Somewhere in the northeastern United States, October’s orange moon rose above gold and auburn leaves falling on a quiet lake and forest.
Guarding the entrance to the private lakeside resort was a feisty marijuana festival promoter known only by a cover name: Damn Sam.
Sam himself is not damned. He has been staging pot events for several years, providing growers, sellers, buyers and smokers with safe places to party and do business. His name was meant to damn -Uncle Sam, known also as the US government, for waging war against cannabis.
Sometimes the badge and gun gang shows up at his events. Last summer, local sheriffs formed a gauntlet at the entrance to one of Sam’s events. A few guests turned and fled; the rest gripped their steering wheels, gritted their teeth, and drove past the cops.
Unlike promoters of other marijuana events in the eastern United States, Sam does everything he can to make sure police don’t poop on his parties. He advertises by word of mouth and targeted Internet postings, and provides discreet warnings about police interdiction. He tries hard to detect police undercovers at his event. If he finds them, he instructs his ever-diligent security crew to escort them.
“I know you’re fond of taking pictures of police,” Sam said with a wicked wink. “If we find any, we want you to get a picture of them for sure.”
Once inside a Damn Sam event, guests can buy marijuana, hashish, hash oil, shrooms, and LSD. During October’s event, the diversity of herb was especially rich, probably because the festival coincided with outdoor marijuana harvesting.
Growers from South Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky, and many northeastern states brought sweet-cured, freshly harvested outdoor and indoor varietals, many of which I had never heard of before. Although many growers told me they’d bought seeds from Marc Emery Seed Catalog, others proudly said they’d been growing “all-American” Midwestern breeds for decades. One grower said that his bud, which was long, tender and golden-colored, was a direct descendant of Colombian Gold smuggled into the United States in the 1970’s by High Times founder-smuggler Tom Forcade.
Damn Sam staged a cannabis competition that included 60 entries. Pound sacks of organically grown Northern Lights nuggets were toted by a 44-year-old female grower who sold the tasty morsels for $300 an ounce. Other growers brought out huge buds- including one that was 14 inches long!
A group of frightened teenagers, apparently novices in the world of pot retailing, proffered a Tupperware container of airy but potent buds. They’d forgotten to bring a scale, didn’t know what breed of pot they were selling for an exorbitant $50 an eighth, and argued angrily amongst themselves about who had sold the most eighth sacks. But when it came time to compete, the brats ponied up enough free weed to fill a dozen bowls.
A tall, erudite gentleman invited me to his satellite-dish equipped travel home. Joining us for a delicious dinner of prime rib and filet mignon were a husband and wife agricultural team from the Jersey Pine Barrens. We chatted about freedom and fascism, as the tall man showed me shrink-wrapped bags of wiry buds. Inside the plastic, the buds looked stemmy and overly dry, but when the man whipped out a knife and sliced open the shrink-wrap, the flowers puffed up to reveal a copious coating of sugary resin crystals.
“Super Sugar Crisp,” he said proudly, breaking up some morsels to roll a joint. His fingers became sticky. The joint burned sinewy and ethereal, like a vaporizer. Inside our brains, cannabinoid receptors saturated with the glorious harvest found room for crispy molecules. The sativa high was soaring and salacious. Our appetite alarms went off. We ravenously devoured the barbecued cow. For dessert, we ate white and dark chocolates made with cannabis butter, and smoked kif made with kif boxes hand-tooled by a Midwestern woodcrafter.
Despite predictions of rain, sleet and snow, the festival’s three days and nights rolled on pleasantly, like a classic yacht docked in safe harbor. Superb bands and bizarre comedians performed long, entertaining sets on the indoor stage.
At the entrance station, Damn Sam stood in amazement as more and more guests arrived.
“We didn’t even advertise this,” he said. “There’s more than a thousand people in there.”
As darkness fell, roving troops of howling, hilarious teens smoked newly purchased bud, tripped out on acid and shrooms, built fires, played hide and seek in the woods. Snow flurries fell on the picturesque lake, but a brave soul, perhaps under the influence of hash oil-soaked brownies being sold for five dollars a piece, swam across the lake.
New York activist and political candidate Rob Robinson, whom I’d first met at the disastrous July 4th “smoke-out” in Washington, DC this year, gave a rousing speech from the indoor stage.
Recalling how he’d surveilled and confronted police hoodlums at the DC rally, Robinson said he was surprised when he later received a call from the rally’s permit holder, John Pylka.
“He told me we shouldn’t have protested the police brutality,” Robinson recalled. “I told him his attitude was weak and selfish- a sell-out. I never lag back and allow people to be searched or busted without doing everything in my power to stop it. In New York City, I intervened when police were trying to silence Nader supporters as they exercise their first amendment rights. I mean, I got right in the face of the police, and THEY backed down. I told Pylka that if you organize and promote a pot rally, you have an obligation to protect your people. If you invite people to a pot rally, and then stand by and watch them get busted, it’s the height of hypocrisy and irresponsibility.”
Damn Sam demonstrated a high degree of responsibility and maturity late Saturday night, when a 19-year-old boy freaked out on acid and attacked a woman.
When Sam’s security crew came on the scene, an angry crowd was dealing with the boy – harshly.
“They were sick of him and were going to hand out some frontier justice. They thought he was just some obnoxious punk,” Sam said. “I’ve dealt with about 30 freak-outs since I started doing festivals. We know how to handle it.”
For a while, it looked like the boy might get the better of Sam and his security crew. He led them on a wild chase, while sporadically mouthing profane, violent rap lyrics in a disjointed, delusional fashion.
Using gentle persuasion and super-human patience, Sam, his girlfriend, and other event crewmembers convinced the boy to lie down in a tent. The event’s nurse gave the boy a mild sedative. A fire was built to keep him warm. For six hours, Sam and his sleep-deprived staff reassured the youth and brought him back down to earth.
As dawn broke, the kid had stopped shouting rap threats. Instead, he was thanking Sam for not allowing the crowd to beat him up and dump him in a farmer’s field.
“We wanted this guy to thank us in the morning, not lose his mind, sue us or get snared by police,” Sam said. “Marijuana and other drugs can be fun – we know that more than anybody – but some people cannot handle them in all doses or in every situation. My job as an event promoter is to ensure that everybody has a good time, or at least a safe time. We treated this guy with professionalism, love and sanity. That way, we’ll build up some good karma so we can keep having these parties!”