Country icon Merle Haggard passed away on his 79th birthday Wednesday of complications from double pneumonia at his home in Northern California.
A voice for the poor, the workingman, the outlaw, the lost and the heartbroken, Haggard’s political stance shifted greatly over his six-decade musical career from the 1960s into the 2010s.
While ‘Okie From Muskogee’, his No. 1 hit from 1969, railed against pot use — “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee/We don’t take no trips on LSD/We don’t burn no draft cards down on Main Street.” — come 2015, he was collaborating with Willie Nelson while passing the Red Headed Stranger a joint in the recording studio. The friends released their single “It’s All Gone to Pot” on 4/20 of last year off their album “Django and Jimmie”.
“At the time I wrote ‘Okie From Muskogee,’ I didn’t smoke,” Haggard told Men’s Journal. “It was ’68. I had been brainwashed like most of America about what marijuana would and wouldn’t do. I thought it was responsible for the flower children walking around with their mouths open. It was not so. But if a guy doesn’t learn anything in 50 years, there’s something wrong with him. I’ve learned a lot about it, and America has, too.”
In a January 2010 interview for the documentary Hempters: Plant the Seed, Haggard defended tribal rights to grow and sell industrial hemp as a means of economic sustainability and self-sufficiency.
“I think it would be a change in political policy to start giving back some of the freedoms in this country. A good place to start would be with the American Indian,” Haggard said. “…I think the Americans Indians have the tools and the knowledge to grow hemp. It would be a wonderful source of income….” Haggard said.
Filmmaker Michale Henning traveled across the country to make the 2011 documentary Hempsters: Planting the Seed, after witnessing Woody Harrelson’s arrest for planting four feral hemp seeds in Kentucky, his subsequent trial and acquittal. Hempsters includes interviews with the White Plumes, a Lakota family on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, to Harrelson, Haggard, Nelson and Ralph Nader.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in United States vs. Alex White Plume, Percy White Plume, et. al., to overturn a lifetime injunction against White Plume, a former president and vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, stemming from raids and destruction by FBI and DEA agents of two hemp crops on his property in 2001 and 2002.