Merle Haggard Says ‘Prison Is the Biggest Business in America’

In a new interview, country legend Merle Haggard says his opinions on marijuana and the prison system have changed over the years.

During a recent chat with Men’s Journal, Haggard discussed the evolution of marijuana culture in America and his own opinions on the drug have changed.

At the time I wrote ‘Okie From Muskogee,’ I didn’t smoke,” Haggard explained. “It was ’68. I had been brainwashed like most of America about what marijuana would and wouldn’t doI 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.”

Marijuana culture is one of the topics explored on Haggard’s recent collaborative effort with longtime friend Willie Nelson, Django and Jimmie. The album covers a wide array of taboo topics, including drug use and the more difficult times in both musicians’ personal lives and careers.

Haggard’s younger years in Bakersfield, Calif. were filled with trips in and out of jail. At the age of 18, he was sentenced to 15 years in San Quentin State Prison for a burglary charge. He was at the prison when Johnny Cash performed his legendary concert and credits Cash with changing his life and bringing him into the world of country music. For 78-year-old Haggard, the current state of America’s prison system is a complicated subject.

“I believe that if you break the law and get caught, you should go to jail,” he said. “But we’re in a hard time in America now, with all the trouble with police in the cities. Prison is the biggest business in America. Bigger than marijuana! You got the money, you can build a prison out in Nevada and it’ll be filled before you finish building it. That’s a fact, and that’s a shame.”

Next: Willie Nelson Prepares to Launch Marijuana Business in Colorado

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Merle Haggard Says ‘Prison Is the Biggest Business in America’