John Sinclair (born October 2, 1941 in Flint, Michigan) is a Detroit poet, one-time manager of the band MC5, and leader of the White Panther Party — a militantly anti-racist countercultural group of white socialists seeking to assist the Black Panthers in the Civil Rights movement — from November 1968 to July 1969. John attended the Flint College of the University of Michigan, now the University of Michigan-Flint. During his time at UM-Flint John served on the university's Publications Board, school newspaper "the word", and was the president of the Cinema Guild.
Sinclair was involved in the reorganization of the Detroit underground newspaper, Fifth Estate, during the paper's growth in the late 1960s. Fifth Estate continues to publish to this day, making it one of the longest continuously published alternative periodicals in the United States. Sinclair also contributed to the formation of Detroit Artists Workshop Press, which published five issues of Work magazine. John worked as a jazz writer for Downbeat Magazine from 1964 to 1965 being an outspoken advocate for the newly emerging Free Jazz Avant Garde movement.
After a series of convictions for possession of marijuana, Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1969 after giving two joints of marijuana to an undercover narcotics officer. This sentence inspired Abbie Hoffman to jump on the stage during The Who's performance at Woodstock to protest. It also sparked the landmark "Free John Now Rally" at Michigan University's Crisler Arena in December 1971.
The event brought together 15,000 young people, including a who's who of left-wing luminaries, like pop musicians John Lennon (who recorded the song, "John Sinclair" on his Some Time in New York City album), Yoko Ono, David Peel, Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs and Bob Seger, jazz artists Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd, and speakers Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale. Three days after the rally, Sinclair was released from prison when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the state's marijuana statutes were unconstitutional. These events inspired the creation of Ann Arbor’s annual pro-legalization Hash Bash rally, which continues to be held as of 2010, and contributed to the drive for decriminalization of marijuana under the Ann Arbor city charter.
As of late November 2009, John is serving as "High Priest" at the 22nd Annual Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam.