Willie Nelson believes that without a doubt, cannabis saved his life, as he told Rolling Stone for the feature story of the magazine’s May 2019 issue, “The Weed Issue,” which is entirely dedicated to cannabis.
Nelson has been a famous stoner for an exceptionally long time, attaining near-mythical status in pot-head lore, and yet he’s still a prolific musician after all these years, writing new songs and performing 100 shows a year. Not many people can keep up with that, high or sober. “I’m kind of the canary in the mine, if people are wondering what happens if you smoke that shit a long time,” he told Rolling Stone. “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 . . .”
He’s 86 this year, and it’s been 65 years since the musician and legendary stoner smoked his first joint. By now, the gregarious and relaxed country singer has to watch his emphysema when he smokes, especially on show days. But he still vapes every day in the modest cabin where he lives with his wife Annie, located on a 700-acre ranch in Texas Hill Country.
Nelson is surrounded by his land and the trappings of his long career, including an Old West town down the road that he had built for his 1986 movie, Red Headed Stranger, and his golf course. He also holds concerts on the ranch.
Nelson says he stays high “pretty much all the time,” with a few hits off the vape every few hours, which will then lead to a hankering for some cannabis chocolate. Annie recently bought him an expensive gravity bong, which can send an entire bowl’s worth of weed into your lungs in one big hit.
The chocolate, made with a recipe perfected by Annie, inspired the founding of their cannabis company, which now makes the chocolate edibles. Willie’s Reserve also sells a CBD coffee, called Willie’s Remedy. The company now sells its products in six states, and Nelson says it has become “fairly lucrative.” But owning a cannabis company can get complicated, because “the regulations change like chameleons,” Annie says. “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.” She handles the negotiations, while Willie is known as the “CTO: Chief Tasting Officer.” What’s his favorite Willie’s Reserve strain? When asked, he usually just shrugs and says, “If I find something that’s really good, I say, ‘This is really good.’ ” That’s about as much of an explanation as you’re going to get. “Pot’s like sex. It’s all good,” he says.
He’s been a cannabis advocate for significantly longer than half a century, which makes its legalization in states across the country all the more poignant. “It’s nice to watch [cannabis] 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’s seen the darkest days of cannabis, when the war on drugs sent thousands to prison for decades, including some of his friends. He even, probably, smoked marijuana once as a child, before national prohibition, although he’s not sure. He remembers his cousin sharing an “asthma cigarette” while fishing one day, although it took him years, and a difficult struggle with alcohol and tobacco cigarettes, to rediscover his love for cannabis.
Nelson gave up smoking cigarettes when he switched to cannabis, and almost gave up drinking, an act which he says undoubtedly saved his life. “I wouldn’t be alive. It saved my life, really. I wouldn’t have lived 85 years if I’d have kept drinking and smoking like I was when I was 30, 40 years old. I think that weed kept me from wanting to kill people. And probably kept a lot of people from wanting to kill me, too — out there drunk, running around.”
Alcohol hit Nelson hard. Once he laid down in the middle of his Nashville’s main strip, not caring if he lived or died. “I used to drink a lot,” he says. “And that brings on negative thinking. You start thinking about everything that’s wrong, and then you better drink another or take another shot so it gets better. And it don’t get better.”
“I had a pack of 20 Chesterfields, and I threw ’em all away and rolled up 20 fat joints, stuck ’em in there,” he says. “I haven’t smoked a cigarette since. I haven’t drank that much either, because one will make me want the other — I smoke a cigarette, I wanna drink a whiskey. Drink a whiskey, want a cigarette. That’s me. I can’t speak for nobody else.” Cannabis helps Nelson “delete and fast-forward” through the frustrations of life that come his way.
“They say people who smoke pot have a short-term memory. Maybe that’s good, you know? [Otherwise] you start remembering a lot of negative things that you’re not supposed to remember. And the next thing you know, you’re back drinking whiskey.”