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Seattle Gay History: A five-foot marijuana stalk, 1965
Seattle Gay History: A five-foot marijuana stalk, 1965
by Don Paulson - SGN Contributing Writer

Many see the Kennedy assassination as the beginning of the turbulent 1960s. It actually began in ancient times when governments and religions dictated people's lives to a pinpoint. People recognized its hypocrisy and the old, tired struggle continues. Gains were made but it's never enough. Then came the auspicious 1960s with the peace, war and liberation movements - and legions of youthful idealists as well as some who only came along for the ride. Enter Seattle's University Avenue, or the "Ave." 1960s historian Walt Crowley writes in his book, Rites of Passage, "It was really all quite innocent but not in the eyes of the establishment. We were called unbelievable bums, beatniks, fringies, idle, unkempt, possibly communistic youngsters never before seen on the American continent." One outraged parent called them a breed of vermin. Another saw them as a threat to the Protestant ethic and the pioneer spirit. Another said they should be dunked in sheep dip and sent to Vietnam before they polluted Puget Sound. The Police Chief was concerned about their moral responsibility; "They'd walk across town to return a lost wallet but their involvement in drugs doesn't faze them," he said. "This scares me more than anything else."

It all began rather slowly but in no time the Ave sprouted a "strange tribe of unwashed beatnik misfits, long-haired and bearded, and women dressed like peasants shouting 'revolution,' surely a reason to mix these degenerates with cement and throw the anarchists off a bridge." Of course, the counterculture's axiom of peace and activism being a way to resolve differences among people's ideologies and religions was not recognized. Psychedelic drugs concerned the police and society most, and this was only the tip of the iceberg! In 1965 the Chief of Police said, "Most of the drug users are known. We think the authorities have got the outside limit." If they only knew that there would come a day by the year 2000 when everybody will be on something&

Mel, a Gay man, said, "The hip Gay crowd did not hang out downtown. We had our own network going in the district; parties, social/political discussions and hanging out. We were into wine and psychedelics and downtown was into alcohol, bennies and dancing. It was hard for long-haired Gays because they had to deal with the straight crowd as well as the Gay crowd, both looked down on long hair. I had a reputation for being a heroin addict but I only smoked pot."

Tamara, a Lesbian, recalls, "We called ourselves beatniks but the real ones were Ginsburg, etc. We were the ones who appreciated them. We tried to dress completely in black, smoke dope and listen to jazz all night. Women had a lot of parties then, we called them Odetta parties."

"Drugs, flowers, free love and an aching hunger for wholeness" was how one denizen of the Ave described the fringies, who would soon be called hippies. Merchants worried about their income with all these 'freaks' milling up and down the Ave, playing guitars, looking for action or drugs and congregating in every doorway between two dark and smoky coffeehouses. One guy hadn't worn shoes in two years. David, a Gay man, remembers, "It was pretty innocent in the early days on the Ave, but one day my girlfriend and I were home and suddenly this guy with a pistol burst through our unlocked door and fired a bullet through a lamp shade and disappeared into the night. We had no idea who he was. Years later we saw that same lamp with the bullet hole for sale at the Salvation Army store."

Enter the historic November 7, 1965 drug bust, the symbolic beginning of the Seattle war on drugs (which actually dates back to the 1890s when teens were observed smoking opium in the box house saloons in bawdy Pioneer Square). David continues, "It was a big deal at the time but by today's standards the bust was a joke. It was basically a bunch of young people hanging around smoking dope. Only one person involved could be considered a dealer. He traveled the coast selling a little weed to keep going, hardly big time. He was an artist, a mystical figure. He somehow managed to carry a five-foot marijuana stalk loaded with bud all the way from California. He leaned the trunk against the wall like an old broom and sold bud from it. Once in awhile we'd pool our money and send someone to Mexico to bring back a compressed brick of pot.

"But it all came down when one of the crowd had an LSD trip and imagined everyone in the room was from Mars. She freaked, went to the police and spilled everything she knew about the drug scene and where everyone lived. The police took advantage of her but only used what they wanted and let her go. From her Mars story the police got together a series of raids and said they confiscated $250,000 in drugs, which was ridiculously inflated. At my bust it was a little bit of marijuana, that marijuana stalk, a little methadrine and a few sugar cubes laced with LSD. I was the only one who didn't have any pot on me but the only one with holes in my arms. The raids were an affront on some relatively innocent people."

Of course the merchants and local citizens were pleased but the rising tide of straight and Gay pilgrims kept coming with their music festivals, light shows, be-ins, teach-ins, vigils, protests, marches, the Helix newspaper, KRAB radio, and even the I-5 Freeway takeover and the Piano Drop, all in the spirit of Thomas Paine. "But if you remember the Sixties, you weren't there." (Conversely, if you were there you can't remember it, at least not straight.) We all thought in 1965 that the nectar of the gods would be legal in five years but the war on drugs really became a fifty-year war on the devil's weed while Anslinger gloats and roasts from you-know-where.

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