“Love is all you need” sang the scantily clad nightingale who attempted to recruit me to join the Love Family at the 1980 Rainbow Gathering Festival in West Virginia. I resisted, not because of the singer, but simply because living as a cult member was far from my dream. The Love Israel Family started in Seattle in the late ’60’s, grew to over 300 members, acquired 15 houses, a 300 acre ranch, an ex-minesweeper and lots of media interest. They developed a life style, originally based on simple living and hippy practices regarding dress, sexual partnerships, drugs, child rearing, and social conduct.
Aaron Israel arrived in Hawaii in the late 1970’s seeking a tropical home for the Family but within a few years he quit the cult, decided to travel his own path and found a new cause.
With Dwight Kondo and Roger Christie he co-founded the Hawaiian Hemp Company and they opened one of the first retail hemp stores in the world in downtown Pahoa in 1990. Hawaii was famous for its cannabis (pakalolo) long before that and the term appeared in the Hawaiian newspaper Ka Nonanona as early as 1842.
It wasn’t uncommon in the 1970s and ’80s to find Aaron’s marijuana growing friends mailing coolers stuffed with the weed to the mainland or hosting big bud-trimming beach parties at harvest time. In 1989 the industry was worth an estimated $1 billion to $10 billion a year – surpassing the value of sugar, pineapple and tourism – but was subjected to brutal and aggressive Federal, State and County persecution that caused it to be crippled, driven indoors and even underground.
From the 1990’s the marijuana growing industry in Puna diminished considerably in it’s relative importance but it was never eliminated. Aaron and lost some grower friends to incarceration and others just moved to New Mexico, Oregon or California where enforcement was less stringent. Government run eradication efforts like Green harvest and Wipe Out merely made marijuana more expensive and scarce and attracted more entrepreneurs to find less risky ways to grow it.
Large scale guerilla plantations became rare while smaller operations near residencies mushroomed and became the the norm. Around neighbourhoods in Puna and most other parts the Big Island a substantial proportion of our residents supplemented their income by growing a few plants.
Arron dedicated his life to fighting marijuana prohibition and with fellow marijuana/hemp advocate Roger Christie decided to make hemp food products. They ordered 500 pounds of sterilised hemp seed from a Wisconsin company that had a license from the DEA to sterilise the seeds by steaming them.
Aaron went to pick up the first 25 pounds and two undercover narks in Fed-Ex uniforms and sunglasses come up to the counter. They asked him if he knew what’s in the box, and he replied, “Yeah, sterile hemp seeds, can’t you see them spilling out of the corner?” They arrested him and he got prosecuted facing ten years in prison for ordering legal seeds that could never have produced marijuana. In fact all the pet stores in town bought the same seeds from the same supplier and old them as bird feed without any legal problems.
Aaron and Roger were never found guilty of anything. Basically, the county spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayers dollars to prosecute them merely for advocating the use of a sacred plant. During years of plea bargain negotiations and lawsuit settlement talks, county officials tried to convince the activists to shut up about marijuana and hemp. They rejected the gag order and after years of harassment were eventually exonerated.
Aaron lived in his exquisitely customised hippy truck for many years mostly in Kalapana until the lava drove him out. He then built a futuristic fiberglass and shade cloth home located within wave-sound distance of the infamous Kehena Beach. As an amazingly fit, retired dude, he lived in the graceful embrace of a harem of cannababes in his lavafield eco-hostel frequently running for office as a Councilman or Mayor with a platform to decriminalise all hemp products. His years of dedication have resulted in medical and recreational legalisation in many U.S.states. While he never profited himself his legacy has benefited many thousands of marijuana users across the U.S.A.
Being a close neighbour Aaron and I spent many ‘high times’ over the years sharing pakalolo stories, political campaigns, protest actions and lots of wild parties. Aaron was a huge HICCUP circus supporter and was often a welcome addition to our colourful group in the Pahoa winter parades.
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