Every now and then, Ukiah Morrison comes up in conversation, even though it’s been years since he last lived in Asheville. And it’s been even longer since he was featured in the 2000 Rolling Stone story, “Freak Power 2000,” that also designated Asheville the “New Freak Capital of the U.S.” It’s a title that still, at turns, pleases and rankles Asheville’s residents. So does Morrison’s dubious legacy. That legacy includes running (pantsless) for City Council — a campaign for which he received 247 of 10,602 votes cast. (More information about Morrison’s political run as well as the Rolling Stone feature and the local response can be found here.)
On February 9, the community Facebook Page Downtown Asheville posted, “‘Does anyone remember the almost naked, painted man that walked around downtown back in the early 90’s,’ asks Cathy Crocker.” It got 16 likes and 21 comments.
In the spring of 2005, Morrison returned to Asheville wearing rustic robes. He spent days on end kneeling in prayer at the base of the Vance Monument, a sight which may have confounded tourists even more than Morrison’s early body paint-and-thong iteration. Morrison also appeared as a guest on the Virato Live radio show (on the same “Cannabis 1: Health, Economics, and the Law” program with Tommy Chong).
“I am glad to hear that at least one person does remember that I came back in a different outfit other than the g-string,” Morrison said, by email, when Xpress reached out to him. “While I don’t sport the thong anymore, I do still wear a hemp loin cloth that was made about the same time.”
Later in 2005, Morrison was living in California and working at the Hemp Plus Ministry in Ukiah (yes, same as his first name). Part of the ministry (at which Morrison served as a reverend) was cannabis distribution. (“We believe that cannabis is the tree of life,” one member of the ministry was quoted as saying to the Ukiah Daily Journal. “In the Bible it does say the tree of life will be called upon to heal the nation. We believe that tree is cannabis. We promote hemp awareness.”) Unfortunately, the founder of the ministry was killed during a home invasion, according to this report.
There are other sad turns to Morrison’s story — some (like the death of his young daughter) of which may be known to Asheville residents from the late ‘90s. Other difficulties befell Morrison in California. “I have been through the ringer here in Mendocino County— somehow ended up being labelled as one of the premier cannabis cultivators,” he writes. “It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping to have happen, but looking back on it, maybe I will have influence on the changes that desperately need to be made.”
Morrison was featured in the MSNBC special, Marijuana Inc.: Inside America’s Pot Industry. About the film he says, “I attempted to get the point across that as for myself, I am not like the other growers. I didn’t ever make a killing at ‘commercial cultivation.’ I grew for my own, and a very short list of close friends and family. The neighbor that I had for three years at that garden site was a sheriff’s deputy who signed the warrants for illegal grows. He didn’t care to have me as a neighbor, but he was forced to recognize that I wasn’t blowin’ it up like many are tempted to do.”
The video also shows one of Morrison’s wolf-hybrids named Omni. “We are thinking of getting him and his siblings into commercials or movies. His younger brother is just as beautiful, but has some German Shepard in him,” he writes. “Besides the cannabis activism, my partner of eight years and I facilitate the care of three wolf hybrids, two geese and one cat, all of whom were rescued.”
Despite the menagerie that they care for, Morrison and his partner were evicted from their property three years ago because they were no longer able to meet the rising rent costs. The couple has been homeless since that time, though they are both employed part-time job at a salvage shop affiliated with the county landfill. “Some of the employees pull out items that have the potential to be re-used by the community. My partner and I come in and organize those items for resale, and on the first Saturday of every month, we negotiate the values with prospective buyers, and lessen the amount of useful ‘treasures’ that go into a landfill,” he writes. “This is how I acquired my ‘new’ used road bike. I suspect that much of what comes to us in like new condition is the result of other folks within the community being evicted, because no one in their right mind would let go of some of these items.”
This tale is not without its silver lining. Morrison recently discovered that he qualifies for Veteran’s benefits, which will give him access to health care and to continuing education. Interestingly, Morrison was stationed in Korea during the first Gulf War — a part of Morrison’s backstory that kind of flies in the face of the counter-culture lifestyle he was known for in late ‘90s Asheville. Perhaps more surprising, he says he enjoyed his time of deployment. “I was a part of the Combined Field Army which included units from the Koreans as well as the United States,” he writes. “In fact, my first promotion was jointly signed off on by the Korean Commander. Supposedly, that was a first in the history of the Army. They promoted me four times within the one year and two days that I was there.”
His accomplishments in the military seem to have helped with his efforts to enroll in college — Morrison says that the VA is backing his educational pursuits. “In fact, everyone seems to support my endeavor,” he writes. “Apparently I scored very high on the placement tests, which is interesting since I didn’t study one bit for any part of it. Everyone is more or less thinking that I should do very well. The counselor suggested that I consider transferring to Stanford after taking the preliminary courses where I am. I am flattered considering my reputation as a cannabis consumer.” Morrison is interested in horticulture and agriculture programs, as well as culinary arts, and may also take sustainable technologies courses. In addition, he started running (for exercise, not office) five years ago and hopes to participate in his first marathon in May.
A return to Asheville might be on Morrison’s horizon, too. “I enjoyed the fact that Asheville has four distinct seasons. Mendocino has just two, and they are too extreme,” he says. “There isn’t any certainty in my head just yet, but the idea of coming back to Asheville has its appeal, but then so does Oregon, Ohio and other locations.”