Hemp in Avalon opened in 1997, making it one of Glastonbury’s longest established shops. It’s in the Market Place in the heart of the town and its window display is dominated by a giant cannabis leaf perched on a rainbow. While many grumble about the huge number of shops in Glastonbury selling crystals, Hemp In Avalon doesn’t seem to attract complaint. Perhaps it’s because they sell hemp underwear, knickers being rarer than unicorn poo in Glastonbury’s High Street. Or maybe it’s down to the openness, overwhelming enthusiasm and sincerity of the shop’s proprietor, Free.
“Hemp will save this planet – for we are observing the Awakening of the Pan Galactic Endo-Cannabinoid System.”Free Cannabis
Free Cannabis is a man on a mission – to raise awareness of the many benefits of cannabis. He’s a head-to-toe example of the uses of the plant – he eats hemp seeds, juices hemp leaves, uses hemp soap, he wears hemp clothes and loves to get high once a week on Hash Lattes. It is no surprise he believes hemp to be ‘the most beneficial and healing plant on the face of this planet’. Free was conceived at the dawn of the year that saw the biggest increase in cannabis use in the UK, 1967 – The Summer of Love, could that be why he has such a passion for this plant?
There’s comprehensive information on Hemp displayed around the Hemp in Avalon. I quickly learn that it is one of first known cultivated crops. It provides food (hemp seeds contain an optimal balance of key essential nutrients), fibre (for paper, cloth, insulation, rope etc) and fuel (hemp biomass can be compressed into solid fuel blocks or fermented into hemp ethanol). Canna fuels could replace fossil fuels. There is a 5000 year recorded
So if hemp is so useful (and fast-growing and hardy) why isn’t it being more widely used? In 1928 cannabis was first prohibited for non-medical use and in 1971 banned outright, with the Misuse of Drugs Act. It is now widely acknowledged that the prohibition of the plant was powered by the petrochemical and synthetic fibre conglomerates, who didn’t want this natural and versatile plant threatening their businesses.
Free has organised Hemp Conferences, Hemp Fashion Shows, ‘Fully Liberated Cannabis Picnics and Pop-up Cannabis dispensaries for Medical Cannabis. In 1996 he organised a ‘Turn Yourself In Day’ to challenge the legislation prohibiting cannabis. With the late Howard (Mr Nice) Marks, he publically distributed boxes of hash cakes from Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park in London. Afterwards, he went to Marylebone Police Station to turn himself in, but they refused to arrest him. Other attempts to get arrested were more successful. Free says “I was a young, fearless fool who got arrested 5 times between 1997 and 2001 and served three prison sentences”. He changed his name to Free Cannabis shortly after moving to Glastonbury, in order that his trials would be billed as ‘The Queen vs Free Cannabis”
Actually, Free isn’t campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis, as he sees the prohibition of the plant as being unlawful. “That’s a key point, I’m not opposed to legalisation, but it’s just changing rules and regulations for UK PLC. We have a privately owned government, and as far as legislation is concerned, it’s about consent and I don’t consent.” In his youth, Free was an early member of the Legalise Cannabis Campaign, but admits they achieved little at meetings “due to the persistent smoking of copious amounts of cannabis”
Free believes that Cannabis is a Spiritual Sacrament and that “THC enhances our Divine Nature as Spiritual Beings having a Human Experience”. He is also open about the negative effects he has experienced in the past from excessive cannabis smoking. At worst, it led him into depression, lowered his energy and scattered his focus. Consequently, when he appeared in court in 2003 he gave “an abysmal performance. I almost deserved to be found guilty.” They sentenced him to 2 months in Belmarsh, where he “had some pretty amazing and very empowering experiences”. He subsequently stopped smoking cannabis in 2005
The calls for cannabis legalisation have been complicated by the increasing strength of UK grown hybrid strains of ‘Skunk’, which may contribute to psychosis, particularly amongst the young. Personally, I find the effects of smoking skunk ghastly, so I’m interested to hear Free’s perspective. He tells me he recently watched the film ‘Black Fish’ about Orca Whales, in which baby whales were removed from their mothers and confined to pens. Free believes that plants, like humans and baby whales, can suffer psychosis. He calls these strains of cannabis “mutant crack weed”.
