Marijuana activist John Sinclair, immortalized in John Lennon song, dies aged 82

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Poet, music producer and counterculture figure John Sinclair is serving a lengthy prison sentence following a series of small marijuana busts that inspired him . John Lennon song and a star-studded concert in 1971 to release him, has died. He is 82 years old.

Sinclair died Tuesday morning at Detroit Receiving Hospital of congestive heart failure after an illness, said his publicist, Matt Lee.

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In 1969, Sinclair was sentenced by Detroit Record Court Judge Robert Colombo to 9 1/2 to 10 years in prison for providing two marijuana cigarettes to an undercover police officer. He served 29 months but was released days after Lennon, Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger and others performed in front of 15,000 people at the University of Michigan’s Crisler Stadium.

American poet John Sinclair dies at age 82. (Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)

“They gave him a 10/2/what else could Judge Colombo do/we gotta let him go free,” Lennon sang in “John Sinclair,” a song written by the former Beatle that made its subject Immortal.

Lennon and his wife, Yoko Onoperformed at the “John Sinclair Freedom Rally” at the U.S. Basketball Arena on December 10-11, 1971 ann arbor. They took the stage after 3 a.m., about eight hours before the event started.

Earlier in the night, Sinclair’s wife Leni called her imprisoned husband, and a conversation between the couple and their 4-year-old daughter Sonny was amplified as the crowd chanted “Free John!”

“I want to go home. I want to be with you,” a sobbing Sinclair told the crowd Friday night.

He arrived on Monday.

At the time of Sinclair’s arrest, possession of marijuana was a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. He was arrested in Detroit, where he was a poet and activist and co-founder of the White Panther Party. He was given the maximum sentence.

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The day before the concert, the Michigan Legislature voted to reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison.

Since Sinclair had already served 2 1/2 years in prison, he was released from prison three days after the concert.

“For me, it was like entering a world completely different from the one I had left in 1969,” Sinclair wrote in Guitar Legion, a collection of his work published in the early 1970s.

Sinclair continues to advocate for marijuana, helping the city of Ann Arbor get a nominal $5 fine for marijuana possession and celebrating his hometown’s legalization of recreational marijuana in 2018.

“I was a pioneer. I was the first person in the state of Michigan to say that marijuana should be legal, and they said I was completely crazy,” he told the Detroit Free Press in 2019. “I’m proud to be a part of this. I spent almost three years in jail because of marijuana.”

Sinclair was born in Flint in 1941. His father worked at Buick for more than forty years, and his mother was a high school teacher who gave up her job to raise John and his two siblings. Sinclair grew up in the small town of Davidson, not far from Flint, and graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint in 1964 with a degree in English literature.

Over the next six-plus years, Sinclair did it all – dabbling in the performing arts, journalism, culture and politics. And, of course, poetry.

In a 1965 poem, Sinclair wrote: “You have to live it, not just speak it or play it, that’s what it’s all about.”

After the disbandment of the White Panther Party in 1971, Sinclair formed and chaired the Rainbow People’s Party, which believed in Marxism-Leninism and promoted the revolutionary struggle of “communes, classlessness, anti-imperialism, anti-racism, anti-sexism…” . ..liberating culture. “

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As part of the burgeoning “New Left” movement, Sinclair proudly and aggressively fought for progressive policies.

“In that era, we thought of ourselves as revolutionaries,” he said in 2013. “We want equal distribution of wealth. We don’t want the 1 percent to control everything. Of course, we lost.”

Sinclair has often had a foothold in the music industry, having managed Mitch Ryder and, perhaps most notably, the MC5, a Detroit quintet best known for “Kick Out the Jams” who were Hard rock pioneer of the punk movement.

In Guitar World, Sinclair described “the crazy guerrilla warfare we did with the MC5.”

Sinclair’s death comes just two months after the death of MC5 co-founder Wayne Kramer.

Sinclair also promoted concerts and festivals and helped establish the Detroit Artists Studio and the Detroit Jazz Center. He teaches blues history at Wayne State University; hosts radio programs in Detroit, New Orleans, and Amsterdam; and has written lyrics for albums by artists including The Isley Brothers and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes.

Sinclair never stopped promoting and participating in the use of cannabis.

He helped create the Hash Bash, the University of Michigan’s annual cannabis celebration, and serves as the state coordinator for the Michigan chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

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“The only issue I’m really focused on is cannabis because it’s so important,” he told the Free Press. “For 80 years, it’s been a constant war for people like you and me. They have no right to piss us off for taking drugs.”

Sinclair married Leni Sinclair and had two daughters. They divorced in 1988. In 1989, Sinclair married Patricia Brown.

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By Ali Raza

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