Henry Rollins is a lot of things. He’s the former lead singer of one of punk rock’s most influential bands. He’s an actor who’s worked alongside the likes of Al Pacino. He’s a published author with a regular column in LA Weekly. He’s also an advocate. But Rollins doesn’t consider himself an activist, even though he can be found at the forefront of a movement. In his own words, he’s the straight guy fighting for LGBT rights and the non-smoker who’s also fighting to see Americans being able to legally buy and use cannabis.
This advocacy has seen him regularly speaking to entrepreneurs and industry influences about cannabis, and its history and future in America. In June, Rollins will be sharing those views with attendees of the International Cannabis Business Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. We spoke to him about Reagan’s War on Drugs, its racist origins, and how the prohibition will ultimately come to an end.
Cannabis Now: How does a non-smoker become a keynote speaker at one of the cannabis industry’s largest conferences?
Henry Rollins: I don’t use cannabis – not at all. So, why am I speaking at multiple cannabis entrepreneur conferences? Because as an American, to me, the War on Drugs is a way to lock up non-whites and poor people on non-violent crime charges. Why would you want to do that? Well, because people make a lot of money with incarceration. It’s a multi-billion dollar thing in this country. Besides weapons, it’s our other big industry. Now that you have privatized prisons – where people are building them like they’re building condos – your only problem is empty beds, ‘cause you’re not making any money. It’s like a hotel. Empty beds? You’ve got a problem.
From Reagan to now, they’ve been making the path to incarceration – and into the system as a number – really easy. Suddenly, people’s lives, for a pocket of weed, are ruined. With the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ thing some guys are going away for 25 years, all for a fistful of cannabis. Or they can’t even get a minimum wage job, because they screwed up when they were 23. Take a look at who’s going to jail in my country by the truckload. It’s not people like me. This is why I advocate vociferously on behalf of cannabis.
Are you seeing a big change in the perception of cannabis across the United States?
I think, as always, more information is better. The more people know, the less they need to be afraid of. But I think cannabis could be a generational thing. Eventually, they – that generation blocking change – will pass on, and a new generation will step into the voting booth, and into public office.
It’s just like we’ve seen in America, with these marches the young people are having for gun control – every single one of those kids is going to vote. Are you kidding? You’re going to see one or two of them in office. We are going to see a cultural change. You better get ready, because change is coming and it’s going to come very swiftly.
Do you see more states following suit and legalizing medical and recreational cannabis?
I’ll be telling my audience that they are the ambassadors of culture. Yes, you’re all going to make money. Good. I want you to become filthy rich. Fantastic. But part of your job, when you’re not shoveling money into a truck to drive to your bank, will be to help the little old lady at the end of the block with her arthritis with a cannabinoid. It’s to help someone who wants to try cannabis, and not sell them something that is so powerful they can’t find their way home the first time using it. You’re going to be an educator – someone who’s changing culture and perception.
But, if all you want to do is make money, well, you’re not my pal. You’re just a schmuck who makes money. If you’re not going to do it with goodness in your heart, to try and do good – because cannabis is good – just don’t. That’s what I’ll be putting across when I have my 45 minutes up on stage.
TELL US, do you agree with Rollins’ views on cannabis reform?