Chris Goldstein sat down with Willie Nelson to chat about marijuana and politics before his show at Harrah’s Casino in Atlantic City on September 19, 2014.
This is an excerpt from our interview with a great friend to the marijuana reform movement, Willie Nelson. Read the entire article in our print edition or the Ezine.
The sun was setting on Atlantic City as we were ushered onto the bus nicknamed The Honeysuckle Rose. Steve and I set up the audio recorder and sat down in the small booth across from the kitchenette. The layout on the bus is simple and homey with dark wood trim. It feels like a country cabin on wheels. On the wall is a cork board with dozens of pictures of Willie’s family.
Willie came out from the back smiling and shook our hands. Steve offered him a puff from a CloudVape pen and Willie gladly accepted; pushing the button and tasting the sweet vapor.
I explained that our new magazine Freedom Leaf would be going out to all the NORML and Students for Sensible Dug Policy Chapters and Willie was pleased. Then we launched into the interview.
Willie is constantly on the road, touring across the country. I asked if he sees support growing for the issue of legalization today.
“We see and hear from people every night and do songs like ‘Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die’…the enthusiasm for that has grown throughout the years…who would have thought things would have gone so far within our lifetime? It has surprised me.”
Although the tour has not taken him through Colorado since Amendment 64 went into place earlier this year Willie commented, “I have some friends there telling me all about it. It’s the way to go!”
We chatted for a minute about the legalization ballot initiatives in Alaska, Oregon and Washington DC.
Willie had some strong advice, “Well the main thing is is go vote! It is one of the major problems we have…we get a little lax…we think it’s a great idea but on election day we’re busy or something. Just remember: Go vote! If you can vote early then vote early.”
With his music career spanning several generations Willie is has a wide age range to his fan base. Being so outgoing about marijuana I ask what advice he has for kids who are tuned into the issue. He became thoughtful and serious saying, “I also saw a few reports that marijuana use in children and teenagers has gone down,” showing that he stays well on top of the latest news related to cannabis.
He added, “If they can stay away from it forever well that’s great too. But it’s a good medicine for stress and that’s all I’ve ever said about it.”
Sitting just inches away, my eyes begin to follow the lines of Willie’s well-known face. At times he looks grandfatherly but he certainly looks much more youthful than a man in his 80’s. I asked if he thought smoking marijuana helped keep him feeling young and even looking young.
“Well personally, for my example I think it has. It’s kept me more relaxed and kept me from doing things that weren’t good for me. Like smoking cigarettes. Like drinking alcohol. I was into both of those pretty heavy at one point in my life.”
Then Willie told us about the technique he used to quit tobacco, a story I had never heard before.
“One day I had a pack of Chesterfields and I took all the cigarettes out and rolled up 20 big fat joints and put those in the cigarette pack, put them in my pocket and I haven’t smoked a cigarette since. And today I feel a whole lot better.”
Consuming cannabis has evolved a lot since Willie first took up marijuana for health and recreation. There are now Volcano Vaporizers, hash oil pens and well-manufactured edibles. What is his preferred method?
Without skipping a beat Willie enthusiastically replied, “I’m and old fashioned joint smoker ya know.”
Then he quickly added, “Edibles are good for people who can’t smoke. I know there are a lot of people who fall in that category. Just read the label and make sure you know what you’re doing!”
Willie was, no doubt, referencing New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. She, infamously, ate too much of a cannabis infused chocolate bar in Colorado resulting in an 8 hour panic attack in her hotel room. After reading her column about the experience Willie invited Dowd to get high on his bus anytime. She actually took him up on the offer just a few days before this interview while Willie was in Washington DC.
Steve Bloom asked how Farm Aid fared in 2014.
“Farm aid went great! Had a great crowd …a sell out crowd. Everybody did a great job.”
“Everybody” means John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Jack White, Dave Matthews,Tim Reynolds and a cadre of musicians who play the annual, all-day concert. Farm Aid is the biggest grassroots organization supporting American agriculture and their efforts go on year-round. Farm Aid offers hot-lines to help farmers and even disaster relief. All of it is funded by the annual concert.
Willie is close to the issue and he spoke about the future for those involved.
“Farmers are beginning to have a little more positive outlook on themselves and their livelihoods. They are seeing some breaks here and there. They’re doing a little more organic farming. The people who buy farmed supplies are finding that it is better to go to a farmers market and deal directly with farmers. If you look at your breakfast in the morning and look your bacon and eggs, well where did that come from? A thousand miles away? Or could your farmer next door maybe have raised those for you. People are beginning to think about that more…So this year’s Farm Aid reflected that a lot.”
Steve asked how hemp might figure into the future for local farmers and I mentioned there was now a legal hemp crop underway in Kentucky. Willie got excited about the topic. He was a longtime supporter of Gatewood Galbraith, a constitutional attorney who ran for governor of Kentucky.
“Go Gatewood! I think it is a matter of time as people see more uses for hemp. We are talking about hempcrete to replace concrete. It is just as good, just as strong. You can grow it. It’s good for the soul, it’s good for the farmer…everything is good about it.”
Ever the political junkie I decided to take a chance and ask about some national figures. Hillary Clinton visited Willie here on the bus the last time she made a presidential run. So I asked about her.
“Oh, I’ve known Hillary for a long time time and I’ve met her a few times on the road,” Willie said with a broad smile, “I hear she’s headed down to Texas here in a few weeks.”
I quipped that she might be going to Iowa and New Hampshire soon too.
Willie joked, “Well she does have an airplane…”
Steve went straight to the point, asking if Willie would support her for President.
“Oh, I’d support her in anything she does,” he replied.
So does Willie Nelson think Hillary Clinton would be a friend to marijuana reform?
“I don’t know. I’ve heard her talk about it. It hasn’t been negative … it hasn’t been completely positive either.”
Willie used some gentle diplomacy and wouldn’t give Hillary a full endorsement quite yet.