“We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee,” Merle Haggard sang back in 1969. But Merle’s changed his tune these days. The plain-spoken 73-year-old is still making music, winning awards and taking a stand for what he believes — including the legalization of cannabis.
“There are some people in this world that have no idea what the real deal is,” Haggard told Jennifer Self of the Bakersfield Californian when asked about his friend Willie Nelson’s recent pot bust. “I think it’s silly to put someone in jail for [marijuana possession]. I think it’s a threat to the pharmaceutical industry that you can go to the garden to grow something that might keep you from having to use Lipitor.”
Haggard said he would like to see his friend and fellow Grammy winner get back to what he does best — making music. “I would hope they would get off his back,” he said. “Someone said he might have to do some time. The ones that are against [marijuana use] feel like he’s really breaking the law. People that love him, love him and the ones that don’t like him, hate him. Same goes for me.”
Despite the lyrics to “Okie From Muskogee,” Merle is a former pot smoker himself — he took up the weed after a doctor told him it was a good substitute for Valium, according to Reuters — and he’s still a staunch supporter of legalization, reports Gayle Richardson at The Boot. But he gave up that habit, and a few others, due to his ongoing health problems, including a battle with pneumonia and a cancer diagnosis.
“I had to give up everything,” Haggard said. “I tried it for awhile, but I don’t like it like I did. I guess that’s the way it’s supposed to be… I gave up tobacco and coffee in ’92 and right after that, I gave up sex!”
Merle was in and out of correctional institutions from the ages of 14 to 23 for various petty crimes. He spent his 21st birthday in San Quentin State Prison in California, where he served nearly three years for burglary, and watched Johnny Cash perform there in 1959.
Merle, with 39 #1 hits to his credit, continues to collect awards and accolades more than 45 years after his first album was released. He was included this month in the Kennedy Center Honors, in a prestigious ceremony with President Obama and fellow honorees Oprah Winfrey, Paul McCartney, composer Bill T. Jones and dancer/choreographer Jerry Herman.
Haggard said the ceremony made him a new fan of the President. “He was really nice to us and he was nice to everybody else,” he said of Obama. “It wasn’t just a brush-by — he made a special effort to get to know us. I was highly impressed with him.”
The Kennedy Center Honors will air Tuesday, December 28 on CBS at 9 p.m. Eastern.
“Toke of the Town” is on online source for Cannabis news, rumor and humor, Edited by Steve Elliott.