In certain circles, Willie Nelson is almost as well known for his cannabis-smoking as he is for “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”.
So it seems only logical that the country music superstar should expand into the legal marijuana business.
Nelson, who is 81, revealed plans to launch his own cannabis brand, Willie’s Reserve, at the South by Southwest music festival. The brand’s spokesman, Michael Bowman, later told the The Daily Beast – which conducted the interview with Nelson – that Willie’s Reserve would not only develop its own pot strains, but also open its own dispensaries to sell them. With marijuana now becoming legal in several US states, the first such stores will probably open in 2016.
“Right now we’ll focus on the states where legalisation has occurred,” Mr Bowman said. “This is a culmination of Willie’s vision, and his whole life. I’m not sure any of us could have predicted how fast the dominoes would start falling once they started falling [with states legalising cannabis].”
A long-time advocate for pot legalisation, Nelson is also an environmental activist; he owns the bio-diesel brand BioWillie, which is made from vegetable oil and available from select petrol pumps in Hawaii. Willie’s Reserve will be sustainably grown, and other growers who wish to sell their product in Nelson’s shops would have to meet certain standards, such as carbon output.
“Willie has spent a lifetime in support of cannabis,” Mr Bowman said. “He wants [Willie’s Reserve] to be something that’s reflective of his passion ... to be a bright light amongst this trail as we’re trying to extract ourselves from the goo of prohibition. Really he wants it to envelop what his personal morals and convictions are. So from the store itself to how they’ll work with suppliers and how things are operated, it’s going to be very reflective of Willie’s life.”
Mr Bowman added: “It’ll fall under that umbrella of ‘Here’s our core beliefs, and our mission statement’.”
Nelson, who has homes in Hawaii and in Austin, Texas, is the co-chair of the advisory board of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Norml). He has been arrested for marijuana possession several times, most recently in 2010, when six ounces of the drug were seized from his tour bus in Texas. In 1970, while living in Tennessee, Nelson’s home suffered a devastating fire. The singer-songwriter reportedly dashed back into the blazing house to save his stash. In a 1980 interview with People magazine, he revealed, “I had this pound of Colombian grass inside. I wasn’t being brave running in there to get my dope; I was trying to keep the firemen from finding it and turning me over to the police.”
Nelson is not the first major music figure to announce a move into the legal marijuana market. In 2013, the hip-hop star Snoop Dogg launched his own branded vaporiser pen. Last year, the Bob Marley estate unveiled a global cannabis brand, Marley Natural. “My husband believed ‘the herb’ was a natural and positive part of life, and he felt it was important to the world,” Marley’s widow Rita said, when the project was announced in November.
California legalised medical marijuana in 1996, and has since been followed by 22 other US states and Washington, DC. In 2012, Colorado and Washington state legalised the growth, sale and possession of the drug for recreational purposes, with the first legal dispensaries opening last year. In November, Alaska and Oregon followed suit and legalised recreational weed, while Washington DC opted to legalise the growth and possession of small amounts of the drug. As many as 10 further states may be asked to vote on the issue in 2016.