Gainesville was once well-known for its marijuana
Published: Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 4:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 4:45 p.m.
Flashback to the 1970s.
Gainesville Green was the primo high, putting that cheap Mexican and Jamaican weed to shame.
Pot wasn’t just for long-haired hippies — farmers grew it to make some extra cash.
The annual Hempfest events in downtown Gainesville drew thousands, many of whom scrambled for joints in the doobie toss.
Subterranean Circus off West University Avenue was the top head shop and a compound of houses off Southwest Fourth Street was called Fort Ganga.
Given Gainesville’s history with marijuana, it should be no surprise that a novel proposal to dock funding for the Sheriff’s Office for each arrest for a small amount of pot should sprout here.
“In that period of time, it evolved fairly quickly from possession of any amount being looked upon harshly by law enforcement to a level of tolerance, sort of looking the other way and marijuana being fairly openly used,” said attorney and former circuit judge Larry Turner.
“In those days, it had an innocence to it. Most of it was brought in by hippies or grown by hippies. After awhile, local farmers started growing it, too, as a money crop.”
Alachua County Commissioner Robert “Hutch’’ Hutchinson has been talking with Sheriff Sadie Darnell, State Attorney Bill Cervone, Public Defender Stacy Scott and others about ways to reduce the number of people charged with possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Hutchinson instead believes the focus should be on drug treatment.
As an incentive to get deputies essentially to turn a blind eye, Hutchinson has proposed reducing the sheriff’s budget by a set amount for each arrest made.
Darnell is opposed to that and no other commissioners jumped on board, but the various players said they are open to discussions on how to deal with marijuana as long as it remains illegal.
Darnell, who is from Gainesville and is a cousin of famed rocker Tom Petty, said marijuana was commonly used during that era.
In the 1970s, Gainesville had a nationwide reputation for pot. Some of the attention was brought by Scott Camil, a Vietnam veteran turned anti-war icon who began smoking in the war.
In Gainesville attending the University of Florida, Camil and others in Vietnam Veterans Against the War who came to be known as the Gainesville 8 were involved in several cases, including a federal charge for conspiracy to disrupt the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach.
Camil was also charged with a marijuana-related offense and won.
“Gainesville was a very free-thinking town back in the ’60s and ’70s,” Camil said. “It was a fun time when people thought for themselves.”
Turner, who represented Camil in his cases, said the good times vibe regarding marijuana began to change as other drugs, including cocaine, rose in popularity. Those drugs brought gangs, cartels and violence into the drug scene and led to greater police crackdowns on all drugs.
“The so-called hippies got out of the business and the gangs took over,” Turner said. “They came in looking to make money and do whatever was necessary to get the business.”