Henry Rollins On Marijuana Legalization: 'To Me, It’s A Political Thing, It’s A Civil Rights Thing, It’s A Bigotry And Racism Thing'

The marijuana industry has found one of its most outspoken and unlikeliest of allies in legendary punk rocker Henry Rollins. Although the former Black Flag frontman doesn’t partake in usage of the drug - "I tried it once, I just didn’t like it," Rollins declares - he sees marijuana’s legalization as, among other things, a means to help eliminate what he sees as the racism and oppression that marijuana prohibition has inflicted upon millions of North Americans.

“What I want to remind people of is the cultural significance of the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis,” Rollins told Civilized recently.

As Canada prepares to become the first G7 nation to roll out adult-use cannabis, Rollins knows the stakes are high. So he's speaking out about the issue at events like this month's International Cannabis Business Conference in Vancouver (June 24-25), where Rollins will deliver the keynote speech to business moguls, magnates and aspiring entrepreneurs.

"Knowing other people there will be speaking about how to run your business and make money, and how to be an entrepreneur in the cannabis industry, I reckon my job is to be the hearts and minds guy of the conference," Rollins told Civilized.

He added that the best way to help medical marijuana patients and prevent Big Pharma is to empower and motivate the small cannabis business owner. 

"The cannabis entrepreneur is going to be a good part of society. The people in that business are going up against big pharma and big agricultural companies but are also going to be helping people with PTSD and help get people off opioids. They are going to be helping that little old lady to live again because the cannabinoid is helping with her arthritis or maybe will help someone coming out of chemotherapy that might have appetite problems.

"Of course, you’re going to be getting all the recreational users and that’s fantastic, but it’s my hope cannabis entrepreneurs will see they have a responsibility to do good in the world. If it’s just going to be about money, and they are selling products just to make money, they aren’t part of a solution."

What makes the International Cannabis Business Conference especially important to the legalization movement?

I think it’s consensus-building because you’ll have everyone there from entrepreneurs to people making licensing deals with other countries. It’s a lot of dot connecting. People will get intelligent information from a bunch of switched-on speakers. I’m the cheerleader. The rest of them have the know-how. Maybe these people attending the conference are ultimately lending credibility to this legalization discussion going forward in Canada or anywhere. I might have a rose-tinged lensed view of Canada, I quite like it there. And I know you’re not immune to homophobia and racism, but as a country, you get it right pretty often.

I think [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau is a good guy, but I also believe he’s a symptom of a young country and young voters. He speaks for an electorate that can definitely hang with the idea of legalizing cannabis. I’m sure he’s got his warts and all, but I do believe that Canada is poised to lead in this century. I think Canada will be influential in other countries and other continents going legal going forward.

With the legalization of marijuana, you’re overturning centuries of bigotry. I say that from an American point of view, as we have quite the awful history with cannabis and hemp as well as corruption. In my country, it’s an easy way to use my tax dollars to throw an African-American in jail for nonviolent crime. It’s a scam. With the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis, we’re taking power away from these billionaires behind the U.S. prison system.

Looking at the U.S. from an outsider’s perspective, one thing that consistently floors me is how people caught with marijuana are sometimes treated more severely than murderers. I don’t understand the logic that allows those two things to hold equal ground.

It’s a profit incentive. The American prison system is a multi-billion dollar a year enterprise. In 1865, with the 13th Amendment, slavery was abolished and in 1868 with the 14th Amendment, equal rights and equal protection were guaranteed. In some ways, those were two of the biggest blows to civil rights in that racism and discrimination then went into the infrastructure. Slavery never really stopped, it just got real tricky and real sneaky.

I’m a white heterosexual male. Justice for me in America is a much different thing than the guy 10 exits down the 101 South that lives in Downtown L.A. The fact is that our realities are different, yet the Constitution and the laws are the same? Come on. I hate it and I push against it as best as I can, but to me, cannabis is a huge part of that in that the law and corporations use it to keep the machine running, at the price of human lives, leaving a lot of people with no recourse.

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Are you worried about the cannabis industry turning into another Big Tobacco or Big Pharma? How do we prevent that from happening?

I think entrepreneurs are going to have to survive money as best they can to get the work done. Get past the money element and get to work. Part of that is being responsible for shepherding a cultural change, not just being born at a time it’s happening, but to be a part of it as one of the people responsible for its good care.

A year or so ago, one person speaking at a conference I attended said cannabis entrepreneurs should treat their product like a micro-brewery, where they’re up against all the major alcohol companies, but they are making a quality product.

Without a doubt, all the major tobacco companies have been eyeing this for decades now. They are playing the long game, but they want some of that money too. Corporations like that can’t get enough lunch. What’s going to stop that wolf at the door? It sounds really syrupy, but it’s that you have to do good in the world.

Fans might be surprised to find out you support cannabis legalization since you don't smoke marijuana or use any other recreational drugs. How do you explain your support of legalization to them?

I just have a reaction to stimulus that seems to default to depressive. I got drunk five times in high school, and I just hated it, but it wasn’t a thing where I felt I had to resist it. My base reaction to the stimulants I’ve tried, it’s just never been enjoyable. I just don’t feel inclined to try cannabis again, but just because I don’t want to doesn’t mean I’m judging those that do. To me, it’s a political thing, it’s a civil rights thing, it’s a bigotry and racism thing.

And what would you say to Attorney General Jeff Sessions if you had 30 seconds to talk to him about cannabis prohibition?

I would know that some people, once they hit a certain age, are set in their ways, and there’s no statistic you could teach them because then you’re getting down to hubris and pride. That’s Jeff Sessions; he won’t change. With a guy like him, you’ve just got to keep spreading the good vibes, the science and the information. And you wait him out, and make sure there are more people that think like you than think like him. He then becomes more reviled by people who didn’t even know his name the week before. Suddenly, he becomes smaller and smaller, and then he’s out of office, and it becomes a memory.

If you would like to attend the International Cannabis Business Conference, please click here. Tickets go on sale tonight at midnight.


Curious about the future of cannabis culture? Look no further than Lowell Cafe, the first cannabis lounge and restaurant in Los Angeles. How it works: You get two servers, one for ordering your food (the vegan nachos come highly recommended) and another for ordering your cannabis (off a prolific menu featuring pre-rolls, flower, vapes, smoking accessories, and more).

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