Recalling how the Black Crowes fought for your right to party (with weed)

The Black Crowes’ progressive approach to their music went hand-in-hand with the band members’ views on cannabis reform


The Black Crowes circa 1996, and the cover of the band's album of that year, Three Snakes and One Charm.


Back in the summer of 1996 the Black Crowes released their fourth album, Three Snakes and One Charm. The LP saw the vehemently pro-pot band take a more free-flowing, psychedelic approach than that heard on the more straightforward, Faces-influenced boogie tunes they started out with.

“On every record I feel like we’ve grown,” Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson told me at the time. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I mean, it’s rare that anyone evolves nowadays. Now it’s just this middle-of-the-road, ‘Let’s repeat everything we do, and try to sell some records.’ I just don’t think that that’s very cool.”

The Black Crowes’ progressive approach to their music went hand-in-hand with the band members’ views on marijuana reform. The previous year had seen the release of Hempilation: Freedom Is NORML, a compilation CD benefitting the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The album featured covers of songs that were somehow weed-related. Gov’t Mule doing Steppenwolf’s “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam”, for example; also the Ian Moore Band tackling Muddy Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer”, and Widespread Panic covering Van Morrisons “And It Stoned Me”.

Everybody must get stoned (or not)

The Black Crowes kicked off the album with a version of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”, which sports the famous line “Everybody must get stoned”. And even though the band had used a huge depiction of a marijuana leaf as an in-concert backdrop—and appeared on the cover of High Times magazine in 1993—Robinson said that his group didn’t take Dylan’s lyrics literally.

“If you don’t want to smoke pot, then great,” he said. “We don’t take the stance like ‘Hey, everyone should get stoned.’ But we don’t feel people should be persecuted for doing it. And there’s people that are in jail for smokin’ pot, in some states, longer than people who are raping and murdering.

“You have to look at it like… I mean, if you take a 16-year-old kid, what’s worse for him? Say if he smokes pot, and whatever the ill effects of smoking pot are—say he’s lazy or whatever it may be—but then what if you throw him in jail for fuckin’ 10 years and he comes out when he’s 26 and he can’t get a job because he’s a convicted felon. Basically, the guy’s life is ruined. So, I mean seriously, what good is it to do that? It makes no sense at all.”

Severe laws in Georgia

Robinson acknowledged that he hadn’t been busted for pot himself (yet). He noted that—taking into consideration the severe laws in his home state of Georgia—that was a good thing.

“They have these no-tolerance things,” he explained, “where if you have a car and someone pulls you over and they find something in your car, the cops can take your car and then auction it off for money. And I think that’s just very Nazi-like. I think it’s bullshit. I mean, as long as you don’t hurt anyone, shit, how can you justify that? I’m speaking for myself mainly, but I think that’s everyone’s stance in the band.”

Canada famously legalized marijuana use in 2018. The weed-smokers in Rich Robinson’s country haven’t been so lucky, though. As of today, the recreational use of cannabis is only legal in 11 states in America. Specifically, Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont (yeah, Phish!), and Washington.

And in Robinson’s home state, misdemeanor possession of one ounce or less can be punished by a fine of US$1,000 or up to 12 months in jail.

Looks like the Black Crowes still have some work to do.

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