bay.

Liberation for the Marijuana smoker in America,  sad to say, is not on the near horizon. The mammoth drug law enforcement industry  built up around the War on Drugs channels billions of dollars each year to the worst segments of our society, and I’m afraid they’re so deeply entrenched that their overthrow will be particularly problematic. Pot  smokers will continue to suffer fear and ignominy and unceasing police terror as long as the drug war remains essentially unchallenged.

But liberation for the weedhead is real when one arrives in Amsterdam. Purchasing and smoking Cannabis is perfectly okay, and the police have no  interest whatsoever in the individual smoker. All of a sudden one is no longer a criminal, and the veil of fear and trembling rises and floats away in  he breeze. Life begins a new in liberated territory, and we are free to  live our lives as Marijuana smokers without fear at last. Liberation from  oppressors, liberation from terror, these are good things, and we will continue to celebrate them as long as we may live.

John SinclairJohn Sinclair, a regular visitor of Amsterdam, is a Detroit activist and poet. Sinclair is the one-time manager of the hard rock band MC5, and leader of the American political collective, the White Panther Party. Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1969 after giving two joints of Marijuana  to an undercover narcotics officer. This sentence sparked the landmark "Free John Now Rally" at Ann Arbor's Crisler Arena in December 1971. The  event brought together 15,000 protesters and a who'swho of the 60’s generation, including John Lennon (who wrote protest song ‘John Sinclair’),  Yoko Ono, Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger and Allen Ginsberg. Three days after the rally Sinclair was released from prison when the Michigan Supreme  Court ruled that the state's Marijuana statutes were unconstitutional.

Sinclair’s weekly radio show can be heard on Radio Free Amsterdam.




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