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Willie Nelson: ‘Marijuana Saved My Life!’

willie nelson weed issue

ENTERTAINMENT

Willie Nelson: ‘Marijuana Saved My Life!’

Willie Nelson is sitting on a couch at his home, a modest cabin that overlooks his 700 acres of gorgeous Texas Hill Country, when he reaches into his sweatshirt and produces a small, square vaporizer, takes a hit and exhales slowly. “Wanna puff?” he asks.

willie nelson weed issue

Nelson’s wife, Annie, setting down a cup of coffee on a DVD case working as a coaster in front of him, speaks up. “Careful with that, babe,” she says. “You have to sing tonight.”

Nelson nods and puts it away. He turns 86 this spring and has a history of emphysema, so Annie, who’s been with Willie for 33 years, tries to get him to look out for his lungs, especially on show days. This can be a problem. “He’s super-generous,” she says, “and if there’s somebody around, he’ll want to offer it and do it with them to make them feel comfortable.”

Nelson says he stays high “pretty much all the time.” (“At least I wait 10 minutes in the morning,” Keith Richards has said.) His routine, Annie says, is to “take a couple of hits off the vape and then, an hour or two later, he might want a piece of chocolate. That keeps it going. So not a ton [of pot] . . . but he is Willie Nelson.” Annie recently bought Nelson an expensive version of a gravity bong — a fixture of high school house parties, which can shoot an entire bowl of weed into your lungs in one hit. “You can use ice water, which helps cool it off,” Annie says. “And no paper really helps.”

In addition to being the world’s most legendary country artist, Willie Nelson might also be the world’s most legendary stoner. Before Snoop or Cheech and Chong or Woody Harrelson, there was Willie. He has been jailed for weed, and made into a punchline for weed. But look at him now: Still playing 100 shows a year, still writing songs, still curious about the world. “I’m kind of the canary in the mine, if people are wondering what happens if you smoke that shit a long time,” he says. “You know, if I start jerking or shaking or something, don’t give me no more weed. But as long as I’m all right . . .”

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Years before weed became legal, he spoke about the medical benefits and economic potential of weed if it were taxed and the profits were put toward education. “It’s nice to watch it being accepted — knowing you were right all the time about it: that it was not a killer drug,” says Nelson. “It’s a medicine.”

He pauses for a second, before telling a joke he’s told a thousand times. “I don’t know anybody that’s ever died from smoking pot. Had a friend of mine that said a bale fell on him and hurt him pretty bad, though.”

Nelson’s house is a cedar log cabin, 35 miles from Austin, with a sweeping panoramic view of Hill Country. He picked the spot in the late Seventies, laying four rocks where he wanted the foundation built. Down a dirt road, there’s an Old West town he had built for his 1986 film Red Headed Stranger. His golf course, Pedernales Cut ’N Putt (“No shoes, no shirt, no problem”), is nearby. Tonight Nelson will play a benefit for 300 Farm Aid donors; tomorrow, 3,000 people will come here, to Nelson’s Luck Ranch, for the Luck Reunion, an annual concert held during South by Southwest. A rainstorm last night tore up the property, and a crew has been working furiously to get things ready. None of this seems to bother Nelson, who just woke up. “Oh, it’s fun,” he says when asked if he minds all the excitement. (“Willie expects everything to go OK,” says his friend Steve Earle. “He’s pretty serene, so everybody else just does better than to create drama around him. That organization kind of works that way.”)

Sitting with Nelson, you get used to long silences. “Oh, pickin’ a little,” he says when asked about what he’s been up to. He also just finished an album, Ride Me Back Home. The first song is about the 60 horses on his property, which Nelson bought at auction and saved from slaughterhouses. Nelson had showed me some of the horses when I visited five years ago. “Billy Boy is still here,” he says. “We lost Roll Em Up Jack. Wilhelmena the mule is gone. Uh, rattlesnake got her. Babe, you got any of that CBD coffee?”

Nelson is talking about Willie’s Remedy, the coffee that is sold by his cannabiscompany, Willie’s Reserve. The idea for a weed business started a few years ago; Nelson had bronchitis and he couldn’t smoke, so Annie started making him weed chocolates. The recipe took some perfecting — Nelson kept eating too many and getting too high, so she had to lower the dosages to five milligrams. She lent some to a friend, and big business came knocking. They were skeptical — “We don’t want to become the Wal-Mart of cannabis,” says Annie, who headed the negotiations. They wanted to keep in line with Nelson’s Farm Aid organization, supporting family farmers. Willie’s Reserve is now available in six states, and it’s proving “fairly lucrative,” Nelson says. It hasn’t been easy — since the drug is still federally prohibited, “the regulations change like chameleons,” says Annie. “The edibles are actually harder [to produce legally] than the flower. You have to have specific kitchens. You have to have specific licenses that take years to get.”

 

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