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Skye View: Richard Davis (RIP) & Super Bowl XXX

The NFL's Pot Problem

Last week, on Friday January 10, hemp activist Richard Davis passed away after a battle with cancer. He was a tireless advocate for the plant, cut from the same cloth as Jack Herer, the granddaddy of the modern hemp movement. He was best known as the owner and curator of the U.S.A. Hemp Museum, a traveling exhibition that showcased historical hemp goods.

I first met Richard at Super Bowl XXX in Tempe, AZ back in 1996, under the weirdest of circumstances. You see, pot had accidentally become legal in Arizona – really!

In 1983, then-Governor Bruce Babbit signed a bill that was intended as a tool for prosecutors to punish pot dealers for tax evasion. It authorized Arizona Marijuana Tax Stamps wherein a person could only legally possess marijuana if they had stamps. In order to buy stamps, you had to have a “cannabis dealer’s license.” Without the proper authorization, anybody who possessed marijuana was in violation of the law. The stamps demanded a tax on the illegal pot – usually $3.50 per gram. If a pot dealer didn’t have the stamp, the state could sue them in an attempt to collect the taxes.

For 14 years, the program went swimmingly, collecting over $300,000 in revenue. Then Peter Wilson came along. He was the director of Arizona NORML and had purchased his license and stamps as a novelty. When, later, he was busted for possession, Wilson presented his legal exemption. The judge ruled that, because Wilson held a license and had acquired the proper tax stamps, charging him criminally would constitute double jeopardy. Wilson walked.

Was pot really legal? For the time being, yes! Suddenly, everyone wanted a license. Even out-of-staters were able to get one – like Richard Davis, who set up his hemp museum during Super Bowl week right across the street from Sun Devil stadium and began doing a brisk business.

He did countless interviews and sold ounces of weed. But he wasn’t your colorfully freakish pot activist. There was a bit of Henry Fonda-esque Americanism in his character. He was born a farmer and possessed a profound patriotism cultivated by working the land.

On the Friday before the game, I showed up to witness the oddity. Richard was unbelievably serene, certain that he was operating in the clear. To document the event, I borrowed a pile of his specially marked, one-gram “Supherb Bowl” packets. I then walked them over to a high-rise parking lot outside the stadium and photographed the “legal” weed. But it was clear that Davis was being watched. Undercover cops skulking nearby were hardly undercover and looked clearly pissed. When I returned with Richard’s merchandise, I told him I’d be back on Super Bowl Sunday to witness the real show. Unfortunately, mere minutes later, Richard was arrested and led away. Nobody messes with the Super Bowl.

Three months later, Arizona repealed the law. But Richard’s’ activism never weakened. He continued to expand his hemp museum, even installing in Los Angeles for a short time, just a few blocks from the Staples Center where the L.A. Lakers and Clippers play. Dale Gieringer, director of CA NORML remembers Richard vividly: “The first time I met him was back in the 80s at a UC Berkeley academic panel on the Drug War. He cut a striking figure, standing tall along the edge of the room with his farmer’s hat and asking probing questions.  His spirit was true both as a grower and advocate. He will be remembered for his pioneering hemp museum and for his eloquent televised courtroom defense in Arizona – the best, pro per defense I’ve ever seen. He was a powerful witness for the hemp plant.”

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