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Rooting for Green

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On Feb. 17, hundreds of people will flock to the San Francisco International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in Union Square. Hailed as both an educational and networking event, this year’s conference which is also held in locations throughout the world, like Vancouver and Berlin will feature actor, writer, radio host, and former Black Flags lead singer Henry Rollins as its keynote speaker. If you know anything about Rollins, then you’re probably already aware that he is a teetotaler when it comes to marijuana. And yet, in the last few years, he’s come out as one of the plant’s most staunch supporters.

We chatted with Rollins about the one time he smoked weed, why it’s important to change the racially-biased stigmas associated with the drug, and what he hopes to achieve through his role as keynote speaker.

SF Evergreen: Why do you think asked to be keynote speaker?

Henry Rollins: I think it’s because I don’t smoke marijuana or use any cannabis products, yet I advocate fiercely for the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis.

SFE: Yeah, you’re not a stoner, but you’re a big proponent of it. That must be confusing to some people.

HR: I’m famously a drug-free person. It’s one of those well-known Henry facts that I don’t get high. To come out in support for it, some people might go, ‘Wait a minute. How can you be for it?’ And it’s like, ‘Come on, man. There are a lot of things I don’t do that I’m for.’

In fact, I smoked marijuana once in 1987 at band practice. I was so bored and my bandmates rolled up joint, and I was like, ‘Give me that. I want to try it. I’m that bored.’ And I got stoned, amazingly stoned, and I was just really wiped out and I waited for like 20 minutes for it to be over.

But my point with all of that is if I had some kind of malady that could be helped with using cannabis products, even if it was eating a corner of a hash brownie for glaucoma or back pain, I don’t want to run to a dealer and I don’t want to sneak around or do something illegal. That’s why I want this drug to be legalized. I think that America would be well-served if more states went green. And this is why I advocate for cannabis. I don’t want it for myself personally, but if I did need it, I don’t want a problem getting it.

SFE: You sound like you feel the same away about weed as I do about abortions. I don’t plan on having an abortion, but if I get pregnant, I’d like the option to have one.

HR: Absolutely. We’re still running up the road to progress, but there are all these speed bumps that are self-inflicted.The more you learn, the more you see how steeped in racism and classism and elitism marijuana is. With cannabis, it was seen then and seen now as the Brown-skinned person’s drug that is brought in by Brown people. So, that way of thinking needs to go, and it just goes to show you that there is this prejudice against it that is based on partial knowledge and bigotry.

At the conference, it will be mainly entrepreneurs looking to make money. And I’ve been in entrepreneurial situations with cannabis people before, like at the Denver Cannabis Cup. There’s a lot of money to be made. It’s kind of one of the last unexplored frontiers of American commerce. The illegal version has been going on for a while, but the legal version in a lot of states has yet to be realized.

So, if you’re looking to break into a market that’s bleeding-edge new, cannabis could be it. Someone’s going to make a lot of money. And that money is too irresistible for governments to resist.  So what I want to impart to these growers and entrepreneurs is that it’s about much more than making money. They’re emissaries of a changing culture. They need to keep in mind that in addition to making money and creating a good product, part of their job is to remove the stigma.

The example I use is the time I went to a dispensary owned by a grower and I was there an hour before it opened. So I’m in front of it, just watching the people line up for the opening, and you’d think it was a bunch of fiends with venom dripping from their claws, but it was not. It was an elderly couple, a student with a bike, a businessman looking at something on his Blackberry. It was a New York subway car. It was all of us. And that’s when it hit me how many people either benefit from or utilize cannabis.  So while I want these people to make their money, I want them to really be spearheading the movement that demystifies cannabis and strips people of their ignorance.

SFE: It’s true that the war on marijuana is also very racially-biased. According to the ACLU, people who are Black are 3.73 times more likely than people who are White to be arrested for possession of the drug. How do you think legalizing weed would affect this trend?

HR: It would make law enforcement have to find a new way to be doing what they were doing for a long time. They’ll have to find another angle to arrest Black or Brown people. I’m not trying to beat up on cops, but those who are bad will have one less tool in their toolbox to jam some young person up.

Part of legalizing and decriminalizing cannabis will be changing how cops target people. Hopefully it will be less of a Black or Brown person thing, because we have enough of that in our country. Because when you think about how easy it is to get away with being a White weed dealer, it’s like, ‘Are you kidding? He can walk by with it on his forehead and he won’t get in trouble!’ So that’s part of the problem.

SFE: How’d u get into writing about weed for Westword and LA Weekly?

HR: Just when I saw that there was discrimination behind it. I root out any discrimination I can find and go after it. Like, I’m not gay, but if anything messes with the LGBTQ community, I go crazy. Because to me, it’s the same as racism. It’s the same meanness, the same stupidity. So with anything like that, I kind of go nuclear because it’s so wrong and it ruins lives. To me, it’s just another way to beat up on a minority. So I have to go after it.