Not many could have predicted Henry Rollins, he of hardcore punk Black Flag fame, would become such an outspoken cannabis advocate. He lives a famously clean life, not touching any of the drugs floating around the scene at the time. Rollins smoked weed just once 30 years ago and hasn’t taken a puff since.
As the vocalist of Black Flag, Rollins was known for a high intensity and anger, fighting some audience members on stage who were booing the band. But in his post-Black Flag career, he has become a TV host, actor, writer, and activist, still in part brandishing his hallmark high-energy levels. And one area he’s expanded his scope includes cannabis, which he views on a sociological and medical level more than anything else.
Rollins recently sat down with Rolling Stone ahead of his keynote speech at the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference. He doesn’t hold any investments inside the cannabis industry—though he does get paid for his speeches—nor does he use cannabis. But he is a fierce advocate on its behalf. Here’s what he had to say.
On Marijuana’s Diverse Customer Base
One of Henry Rollins’ gigs included hosting the History’s network 10 Things You Didn’t Know About series. For one episode, they dove into marijuana and hemp and were at Colorado for the 2014 Cannabis Cup. Shooting around dispensaries and different facilities, Rollins noticed the diversity of cannabis users.
We shot inside this one dispensary, it’s a [recreational use] store. It’s not like a medical-only. And we were in there early ’cause we gotta film everything and light the room. And so I’m waiting outside for the crew to wrap up their gear, and I look at the line queuing up to go into the place when it opens at 9 a.m., and it was this beautiful snapshot of America. You got the elderly couple, you’ve got the student and his bike and his bike helmet, there’s the businessman guy going through his BlackBerry. Look at all these people who use cannabis. All of them are standing there pleasantly waiting to go get cannabis for whatever purpose they’re going to use it for. But what I’m saying is: there’s your sustainability, where you’re selling to these different demographics. And when I was young, there’s no way you would think of a businessman in line to buy marijuana.
Normalizing Marijuana Is Fundamental To Legalization
Through decades of misinformation and hardened social stigmas, many outsiders have slanted views on cannabis usage. The prevailing image of a consumer revolves around the stoner archetype, which we know doesn’t represent all marijuana users. Breaking that image could be the key to the plant’s future, says Rollins.
What if the outreach was so science-y and so positive and so informational, breaking away from the stereotypes of Cheech and Chong and a couch potato ordering pizza? What if you reached out to your community in such a way that even my dad, who wouldn’t be caught dead using cannabis, would think, “You know what, they roll it out so sensible. Damn it, man, my hands hurt on cold days. Maybe I should give it a shot.” So my outreach would be demystifying it – on the de-stigmatizing of it. I see that as the future. PTSD, all kinds of aches and pains people go through as they get older.
Alcohol Vs. Cannabis
I mean, everything in this country’s a gateway drug, so don’t tell me that marijuana’s bad when you’re throwing alcohol at my head in every ad everywhere. You look at the ads: as soon as the rum bottle opens, it’s women in bikinis and good times? It’s a depressant, so don’t tell me it’s good times. Everyone’s fighting and vomiting. And they need Uber to take them home ’cause they can’t drive a car. I don’t want to outlaw it, I just want no part in it. And to people who say, “Why don’t you get your stimulation like a real American, with alcohol?” And marijuana’s bad? Do you see any inconsistency or hypocrisy there? I sure do. Stop being such a hypocrite and overcome your bigotry.
Parallels Between The Music And Cannabis Industry
Spending decades within the music industry has taught Rollins numerous lessons. One of those include how to treats fans and not rush a product that isn’t properly ready. He says the consumerism infected music and produced a lot of mediocre music and Rollins doesn’t want a similar thing to occur within the cannabis industry.
[I]f you’re going for money over care in the cannabis industry, you’re gonna sell less than good product. You’re not going to value your customers. They’re just going to be consumers. I know bands who treat their audience like consumers. I treat my audience like they’re sacred objects. Without them, I don’t get to do anything. I live in that shadow of not wanting to fail them. I don’t take myself seriously, but I take them really seriously. And that’s what the cannabis industry could do if they value the humans who come in to buy this thing that is grown. That’s where they could blow it: by loving the money more than the people who are giving them the money.
Would He Ever Use Himself?
As we mentioned, Rollins is well-known for his drug-free lifestyle. He does foresee a day where he becomes a cannabis users, he says, though it’d be strictly for medicinal purposes.
I’m only 56 and, man, I snap, crackle and pop. I threw my body around a lot. And I’m in pain all the time. Something’s always hurting.
I don’t wanna until the day I do wanna. And on the day I do, I don’t wanna get a dealer; I don’t wanna sneak around. I don’t wanna have illegal stuff in my house. I just wanna go to the store and buy it. Groceries, cannabis, gas up the car and go home. I just want it to be part of my errands. For now, aspirin works fine.
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