“They take a plant from Gaia – its mother, then hybridize it for excessive levels of THC, clone it, grow it without soil, feed it with chemicals, under artificial light, often with child slave labour. This creates a psychotic plant. The problem is prohibition. The solution is liberation.”
People often turn up at the shop expecting to score cannabis. They’ve never sold cannabis to smoke – he promised his landlady, the late Mrs Pike, that he would only sell legal products and he’s abided by that rule. Also, Free doesn’t want to feed addiction to nicotine “I know what it’s like as a smoker, there is this desperation to get your next fix, that’s a very, very challenging energetic to be round, being a former smoker” Free quit smoking tobacco in 1993. He believes smoking cannabis to be habit-forming rather than addictive “I have used cannabis as a coping mechanism, I believe it’s far better to use cannabis rather than taking a prescription antidepressant”.
Free points out that all the signs are that the legal prohibitions against cannabis are about to be lifted throughout the US and the UK. “Until 3 months ago the UK government said that cannabis has no recognised medical value, suddenly they are offering it, as of the 1st of November, on the National Health!”. For Free, it’s about normalising cannabis. “That’s why I love the term Normal For Glastonbury – my long-term vision for cannabis is for it to be free”. He set up the Free Medical Marijuana Foundation in 1997 to supply cannabis to medical users.
Free sells Hemp flower extracts, containing varying percentages of CBD and no more than 0.2% THC in the shop, along with 14,17 & 23% CBD in pure extract form, made using ‘Super Critical Carbon Dioxide Extraction’. CBD has been making headlines for its healing properties, while THC that gets you high, these products are high in CBD and low in THC. He‘ll soon be stocking new products with higher percentages of CBD and also a 15% CBG (Cannabigerol). He can’t, and won‘t, prescribe products or make specific claims for their health benefits, so you need to do your research first. I left the shop with some 14% CBD Hemp Extract and will post about my experience with that later on.
Free Cannabis and Glastonbury
Free says “When I first came to Glastonbury, I felt like I was coming home. When I’m in the Abbey grounds it’s as if I’ve been here before – as a monk”. He adds: “Glastonbury is the Heart Chakra of the World. Three leylines cross in my shop. I feel it’s significant that I’ve been holding this space, in the Market Place, for Hemp In Avalon for 21 years, putting out this message:
Hemp Will Save the World.” He is refurbishing the shop for its 22nd anniversary next year, it will become a ‘Temple of Hemp’ – a Hemple.
In 1998 Free won First prize in the annual ‘Glastonbury in Bloom’ competition, for a display outside the shop that featured 13 small cannabis plants. After the award ceremony, he was charged with cultivation, the story went global. Curiously, trashy tabloid ‘The Sun’ produced the most factually accurate account, while Establishment Broadsheet ‘The Times’ was the least accurate.
Free tells me he’ll be running another of his ‘Pop-up Hemp Dispensaries’ on the afternoon of the Glastonbury Road Run next May. I’m intrigued by his choice of event, it’s not an obvious one in the Glastonbury calendar on which to distribute free cannabis. It‘s all about Free’s enthusiasm for running “I founded the Loughborough Student’s Triathalon Club in 1988. I was an endurance sports fanatic in my twenties. I’ve run the Glastonbury Road Run numerous times, been awarded trophies for 2nd and 3rd Glastonian, always high on cannabis.”
Free has other interests, but it seems that they all ultimately derive from his relationship with this one plant. It informs his every conversation, whether it be about his raw food diet, his love of chanting, his poetry or his enthusiasm for hugging.
“What’s next?” I ask. He answers matter-of-factly “Hemp will save this planet – for we are observing the Awakening of the Pan Galactic Endo-Cannabinoid System.” He sounds like Glastonbury’s very own Hemp Superhero.
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