Cannabis Activist and HIGH TIMES Freedom Fighter Gideon Israel Dies

Gideon Israel, marijuana activist and winner of the HIGH TIMES Freedom Fighter of the Year award in 1999 at the 12th Cannabis Cup, died on September 8 in Olympia, Washington. He was 68 years old.

Israel, born Jeff McMonagle, legally changed his name after joining the Love Family. (The movement’s founder, Love Israel, died in 2016.)

Gideon Israel often held public, utopian gatherings at his 42-acre property, Rainbow Valley, in south Thurston County, Washington—until the authorities shut him down and seized his land. After the seizure, Rainbow Valley was converted into Shotwell’s Landing Nursery, which grows native plants.

Israel was a polarizing figure in Thurston County for decades, according to the Olympian, because he clashed with local authorities over the festivals he hosted at Rainbow Valley.

He was convicted in 1998 of three federal marijuana-related charges and sentenced to nine months in custody and agreed not to hold festivals or gatherings in Thurston County for a decade.

Israel served two-thirds of his sentence. During preparations for his release, he delightfully mentioned that his six months in jail were a chance to make new friends, minister to troubled folks and focus on his health.

“It’s been quite an adventure,” Israel said. “I’ve probably met 1,000 men who live here locally in the county. I’ve probably made hundreds of friends. It’s been quite a social event.”

Meeting so many men whose sentences he felt were too extreme for their crimes, left an indelible impression on him.

Not surprisingly, his friends remember him as being “a kind old hippie,” similar to Kathy Bates’ portrayal of Ruth Whitefeather Feldman on Netflix’s pot comedy Disjointed.

His time in prison didn’t stop Israel from advocating for marijuana legalization. In fact, it strengthened his resolve. He appeared at Olympia’s Hemp Fest and won the HIGH TIMES Freedom Fighter of the Year award in 1999.

Israel purchased Rainbow Valley in 1986. A decade later, he wrote the following about the property in a letter to a local judge:

“Rainbow Valley is a year-round staging area and headquarters for Peace Movement Northwest, whose purpose is to end the marijuana/hemp war. I consider the marijuana laws to be generally applicable laws that have a chilling effect on our right to practice our style of Peace Gatherings.”

Rainbow Valley was a place where like-minded people and ageing hippies could gather and express themselves.

“Sometimes you have to experience something to understand how wonderful it was,” Michael Olson, percussionist for the band Obrador said. “But it was a place where the counterculture could go and just be who they were.”

Obrador performed at Rainbow Valley a few times. Olsen said that Israel never had much money to pay musicians, but local bands were always willing to play events there because they loved Israel and the vibe at the venue.

“He was always a light in our community, and his death won’t change that,” Olson said.

“The definition of Gideon is ‘Warrior of God,’” Israel once said. “So I know God will have another assignment for me.”

You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.


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