In his latest memoir, Willie Nelson's Letters to America, Willie Nelson describes coming onto his pot-smoking habit as something like fate. While swimming in Hawaii in 1981, the musician suffered a collapsed lung -- he nearly drowned! When Nelson awoke in the hospital, he threw away all his Chesterfield cigarettes... "Then I rolled up twenty joints and a new Willie was born... Unfortunately, there've been a few officers of the law who didn't think I needed marijuana." Well, we know that's true of this "outlaw" country crooner. Nelson is notorious for his long, weed-related rap sheet.
Nelson's Marijuana Possession Charges
Mugshots of Willie Nelson pic.twitter.com/9X7qXaCAzi
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1974: Dallas, Texas
Although Nelson says his true affinity for marijuana emerged in 1981, he clearly indulged before that. Nelson was first arrested for pot for the first time in 1974 in Dallas, Texas. Though not much information is available about that altercation, his early mug shots are pretty gnarly.
1977: The Bahamas
Following a tour with Hank Cochran in 1977, Nelson traveled to The Bahamas where marijuana was discovered in his jeans. He was arrested and jailed on the island, where, according to legend, Nelson snuck a six-pack of beer into his cell. When he was released a few hours later, Nelson fell over drunk and needed to be taken to the ER! In the end, the party boy's charges were dropped... but he was ordered never to return to the country. Following the incident, President Jimmy Carter -- a good friend of Nelson's -- reportedly said "I'm glad everything turned out well for you in the Bahamas, Willie."
1994: Waco, Texas
The country music legend was arrested for possession of marijuana again, in 1994. Highway patrolmen found Nelson pulled over on the side of the road near Waco, Texas, following an all-night poker game.
"It was foggy and the weather was bad, so I pulled over on the side of the road to sleep, and the policemen found me there in the back seat. They found a roach in the ashtray," Nelson said.
As a result, Nelson missed that year's Grammy awards -- he had to show up in court!
2006: St. Martin Parish, Louisiana
While traveling to Governor Ann Richards' funeral in 2006, Nelson's tour bus was pulled over in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana. Police found 1.5 pounds of marijuana and three ounces of hallucinogenic mushrooms on board. Nelson, his manager, and his sister Bobbie were all arrested with Nelson receiving six months probation.
2010: Sierra Blanca, Texas
In 2010, the 77-year old Nelson faced his most infamous drug bust. While traveling from California, Nelson's tour bus was searched near the Mexican border in Sierra Blanca, Texas. Six ounces of marijuana were found. Nelson later told Rolling Stone: "I had been in California hanging out for a while and my bus had come out to pick me up because we had a couple of tour dates to do and I had forgotten that there was this little bag of weed on the bus that had been in the back there for weeks when I had been gone... Naturally when they stopped us there the dogs came on and the first thing they went to was that little bag of pot back there." Of course, what Nelson considers a "little bag" is relative.
It was Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West who arrested Nelson. (West was a notoriously strict figure at the Sierra Blanca border patrol checkpoint, where several big names have been busted: Snoop Dogg, Nelly, and Fiona Apple, to name a few.) At the time, Nelson was placed in jail briefly before posting $2,500 bail. Later, the prosecutor Kit Bramblett opposed any serious sentence for Nelson and famously joked that he could get off simply by singing "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" for the court. Though Nelson never performed, the county commissioner Wayne West insisted on playing the famous defendant one of his own tunes.
In the end, Nelson paid $550 fine which allowed him to avoid serving any time in Hudspeth county jail. Soon, he was on the road again! But Judge Dean-Walker took issue with that preferential treatment. "If that was the guy on the corner, you can damn sure bet he would be charged with a felony. I don't have anything against Willie Nelson; I just think that it's not fair," she said. Dean-Walker re-opened the case and as of 2012, it still had not been dismissed.
In His Own Words
Nelson has long advocated for the legalization of marijuana. After reading this list, you can see why! But Nelson also recognizes the more serious implications of our nation's strict policies against marijuana. Having spent decades getting high -- and getting away with it -- his take on the subject carries a special weight. In Letters to America, Nelson writes:
"Every time we got busted, something good came out of it. Across our nation there was more awareness and then resistance to long and unjust jail sentences. Not everyone gets to sing their way out of possessing a few joints. Over the years, Black Americans have been four times more likely to get arrested than their White neighbors. White or Black, those sentences destroy lives and families, and it costs tax dollars to lock people up for nonviolent crimes... I believe that within a decade, medicinal and recreational marijuana will be legal in all fifty states."