Number 130 / January 1996:

Traveling in state cars, fifteen employees of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts arrived in front of Boston's WBCN-FM at lunch time on December 1. They quickly set up a picket line while Georgette Watson, executive director of the Governor's Alliance Against Drugs, entered the station in the company of a DEA agent wearing a badge. Watson demanded that the station cease all airplay of Hempilation, a compilation CD issued last fall to raise funds for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

This chilling act came on the heels of denunciations of the album by the White House and several just- say-no groups. The musical target of these censors features bands famous (Black Crowes, Cypress Hill, Ziggy Marley), obscure (the 360s, Gus) and in-between (Hater, which is Soundgarden's rhythm section) playing their own tunes and pro-dope songs by the likes of Muddy Waters and Neil Young.

Hempilation follows in the wake of pro-legalization compilations featuring 43 alternative bands from the Northwest (Hemp for Victory, Vol. 1) and a dozen-plus Jamaican artists (Smoke the Herb), while growing numbers of rock, reggae, surf, and rap artists pen odes to cheeba on their own albums. (Who knows, some country artists may even follow Willie Nelson out of the cannabis closet.)

But what led Georgette Watson and her thugs to attack one of the most important radio stations in the country was hardly a difference of opinion over questions of lifestyle. It was the fact that musicians threaten to disrupt the ever-tightening control mechanisms the phony "war on drugs" has put in place at every level of American society.

One and a half million Americans are now in jail, up 300 percent from 1980, and that's primarily the result of a growing police power facilitated by media-induced drug paranoia. Since 1980, the percentage of drug offenders has risen from 8 to 26 percent in state prisons and from 26 to 61 percent in federal lockups. This phenomenon is partly racist (56 percent of young black males in Baltimore are now under the control of the criminal justice system) but it's also a question of controlling the swelling ranks of America's poor (70 per cent of this decade's new prisoners earned less than $15,000 a year). In the face of one million arrests for drug possession in 1994, the words of "Legalize It" composer Peter Tosh have come back to haunt us: "Only de small man go to bloodclot jail for herb."

The unchecked advance of a prison / industrial complex built on drug busts has created a truly Orwellian world: Silverton, Oregon cops now arrest parents if their kids smoke dope; the LA schools are discussing a plan to reward student snitches with concert tickets and CDs; and a new California law permits police to arrest alleged drug dealers before they commit a crime.

Look in High Times, the magazine that helped to produce Hempilation, and you'll see articles promoting pirate radio, resistance to police brutality, and the work of Food Not Bombs. Next steps might include alliances with the organizations fighting our insane drug laws, the local prisoner support groups, and the growing movement against the death penalty. This will also help to expand the united front of musicians. That's essential because, in the end, this struggle isn't simply about the right to get high. It's about whether we control the police or the police control us.

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