On average, HuffPost readers probably aren't the biggest aficionados of country music. Still, many readers here understand the need for establishing responsible marijuana policy. When it comes to reversing archaic pot prohibition laws across the United States, the most regressive region is the same place where country music prevails most predominantly. In my opinion, one of the main ingredients still needed for successful marijuana reform in the South is public support by prominent country artists.
Surely Willie Nelson comes to mind for many people when the words "country music" and "marijuana" are mentioned together. Yet Willie has many younger allies these days as a new generation of "outlaw" artists are brazenly singing about pot. Though most haven't been as open about legalization as Willie, lyrics about marijuana are craftily blended into many of their songs. The likes of Zac Brown, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Randy Houser and Jamey Johnson come to mind to name just a few.
Take the following lyrics for example:
Zac Brown: "Gonna lay in the hot sun and roll a big fat one, and grab my guitar and play"
Dierks Bentley: "Let the smoke roll over your lips. Let it all go whatever it is"
Eric Church: "Dig down deep, find my stash. Light it up, take me back"
Randy Houser: "Well I've been known to giggle on a joke. Mostly when I'm smokin' on my smoke"
Jamey Johnson: "So if you go out my back door, just over the hill, you'll see all these plants that's been paying my bills"
I commend these musicians for breaking the taboo and singing about marijuana. I'm not condoning drug use, but as a former federal drug-enforcement agent who's confiscated thousands of pounds of pot and experienced the futility of the plant's prohibition firsthand, I know the substance should be legally on par with alcohol. So props to these artists for keeping it real and singing about marijuana's normalcy. Unfortunately though, country radio isn't keeping it real with their continued censorship of songs involving marijuana use. Instead, many stations are only adding to the reefer-madness taboo. For instance, when Zac Brown mentions the words "fat one" in the song "Toes," many stations edit those words out entirely.
Hopefully this sort of censorship ceases in the future, and country outlets stop undermining the intelligence of their listeners. Not only is it insulting, but it discourages other artists from singing about the truth. Just because other singers haven't necessarily sung about marijuana doesn't mean they don't have a stake in ending its prohibition.
Take Tennessean Kenny Chesney, for example, who graduated from my alma mater, East Tennessee State University. Few people realize this, but Tennessee ranks right up there with West Coast states when it comes to the domestic production of cannabis. The Appalachian Mountains offer perfect terrain and seclusion for harvesting the crop. Yet, unfortunately for the state's lawful citizens, all those profits are only financing an illegal market that's pushing the state's law enforcement resources and prison population to the brink.
And consider George Strait, the king of country music himself, whose sprawling ranch in South Texas sits directly in the crosshairs of Mexico's bloody narco war. His acreage is in Webb County, which is across the Rio Grande and adjacent from Tamaulipas, one of Mexico's most violent states due to its proximity to the enormous drug market that is the United States. In fact, Laredo (the county seat), is one of the places where I worked as a special agent for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
After resigning from law enforcement in 2011, I joined Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of criminal justice professionals opposed to the disastrous war on drugs. Since then, I've spoken regularly on the need for marijuana reform. Living in South Carolina makes this task particularly challenging. Close to eighty percent of Americans now support legalizing medical marijuana, and more than fifty percent support legalizing the substance for recreational use, yet there's still not a single Southern state that allows for the legal use of medical marijuana. This is frustrating to me and to the thousands of others advocating for change in the region, and this is why I believe getting more country artists onboard is so critical.
Thankfully, a new organization called the Marijuana Majority helps reserved proponents of marijuana reform understand that they're not alone, and that a majority of Americans also agree with them. The organization's website features influential voices from all realms of society, showing that support for marijuana legalization is now mainstream and no longer a third rail issue.
That being said, I recently reached out to Zac Brown on behalf of Marijuana Majority hoping to get a quote for the website. I also contacted him on behalf of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) to see if he would spread the word about the upcoming Southern Cannabis Reform Conference in Atlanta on March 15 and 16. Atlanta is, after all, Zac's hometown, and God only knows how beneficial marijuana reform would be for the state and citizens of Georgia (medically, financially and judicially). It remains to be seen whether the country singer will respond, but again, voices like his that resonate with conservative mindsets are missing ingredients needed to effect change in the South.
A lot of times country music gets mocked for its simplicity, but all of the Waylon Jennings- and Johnny Cash-inspired artists I've mentioned in this article represent freedom to me. What could be more about freedom than ending marijuana prohibition? What a person grows on their land or consumes in their bodies shouldn't be dictated by government in a free society. This article is not just a call for more country artists to break the marijuana taboo, but it's also a call for country fans to embrace them when they do. Inevitably, marijuana will be regulated like alcohol across the board in the United States, and with the help of more trailblazing country artists, the South won't be left in the dust when it comes to this reality.
CORRECTION (5/22): It has come to the author's attention that both Kenny Chesney and George Strait have in fact sung about marijuana, in the songs "French Kissin' Life" and "Why Can't I Leave Her Alone," respectively.