Henry Rollins to Potrepreneurs: Think Beyond the Money, Fight for Social Justice

By Paul Gaita 02/22/17

The straight-edge punk icon spoke to potrepreneurs about their social responsibility during a recent keynote address. 

Henry Rollins

When punk icon and author Henry Rollins delivered his keynote speech to marijuana industry entrepreneurs at the San Francisco iteration of the International Cannabis Business Conference on February 17, he knew that he was largely preaching to the choir.

"There’s nothing I’m going to say that people in the audience don’t know," he told High Times before the conference. "I am talking to cannabis entrepreneurs." So instead of focusing on the monetary aspect of the industry, Rollins decided to direct his hard-charging commentary on the possibilities for social engagement and reform that are available to the captains of cannabis. 

"That's the thing," said Rollins. "They have to get around the dollar signs in their eyes. If they do [their business] right, they're gonna make a ton of money ... Once they stabilize, they should really be seeing this as a bigger deal than their bank account or their new houseboat."

Rollins has an extensive and historic CV that includes stints as frontman for the legendary Southern California punk outfit Black Flag and his own Rollins Band, host of his own radio show on the Los Angeles NPR affiliate KCRW, author of numerous books and occasional film and television actor.

He's also a popular spoken-word artist and contributes regularly to both the Los Angeles Weekly and Australian Rolling Stone, all of which have allowed him to comment on the current social and political climate with the same level of acidic humor and no-nonsense insight he brought to his music.

Though Rollins may seem like an unusual presence at a pot industry conference—he has abstained from alcohol and all drugs, save caffeine, for decades—he fully supports legalization efforts.

"I don't want to buy a hash brownie today," he said. "Until I do want to get one. I don't want to sneak around. I don't want a dealer. I don't want it to be a criminal act."

But he's also keenly aware that the freedom that comes with that choice—and the freedom that may be enjoyed by investors in the burgeoning cannabis industry—came at a considerable cost for many people, including minority groups, the economically disadvantaged and fringe cultures like the punk world.

As Rollins sees it, the future pot industry leaders can take one of two tracks with the economic power they'll gain from their investments: focus solely on making money, or use their growing influence to make real changes in their communities and the country at large. "This is where integrity comes in," he said. "What are these guys gonna do with these overturned [marijuana] laws? Will they help people who have been historically been set upon by law enforcement and government?"

Not everyone will be receptive to the social responsibility side of the industry. Some will simply see their involvement in cannabis as a cash cow—"people who want to make a dollar," as Rollins said. "But you can get to some of them. You can say that their job could be even cooler than, 'Hey, we're doing weed.' No. You’re promoting goodness, and a level playing field, and pushing against bigotry, and institutionalized racism. That’s the bigger picture.

"We'll see ... They will see it as part of the responsibilities, or they just won't give a damn ... It might just put a seed in their head but the rest is up to them."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.