It is with great sadness that High Times has learned of the passing of our longtime friend, Stephen Gaskin. Over the years, he and his wife Ina May have contributed immensely to both our magazine and our Cannabis Cups, bringing an elevated consciousness and spirituality that has enlightened the lives of our audience and staff alike.
Born in Denver, Colorado on February 16th, 1935, Stephen Gaskin served with the Fifth Regiment of the US Marines in the Korean War between 1952 and 1955. Having seen the horrors of combat firsthand, it is perhaps not surprising that Gaskin dedicated most of his life to peace. It was in the shadow of another conflict, the Vietnam War, that Gaskin’s vision began to coalesce. After graduating from San Francisco University, he went on to teach creative writing and general semantics at that school between 1964 and 1966. Eventually, his writing class expanded into “Monday Night Class,” a weekly open discussion attended by up to 1500 students.
“We talked about what was the most important thing in the world we could talk about right then,” wrote Gaskin in the book, Cannabis Spirituality. “We talked about God, we talked about politics, cannabis, love, sex, and marriage, death and religion, nonviolence, telepathy, subconscious and enlightenment.”
Eventually the American Academy of Religion found out about Monday Night Class and was surprisingly hip enough to sponsor Gaskin and about 200 of the Monday Night faithful on a cross-country journey where he laid out the new vision to churches and colleges in 42 states. The convoy of buses, trucks, and vans called itself “the Caravan,” and above the windshield of Gaskin’s bus were the words, “Out To Save The World.” Living in a communal setting, the Caravan began to focus on more earth-bound concerns, namely ecology and sustainable living. Eventually, Gaskin would purchase a 1750 acre farm from a moonshiner in Summertown, Tennessee for $70 an acre. The Farm was born and would become Gaskin’s greatest legacy.
The Farm was a fully-sustainable agricultural commune where the philosophies of the Monday Night Class were put to the test. There was a school and a publishing company that published successful books on CB radio and satellite television. They also started Solar Electronics, which created the Nuke-Buster, a portable radiation detector. As more and more babies were born, Gaskin’s wife Ina May spearheaded a midwifery revival that garnered the praise of the local medical establishment.
Cannabis was the Farm’s sacrament and was responsible for their first major clash with the law 1974. “The cleanest form of pot,” Gaskin explained to High Times in 1995, “was pot lovingly grown, over which no money changed hands.” But the Farm wasn’t exactly discreet about cannabis cultivation, Gaskin added. “Not only did they plant it, but they sat nude and played the flute to it, and got caught by people doing that until they just roused the curiosity of the neighbors.”
Despite having warned the faithful on the Farm that growing pot would attract heat when the cops arrived, Gaskin explained that, since this was a collective, at least some of the pot belonged to him, and was arrested. After an attempt to mount a religious defense failed, Gaskin wound up spending a year in jail. Upon his release, he found that, as a felon, his voting rights had been rescinded. A class action suit filed on his behalf eventually restored voting rights to 250,000 convicts.
In 1974, Gaskin founded Plenty International and, after a massive 1976 earthquake in Guatemala, helped rebuild 1200 houses, several schools and restored water to many villages. In the late-‘70’s, when paramedics were afraid to service the crime-ridden, bombed-out South Bronx in New York, Farm volunteers started an ambulance service there which cut response times down from 45 to seven minutes.
Stephen Gaskin is the author of numerous books, including, Monday Night Class, The Caravan, and Cannabis Spirituality. In 2004 he was inducted at the High Times Cannabis Cup into the Counterculture Hall of Fame. He died on July 1. 2014 at the Farm.
“I’m a teacher, not a leader,” Gaskin once wrote. “If you lose your leader, you’re leaderless and lost, but if you lose your teacher there’s a chance that he taught you something and you can navigate on your own.”