The High Times Interview: Willie Nelson (Jan 1991)

by Steve Bloom, Steve Hager and John Holmstrom

Country singer and musician Wilile Nelson has emerged as one of the world’s leading advocates of legal hemp for food, fuel and fiber.  In his autobiography, Willie, he admits to consuming marijuana — in fact, he writes about the time he smoked it on the White House roof.  However, after reading Jack Herer’s landmark book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Willie realized that marijuana is much more than just an herb.  As Jack Herer, who met Willie in Kentucky during gatewood Galbraith’s campain described it, “Willie, like so many pot smokers, used to think of himself as an outlaw.  Now he realizes that hemp is really the best way we have to save the world.”

This interview took place at the courthouse in Louisiana, the Civic Center in Frankfort, and backstage in Louisville, Kentucky.  Some of his comments were made publicly as speeches, while others were made in response to other reporters on the scene.  Although we are breaking with the traditional format of the High Times interview, we are proud to present the text of Willie Nelson’s comments about hemp.

Willie Nelson:  First of all I’d like to say that Gatewood [Gabraith] didn’t call me.  I called him.  When I found out that there was a man with enough guts to stand up and say what he says, I said, “I’ve got to talk to that guy.  I’ve got to talk to that guy.  I’ve got to find out if he’s real.”

So I did.  I called Gatewood and I said, “Gatewood, what are you all about?”  We got together and we talked and when I heard him speak, I found out what he was for.  I found out that the man speaks the truth.  I thought, “Well, maybe this is the guy that can make all the things happen that I haven’t been able to understand why they haven’t happened in the last 10 – 20 years.”

I thought everything was understood.  Obviously, it’s not.  Hemp is petroleum.  Hemp is food.  Hemp is clothing.  Hemp is paper.  Hemp is over 10,000 different things from dynamite to cellophane to rope to canvas.  It’s a shame that our farmers aren’t allowed to grow this again.  they used to do alright with it, and when you take the hemp away from the Kentucky farmers, it’s like taking the cotton away from the Texas farmers or the wheat from the Kansas farmers. 

Gatewood knows the hemp situation from the seed to the harvest.  He knows the Kentucky situation.  He’s been here for 12 years as a lawyer in the state of Kentucky.  I like the guy.  Whether or not you want him for your governor, that’s for you to decide. 

I do know this, he knows what he’s talking about:  he speaks the truth and it’s up to you to decide if you want to turn our future back over to tht famrers, whrere it was at one time.  They know what to do.  Once again, it’s up to the farmers in America to save the planet.  Not only to save the state of Kentucky — the farmers are going to have to save us all.   And we’re going to have to give them a way to do it.  We’ve got to give them a way to make a living.

Now, the hemp farmers in the state of Kentucky, as I understand it, used to be in a fairly profitable situation.  People used to make pretty good money here as farmers.  Why did they take that away?  Because hemp is petroleum.  It’s a big business again.  They’re trying to keep it down.  They don’t want you to know that hemp is petroleum.  They don’t want you to know that hemp is food, hemp is paper, that it can save the trees.  The environmentalists of this world should be the first ones to stand up, should be the most interested in seeing hemp returned and seeing the farmers growing hemp again and say, “We have to return to the agricultural way of doing things.”

I believe in the War on Drugs.  I don’t believe hemp is a drug.  I think hemp is a flower and an herb and I don’t believe in a war on flowers.

Anyway, thank you very much for letting me come here and interfere with your politics.  I normally don’t do that.  But I think Gatewood has a message that needs to be heard.

Reporter:  you don’t think that marijuana use in any way contributes to harder drug use?

WN:  No sir.  I think the reverse.  My own personal experience — I feel like I was into a lot of things.  I drank too much.  I did a lot of things too much.  I over did everything.  But I think I did it because I was looking for something to calm me down.  I was a very hyper-sensitive, hperactive person and so I felt like I had to drink a few beers, a little whiskey.  I tried everything, but I finally settled it — if I really want to relax, I’ll take a couple hits off a joint and go to sleep.  I don’t bother nobody. I don’t get in any trouble.  I’ve never heard of pot smokers getting into trouble.  Now, if they start drinking and doing other things with it, then they will get in trouble.

Reporter:  You are convinced that marijuana is not dangerous and harmful, and that people shouldn’t be afraid of it?

WN:  I think it’s very beneficial, and it should be researched that way.  They should start looking for the positive aspects of it instead of trying to make it the demon, deveil drug that it’s not. I’ve been smoking 25 years.  Not regularly, because I don’t need it regulary.  I don’t use aspirin.  I don’t use valium.  I don’t use nothing every day.  And I don’t have any trouble saying what I think.

I’m a healthy guy.  I can run five miles any day any time.  So I find it very hard to believe that there are any harmful aspects to it.  I don’t think it’s for children.  I don’t think cigarettes, whiskey or any of those things are for children.  I think it’s for an adult to make the decision with his family  in the privacy of his own home whether he wants to use it or not.  I don’t think it’s something that the government out to be Big Brother about and tell us that we can’t do it.  I think the reason that they’re dong it is they’re trying to smoke screened the fact that marijuana is hemp, that hemp is petroleum.

Reporter:  You’ve smoked for 25 years…. But you quit after your lung collapsed.

WN:  I quit for a few weeks.  I don’t think that that was what caused my lung to collapse.  I was a heavy cigarette smoker, two or three packs a day for the frist 25 years of my lfie.  I think that that had a lot to do with the fact that my lung collapsed.

Steve Bloom:  What made you decide to put yourself in the limelight right now on this issue? 

WN:  Well, I wanted to bring to the people’s attention that hemp is not a drug.  Hemp is a plant, it’s a flower and it was put here for a reason:  It’s supposed to be used.  It’s supposed to be used for food.  It’s supposed to be used for fuel.  It’s supposed to be used for clothing.  It’s supposed to be used for medicine.  And it’s supposed to be used for thousands of different other things, from dynamite to cellophane.  Anything that you can make out of petrochemicals you can make out of hemp.

I don’t think people know that.  I think that people are still looking at marijuana and hemp as two separate things.  The word “marijuana” was invented by the William Randolph Hearst newspapers so that people would be so afraid of it that it would never be allowed to be legal.  He could’ve cared less about the marijuana part of it.  He wanted to get rid of the hemp industry.  They owned several milllions acres of trees around the world, and they wanted to make their paper out of that.  What they don’t want the people to know is that you can take one acre of hemp, which is equivalent to four acres of trees, and make paper out of it.  The first two copies of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper.  The early Bibles of this country were written on hemp paper.  I used to make rope out of hemp when I was in the FHA, when I was in Texas.  Back there in World War II the government said, “Grow it again.  It’s okay, we’re in a war.”  So they had all the farmers in the country growing hemp again, and we made rope in the gynmnasium.

Reporter:  Are you worried that your fans might not like it that you’re supporting a candidate who supports pot?

WN:  I think my fans know that I pretty well say what I believe, and they wouldn’t expect me to be dishonest about my beliefs.

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