By Rick Cusick
The legendary Gatewood Galbraith – attorney, author, five-time candidate for Kentucky governor and one of the best-known marijuana and hemp law reform activists in the world – died early Wednesday morning at his Lexington home of complications from chronic emphysema. Often described as a colorful, larger-than-life character, Gatewood was also a deeply innovative politician, a relentlessly gallant man and a hardcore American Original, resplendent in a white hemp suit and a Stetson hat.
Best known for his tireless efforts to bring hemp and cannabis cultivation back to Kentucky, Gatewood came to be regarded as something of a one-trick pony in his home state where he fought nine unsuccessful campaigns for four different offices. In fact, Candidate Galbraith supported a broad range of issues and during his final campaign for governor, in addition to touting medical marijuana and industrial hemp, Gatewood stumped for environmental protection and education reform and railed against what he called the “synthetic subversion” of the petrochemical industries. Running as an independent in 2011, he finished third in a three-way election with nine percent of the vote.
“Every time he ran, I backed him,” Gatewood’s long-time friend Willie Nelson told HIGH TIMES. “[It was] not so much to do with marijuana and hemp, but because of who he was. The nerve, the boldness to take on issues that were going to beat him at the polls – you don’t find too many men like him. I respected his courage,” Nelson recalled. “I respected him.”
Gatewood Galbraith was born in Carlisle, Kentucky in 1947. Although he didn’t look the part, he described himself as a hippie and was a lifelong advocate for marijuana law reform. After failing his first attempt at the bar exam in 1976 he immediately formed the Future Kentucky Marijuana Growers Association Inc. and the Kentucky Marijuana Feasibility Study that he subsequently used to lobby for legalization. He passed the Kentucky bar on his second try and set up shop as a practicing attorney but he was always more comfortably clothed as a rapscallion.
In 1983 he took his first shot at elected office, ran on a pro-marijuana platform for the Democratic nomination for Agriculture Commissioner and lost. When asked during the campaign if he had ever personally smoked marijuana he replied with a big grin, “I am not absolutely denying using it.”
Willie Nelson recalled campaigning with Gatewood during his first bid for governor in 1991. “We toured Kentucky in an old Mercedes-Benz that ran on hemp oil,” the musician said. The two men poured a gallon of pure hempseed oil into the gas tank and led a two hundred-car caravan of supporters from Lexington to Louisville where Willie performed a benefit concert for the candidate. They garnered a lot of attention but not enough support. Galbraith finished last in the Democratic primary with 5.2 percent of the vote.
Gatewood was acutely aware that his advocacy for cannabis law reform limited his chances in the voting booth, and he wryly noted, “Losing statewide elections doesn’t pay worth a damn.” In 1992 he filed for bankruptcy, the Mercedes “Hempmobile” was repossessed and he always struggled to pay his bills – a fact concealed by a courtly demeanor, his soft-spoken Lexington drawl and his natural elegance. He ran four more times for governor, once for attorney general and once for Congress, and lost them all, but he continued to champion cannabis throughout his career because he loved marijuana so much and he believed in the plant.
On a swing through New York during his 2011 campaign he impressed members of the HIGH TIMES staff when he was introduced to honey oil during an offsite after-hours dab-a-thon. He made no apologies for his appetites:
“I don't answer to anybody except God,” Gatewood said, “and an occasional judge or two.”