Willie Nelson Takes Last Aim and Declares War on Big Marijuana

20120517-20120517-DSC_3874.jpgBy Heather Callaghan

The 82-year-old music sensation says he doesn’t have many fights left – but he musters it all against Big Pot to keep corporate paws from ruining cannabis freedom forever. There are two things you can guarantee to be on Willie Nelson’s tour bus at all times besides his loving wife Annie and musician son, Lukas – that would be his Winchester rifle above his bed and a vast array of marijuana, usually in the form of smoke plumes if Willie’s there. Publicly, he has always been known for being open about his cannabis use.

Nelson was also known for propelling the creation of Farm Aid after hearing Bob Dylan controversially mention helping American farmers while doing a Live Aid show. Nelson just happened to be watching Dylan say this and was hit with inspiration for Farm Aid while he was there to play and doing – what else? Smoking marijuana, of course. Wil S. Hylton writing for New York magazine describes the tour bus table before Willie at the 30th Farm Aid as holding a “a vase full of pencils, an orange lighter, a smattering of pre-rolled doobies, an ashtray cluttered with the remainders of joints gone by, a dish of loose cannabis caked with kief, three slim vaporizers of marijuana extract, and a deck of black playing cards printed with the words WILLIE’S RESERVE in saloon lettering.”


Willie seems to look back on those first Farm Aid concerts with naivete – he thought it would signal to Congress a need for a serious solution and that would end the need to have the benefits. This writer wonders whether it signaled to Congress that someone else would clean up the scandalous banking/inflation mess that lead to a devastating farm-death epidemic in the 1980s. Still, Nelson says that things are better as people are now  “thinking about buying and growing sustainably.”

Hylton says, “the forces of Big Agriculture have, like Big Tobacco and Big Pharma, fallen into widespread disrepute. It is easy to forget that just 30 years ago, basically nobody was talking about these things, and that Nelson as much as anyone helped to mobilize the local-food movement.”

He was an advocate of marijuana legalization too and has seen the ups and downs. Approximately 80% of Americans are okay with medicinal marijuana and even more states are anticipated to follow Washington and Colorado’s giant step toward legalization for recreational use. The Federal government is always a thorn in the side of cannabis users and dispensaries – but legalization has unfortunately opened another kind of jar… Investors.

Now in his sunset years, Nelson is shifting his energy away from marijuana legalization to the battle against Big Pot.

Hylton announces [emphasis added by H.C.],

Even as the country has softened its stance toward marijuana, a legion of large corporations has gathered to dominate the legal market. Nelson figures he has at least one good fight left. In what may be his last political act, he is declaring war on Big Pot.

It appears that just a handful of developers are disgracing the memory of comedian Bill Hicks by putting a platinum, flashing dollar sign on a beneficial plant. They want to establish the first national brand and turn the symbol of cannabis freedom into nothing more than a Starbucks drive-thru.

Hylton dug into the research and found,

In the face of all this, investors have naturally begun piling into pot. A race is on to establish the first truly national marijuana brand. The most visible contender in this contest is probably the company Privateer Holdings, which was founded by three Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, one of whom had never smoked pot in his life but who somehow managed to persuade Bob Marley’s family to license his name and image to their packaging. This spring, Privateer completed its second capital drive for a total of $82 million in start-up cash. Or maybe the rise of corporate marijuana is better illustrated by the tech millionaire Jamen Shively, who announced plans in 2013 to create a chain of pot shops modeled on Starbucks that would “mint more millionaires than Microsoft” — acknowledging at one point, “We are Big Marijuana.”

Even the most ardent advocates of legalization have been troubled by the rise of Big Pot. The legalization movement is organized largely around issues of social justice, and for activists who have spent decades railing against the disproportionate impact of the drug war on poor communities, it has been unsettling to watch legalization engender a new slate of economic disparities. Alison Holcomb, who wrote the initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in Washington State, told me that a cannabis industry dominated by large corporations would threaten the core values of the legalization movement. “It looks a lot like the concentration of capital that we have seen with Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco,” she said. “I think that’s problematic for cannabis-law reformers, because it plays into our opposition’s strongest argument.” Holcomb pointed to the initiative in Ohio this month, where a consortium of large marijuana investors has spent about $15 million to promote legalization, while opponents have spent less than $1 million and focused not on legalization itself, but on the fact that the new law would permit only ten of those large producers to operate in the state.

Legalization and cannabis health advocates voice another valid worry: that the corporate takeover of cannabis leads to monoculture and chemical methods of pest control when grown on a massive scale. This leads to a downgrade in the quality seen by individual growers who grow such small scale that they forego the use of chemicals altogether. It’s one thing to ingest such products on an apple; but it’s wholly another to smoke them into the lungs when the chemical-laced marijuana hits brain cells nearly instantaneously.

Pesticides have already been found by unwitting consumers and no health guidelines have been established. Previously, in Denver, Colorado, 60,000 plants were found to be laced with pesticide, myclobutanil. This will probably perk the ears of both the EPA and FDA who let corporations like Monsanto poison the food supply and take their word its safe, but will, no doubt, rush in to shut down cannabis growers the moment they raise a regulatory flag. (At least they would be doing their jobs?) It will spawn a new area of study which will no doubt show the ill effects of smoking marijuana sprayed with pesticides. People are already calling for government and scientific intervention – or some kind of deus ex machina like a benevolent corporation (yeah, right!) – and it’s hard to blame them if they might be unwittingly sucking noxious fumes deep into their lungs on a daily basis. When it comes to the delicate battle for cannabis legalization – salivating corporations can ruin the whole thing.

Earlier this year, Nelson talked of opening a marijuana company called Willie’s Reserve, but not much is known yet about what that would entail. He said, “I’ve smoked enough and I want to give back.” But chances are, he also wants to protect his almost inhuman consumption from corporate handling.

Wilson is quoted as saying about the budding business,

I really believe in the environmental aspect of this. It’s a great way to revitalize small farms, and I want to make sure that any product we grow is as clean as we can make it and that, wherever possible, we’re trying to lower the environmental impact of our operations.

Marijuana is currently the fastest growing U.S. industry – look at Hylton’s report for a comparison of the business models including Willie’s Reserve. Wall St is happy to grab all the action, especially since banks are skittish about lending for small marijuana business and the federal government has placed the cannabis business into an obscure and expensive tax code with virtually no business write-offs. Now we see how the corporate vacuum formed.

Nelson’s wife Annie commented,

If you believe in the free market, then a decentralized market is free. And with a free market, people have a choice to buy clean herb. There’s some over here, and some over there, and the market can demand what people want.

Willie added,

These problems could have been fixed on the first day – but you have a lot of bureaucracy and bullshit, a lot of big corporations. So that’s what we’re up against. They’re trying to monopolize it all. That’s horseshit. That ain’t right, and we’ll do everything we can to keep that from happening.

You don’t have to light up to believe in cannabis freedom, health freedom, freedom from corporatocracy and ending the War on Drugs. Even though the chill musician can probably credit his health and lustrous hair – at least in part to cannabis – he still feels like he won’t be able to take too many more stands. But this one is important to this highway man – is it important to you?

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Flickr Image: by joshbg2k

Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at NaturalBlaze.com and ActivistPost.com. Like at Facebook.

Recent posts by Heather Callaghan


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