[9 August 2007]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
AUSTIN, Texas—It’s been decades since Willie Nelson smoked that first joint in Fort Worth, but—“Ain’t it funny how time slips away?”—he’s still singing the praises of pot.
On Friday the country music legend headlines Austin Freedom Fest, a benefit concert for four pro-marijuana groups, including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Nelson co-chairs NORML’s advisory board.
“Marijuana is like sex,” the Hill Country crooner wrote in his 1988 biography, “Willie.” “If I don’t do it every day I get a headache.”
Nelson first smoked marijuana in 1954 in Fort Worth, where he spent his formative years in and out of the rough-and-tumble honky-tonks off Jacksboro Highway. More than 20 years later, Nelson admits, he smoked grass on the White House roof when Jimmy Carter was president.
“Marijuana should be recognized for what it is, as a medicine, an herb that grows in the ground,” Nelson wrote. “If you need it, use it. People who smoke it and get real paranoid don’t need it.”
The concert at the Backyard in Austin will bring together a variety of musicians and activists, all united by the goal of easing restrictions on marijuana. Nelson will be joined on stage by the Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel. Also performing at the concert are Paula Nelson, Jackie “The Joke Man” Martling and Carolyn Wonderland.
Mark Stepnoski, a pro-legalization activist and former Cowboys player, is helping to organize the event. General admission tickets were going for $52 and reserved seats could be had for $62 as of Thursday. VIP tickets are sold out.
Proceeds from the event will be split evenly among NORML, the Marijuana Policy Project, the Wo/Man’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana and Green Aid, a legal defense fund, organizers said.
Nelson did not respond to a request to discuss the concert, but Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said the funds will be used for legalization efforts around the country. At least a dozen states allow people to use marijuana to relieve pain or treat other ailments, and Kampia said his group is helping to push ballot initiatives making medical marijuana legal in several other states.
“The goal is to end marijuana prohibition in the U.S.,” Kampia said.
Nelson is no stranger to marijuana laws. He was charged with possessing a small amount of pot in 1994 after he was found asleep in his car near Waco, Texas, with part of a hand-rolled cigarette in the ashtray. The charges were dropped after a judge ruled that evidence had been illegally seized. Nelson and his tour manager were fined and placed on probation this year after they pleaded guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession in Louisiana—stemming from a tour bus inspection last year on Interstate 10.
Federal authorities continue to try to stop the drug’s distribution. In recent days they raided what were described as the largest marijuana plantations in North Texas history. Last week, plants with an estimated value of $10 million were uprooted by the Drug Enforcement Administration in southwest Dallas. It was the third seizure since mid-July in the Dallas area, when authorities announced the discovery of 10,600 plants growing near Grand Prairie.
Given that vices such as tobacco and alcohol are legal, Nelson has said, he doesn’t understand all the fuss over adults’ use of a natural weed.
“I would be in favor of legalizing marijuana entirely, but I don’t like to think of a government having the power to legalize something like an herb,” he wrote in his autobiography. “An herb belongs to us people to use as we need, and it is no government’s business.”
Cultivated for medicinal and recreational purpose for thousands of years, marijuana became controversial in the United States in the early 1900s, when Americans began to associate its use with Mexican revolutionaries and black musicians.
Known by the scientific name “Cannibus sativa,” marijuana is one of the oldest psychoactive plants known to man.
Utah passed the first state marijuana ban in 1915; the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act sparked a nationwide crackdown.
There were 786,545 marijuana-related arrests in 2005, more than for all violent crimes combined.
About 43 percent of all drug-related arrests in 2005—about 800,000 individual cases—stem from marijuana violations.
At least 12 states now allow the use of medical marijuana.
Sources: FBI, Marijuana Policy Project