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Singing the praises of pot on 'Hempilation 2'

Web posted on:
Friday, November 20, 1998 4:22:43 PM EST

From CNN Interactive Writer Jamie Allen

ATLANTA (CNN) -- For some, there is no logical reason marijuana should be outlawed in most of the United States.

Vic Chesnutt, a musician based in Athens, Georgia, is one of those people, and some might argue that he has good reason to feel the way he does. When Chesnutt was 18, he was involved in a severe car accident in which he suffered a broken neck that partly severed his spinal cord. Now paralyzed, he says that marijuana is the only drug in the world that gives him sensations in his lower extremities while allaying muscle spasms.

But Chesnutt can't legally smoke the drug in his home state.

"My doctors prescribe drugs to me all the time," Chesnutt, 34, says. "These muscle relaxers cost a lot of money and they don't work the same. There's no other prescription drug I know that would help me feel."

But Chesnutt is not just an advocate for medical marijuana. He thinks marijuana should be legalized across the board -- for medical and recreational uses -- and can't understand why lawmakers don't see things his way.

"It's one of the biggest mysteries in the world," Chesnutt says. He admits he does the drug for many reasons. "It helps me get over writer's block a lot of time. And I really don't think it makes me an evil person. I don't want to have anything to do with the Mafia, and if it was legal I could have a small little plant in my backyard and not have to deal with it."

'Hempilation II'

Until such time, Chesnutt will have to settle for simply singing pot's praises, which he does -- literally -- on a new CD released by Capricorn Records. "Hempilation 2: Free the Weed" is a follow-up to the 1995 release, and features 20 marijuana songs -- some original works, some covers of classics.

Proceeds from the record go to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the pro-pot advocacy group established in 1970.

Along with Chesnutt, "Hempilation 2" features such artists as Willie Nelson, George Clinton, Fun Lovin' Criminals and Gov't Mule. Some song titles from the record: "Weed to the Rescue" by Chesnutt, "Let's Get High" by Letters to Cleo, and "The Dope Smokin' Song" by Hank Flamingo.

Do musicians wield an unfair advantage over lawmakers when they use music to push their beliefs? Go to the boards!

Steve Bloom, an executive for High Times magazine, produced this latest effort, and says he originated the idea for "Hempilation" as a way to educate people on the subject of marijuana.

"As the music editor for High Times, I found that the musicians wanted to do something for the cause," says Bloom. "So I took them up on their offer. I suggested they do a album like this or commit to a benefit concert. I sort of tapped a vein that hadn't been tapped before."

The response from the pro-marijuana music crowd was positive -- "Hempilation," released in 1995, sold over 110,000 copies.

Sound Clips

George Clinton: "U.S. Custom Coast Guard Dope Dog"
[200k MPEG-3] or [275k WAV]

Vic Chesnutt: "Weed (To the Rescue)"
[220k MPEG-3] or [300k WAV]

Wille Nelson: "Me and Paul"
[255k MPEG-3] or [350k WAV]

Gov't Mule: "30 Days in the Hole"
[220k MPEG-3] or [300k WAV]

Freddy Jones Band: "Light Up or Leave Me Alone"
[140k MPEG-3] or [190k WAV]

Anti-drug response

The CD also generated the expected controversy. Former U.S. drug policy director Lee Brown, in a speech to entertainment executives, cited "Hempilation" as "what's wrong" with the music industry, Bloom says.

Several anti-drug government agencies, including the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the Family Research Council, criticized the record for sending the wrong message to America's youth -- that smoking pot was cool.

Bloom says the album merely backs NORML, which seeks legalization for adult use and medicinal purposes, and supports the industrial uses of hemp. This plant, from which marijuana is made, is also the source of a tough fiber that can be made into a durable, non-pharmaceutical rope product.

"We got a lot of attacks and they helped sell our records," Bloom says, referring to a 1995 incident in which Boston authorities tried to make a local radio station stop playing "Hempilation." "Sales went through the roof in Boston."

For the record, Bob Weiner, a spokesman for ONDCP, was asked to comment on the latest "Hempilation."

"We don't do interviews on this," Weiner said. "It just ups the ante."

But Kristin Hansen, a spokesperson for the Family Research Council, admits the "Hempilation" CDs are a threat to the group's intentions.

"It's another underhanded attempt to normalize the use of marijuana," says Hansen. "We're fighting on a public policy level and we're also concerned about the practices of teens, and this helps neither of our efforts."

To members of the anti-drug campaign, marijuana is a dangerous drug -- it's illegal, and should stay illegal, they say.

Gov't Mule

'The time has come to change the laws'

Of course, they might still be smarting from the most recent elections, when five states (Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Alaska and Colorado) and the District of Columbia approved marijuana for medicinal purposes, to go along with California and Arizona, states that approved it in 1996 elections. While still a long way from federal approval, the results are a small step closer to a broader legalization.

"There is an argument that medical marijuana is a back door to (recreational) legalization," says Bloom. "I don't think that, but I do believe it's opening the door for people to learn about the plant."

Alan St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, says "Hempilation" and "Hempilation 2" are part of an ongoing campaign to change the political perceptions of the drug.

"When we look at the polls, it seems we do pretty well," St. Pierre says. "But when one goes to Congress there are very few people who say, 'We want to reform this.' When we meet with politicians, they say they are not opposed. Some have even inhaled. But they say, 'You haven't gotten our culture to the point where it's not going to hurt us when we come out in favor of marijuana laws.'"

"I want everything switched," says Chesnutt. "I just can't understand that they feel it's so evil. Even beyond that my medical reasons, I think for everyone else and for the country's sake that the time has come to change the laws."

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