By Keith Mansur
Oregon Cannabis Connection
Henry Rollins has long been known for his aversion to alcohol and drugs, including cannabis. Yet the musician, actor, comedian, TV host, and multi-talented entertainer has now become a staunch advocate for cannabis legalization and decriminalization in America. He will give the keynote address at the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference in Ashland on November 19.
Although he does not use cannabis, he understands well the forces that drive prohibition and also the forces that drive states to end it. His perspective is refreshing and his knowledge and understanding is right on target. Oregon Cannabis Connection (OCC) recently spoke to Rollins about his activism.
The former lead singer for Black Flag, a punk band from the 1980s, Rollins tried cannabis once over 30 years ago after band practice and found it to be a less than enjoyable experience. As his band mates were getting stoned, he surprised them when he asked to try it. Surprised, they passed it over.
“I got really stoned, it didn’t take long, and it wasn’t subtle. I just didn’t enjoy it,” explained Rollins. “I just sat there and asked, ‘How long will this last?’, and they said, ‘About half an hour’… so I just sat it out.”
His bad personal experience was no deterrent from supporting his fellow band mates, or anyone else, who enjoyed the plant. Eventually Rollins understood how cannabis prohibition, and more broadly drug prohibition, had a negative impact on minority communities. Across the nation, racial minorities and poor people have been criminalized while whites are largely given a pass. It created a prison system full of non-violent “drug” offenders whose population is still skewed heavily towards people who are of color or poor.
“I see it almost as a civil rights matter,” explained Rollins. “It’s a very easy way to put non-whites and poor people, of any ethnicity, in jail … It’s ridiculous.”
“Law enforcement uses it as a way to send people to jail and get a prison number on them and get them into the prison system, move them around the prison-industrial complex and start making money on them,” Rollins criticized. “The war on drugs is a safe war … It’s a war on poor people … it’s a war on non-white people. It promotes that, you know? It’s the gift of Reagan.”
His incredulity was apparent surrounding the criminal justice system and the war on drugs. Rollins understands the motivations behind it and also that cannabis stands apart from most of the other prohibited drugs due to its low toxicity and medical value.
“When you see the benevolent uses of cannabis, everything from CBD to arthritis to glaucoma … when you see so much good can be done with it, you realize the only people [who] don’t like it [have] half-baked ideas of its effects or they just don’t like non-white or poor people. It’s prejudiced and it’s a way to make money, take tax dollars, and invent criminals and an artificial criminal class,” Rollins explained passionately. “To me this is highly offensive.”
Rollins also defends cannabis against alcohol and tobacco, pointing out the difference in the way they are treated and perceived by a large segment of American society.
“No guy on weed ever chased me down the street threatening to kill me, but if I had a dollar for every drunk in my face that wanted to take a swing at me I’d be rich! And a cigar? Why do you want me to smoke a cigar that will kill me?” said Rollins. “These things are not only legal—which is fine, make your own choice because it’s your body—but they are lauded. [People say] ‘We’re going to go out and drink’ and folks say, ‘Okay’, but if you say ‘We’re going to go smoke some weed’ people say, ‘What are you, some sort of gay communist?’ … I mean, that’s the perception. It’s the hypocrisy and the not-so-cloaked bigotry of the criminalization of cannabis.”
“That’s why I advocate for legalization and decriminalization,” he told OCC. “I always pair those two because I think it’s very important to remember that legalization is not necessarily part of decriminalization,” explained Rollins. “There’s still going to be people in jail in a state that goes legal for cannabis unless they do the heavy lifting of making it retroactive.”
Considering the race and income disparity in application of cannabis laws, we had to ask about the current state of affairs in Washington, DC, and what Rollins thinks about Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“Attorney General Sessions is an old-school bigot and, if it was a real democracy, both sides of the aisle would be pushing him out like a bad oyster. He is an awful human being.… and of course he hates cannabis because he sees the people [who] smoke it and he detests those people,” Rollins exclaimed. “And Trump is not interested in policy, he’s not interested in being President. He didn’t think he was going to win. You can tell by the acceptance speech … he will be like a windsock. Whatever Jeff Sessions does he will probably just rubber-stamp it. He is a real threat to freedom in this country. I worry about him.”
Rollins has previously delivered the keynote address on cannabis for two International Cannabis Business Conference events and he is brutally honest with attendees on the realities of why the different states have legalized. He explains that it’s purely a numbers game for politicians and community leaders. Cannabis businesses and consumers need to create an irreversible foothold.
“When I give these keynote speeches on cannabis … I tell them the only reason your state went legal for cannabis is because they ran the numbers and they realize they can make more money regulating and taxing you than they could throwing cannabis users in jail,” Rollins said. “They don’t like you; they just see more profit in you. So these people are not your friends and they are not going to make it easy for you … you have to be a benevolent engine in your community. You have to make your outreach and your education on this so passionate and so unrelenting that if the state wants to make it illegal again it would be like the Governor saying ‘We’re going to shoot four rescue dogs at noon … the place would go apeshit!”
He knows medical cannabis is important and he believes the pharmaceutical industry is a direct threat to its survival because medical cannabis threatens their bottom line by providing a natural solution to the drugs that so many people currently use. It makes the small grower a real threat.
“You are going up against big pharma,” explained Rollins. “And do you think they are going to take some weed grower lightly? You’re destabilizing their bottom line … you’re moving the earth from underneath their feet. A bunch of farmers and vendors? There’s no way any of them are smiling about it. They have had a monopoly on your health since before your parents were born.”
Rollins sees two major threats to the cannabis industry directly from big industry—not so much law enforcement or the federal government: when big pharma realizes the threat it poses to their current drug trade and when other heavyweights become involved in cultivation and production.
“[I see] two dangers,” said Rollins. “When big pharma sees this is a big enough threat, when people get off of their drugs and get onto cannabinoids, and then later on when Monsanto and Phillip Morris say ‘Okay, we’re ready … we’re going to grow our own seeds which kill themselves off every season and we’re going to do to you what we do to big agriculture and we’re going to turn your product into Marlboro.’”
What makes the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference an event he is willing to keynote? Mostly it’s the organizer, Alex Rogers.
“It’s because he asked me to. I have done two, and the one in November will be my third,” Rollins told OCC. “I must say, I really like that guy. I liked him as soon as I met him. I like his energy. I think he’s the real thing and I think in his own way he’s putting a dent in culture. He will be remembered and I am kind of chuffed that I am, in a small way, a part of it.”
The conference always gathers important contributors for the event that bring solid information that is current and relevant. It is now happening in three countries and half a dozen cities. Their information is tailored to the location and delivered by the most qualified and relevant presenters possible. Rollins will be keynoting the event in Ashland, Oregon, on November 19th at 9:30 am. The OMBC event will cover Oregon-specific topics, including Oregon Liquor Control Commission regulations, a distribution industry panel, a medical marijuana-specific panel, updates on testing rules, an address from state Senator Floyd Prozanski, and more. Visit their website at http://oregonmbc.com/ for tickets and more information.
Also, conferences are scheduled for Kauai, Hawaii, in December; San Francisco in February; Berlin, Germany, in April; and Vancouver, BC, Canada, in June. Visit www.internationalcbc.com/ for more information and to purchase tickets.
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