It’s no secret that musicians and weed find solace in each other’s company, augmenting and amplifying each other’s effects. But thanks to Texas’ strict marijuana policy, the devil’s lettuce has damned more than its fair share of musicians residing in or touring through the Lone Star state. In conjunction with our in-depth look at marijuana legalization efforts in Texas, here are some musicians who may have benefitted from more forgiving legislation.
Aside from the countless number of local and lesser touring bands that have spent an evening in county for possession, some major wave-makers have caught Lone Star heat.
In December of 1965, San Anto icon Doug Sahm was busted in Corpus Christi for marijuana possession. Sahm avoided incarceration but was put on probation, restricted to the confines of the state. For Sahm’s future as a national artist, probation was a death knell, killing the momentum of his budding career. After his officer told him the state would not consider him a fugitive for skipping out, Sahm headed to San Francisco in ’66, staying there for the golden years of Flower Power.
Forty-five years later, on November 26, 2010, Willie Nelson put the “outlaw” back in outlaw country when Border Patrol found six ounces of grass on his tour bus. No surprise there, the 81-year-old Texas native sits as a co-chair on the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Released on $2,500 bond, the county prosecutor later stated that Nelson could be pardoned by an in-court performance of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” Nelson opted out, instead paying a $500 fine. Oddly—and in slight violation of the 8th Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment—the red-headed stranger had to listen to county commissioner Wayne West play one of Nelson’s own tunes during the ordeal.
On January 7, 2012, Snoop Dogg was arrested for possession in Texas when a Border Patrol dog found a little more than two ounces on Snoop’s tour bus. Though Snoop holds a medical license in California (for migraines and blurred vision), the permits are considered void by Texas law. Snoop was issued a citation for misdemeanor possession, fined $500 and released.
On September 19, 2012, shortly after the release of her powerful return LP The Idler Wheel …, songstress Fiona Apple got caught with a slight amount of pot and hashish. Though weed and hash both come from the cannabis plant, Texas considers hash possession to be a third-degree felony, due to the high concentration of its psychoactive compounds. After Apple spent a night in jail and posted $10,000 bail, the state has yet to release a statement on further prosecution.
What do these last three musicians have in common, other than a love for the sticky icky? All were arrested at the Border Patrol check point in Sierra Blanca, 87 miles south of El Paso. Part of the I-10 commute from Central Texas to Southern California, it’s a difficult checkpoint for touring musicians to avoid.
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As the scorching singer for the 13th Floor Elevators, Roky Erickson earned underground notoriety as one of the first psychedelic artists in the nation. But the cops were paying attention too, keeping an eye on the band’s prominent intake of weed, DMT and LSD.
In 1969, Erickson was arrested in Austin for possessing a lone joint. Already suffering from schizophrenia, Erickson’s court-appointed attorney advised him to plead insane. The 22-year-old singer was sentenced to the Rusk Maximum Security Prison for the Criminally Insane, two hours south of Dallas.
To compound his mental illness, Rusk doctors (involuntarily) prescribed Erickson shock treatment. He would remain at Rusk until 1972, when his brother and keeper Mikel hired a lawyer to fight for his release. For the next three decades, Erickson would live in various states of mental unhealth, becoming obsessed with the mail, convincing himself a Martian had occupied his body and releasing the occasional album. Though his incarceration at Rusk pushed Erickson down a long and steep decline, in the late ’00s the singer began to turn it around, touring and releasing new music.