There are abundant examples of celebrities trying to profit off legal cannabis while the less famous sit behind bars, but some of the OGs of cannabis culture are putting their money where their mouths are. Eric Rachmany, guitarist and singer for Rebelution, is using his national solo tour as a way to raise awareness and money for those imprisoned for cannabis charges.
Proceeds from Rachmany's concert at Summit Music Hall on Friday, November 29, will benefit the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit that helps cannabis offenders apply for clemency, clear their records and re-enter society — sometimes as members of the pot industry. We caught up with Rachmany to learn more about the cause, his connection to cannabis and some of his own close calls while touring.
Westword: As a cannabis user, what made expungement and re-entry so important to you?
Eric Rachmany: I didn't know anything about the Last Prisoner Project until my manager told me he was a boardmember, and I immediately knew it was something I wanted to get involved in. My band, Rebelution, has always been a big cannabis advocate, and has always pushed for legalization.
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But the main reason I wanted to get involved is because it feels weird for me to make money off our own cannabis line of products knowing there are people still locked away, some for life sentences, who were doing the exact same thing as us: trying to make a dollar off cannabis. That doesn't feel right, knowing all those people are locked away. This is my second annual acoustic tour, and both years have gone 100 percent toward charities — but this year is solely for the Last Prisoner Project. Knowing I'm making money off cannabis, like so many others in this industry, while others are locked up for it — that just doesn't sit right.
One great way to make a statement is to take this message on the road and show people what this cause is. I just want to raise awareness, and I think anybody who uses cannabis would want to be involved in an organization like this. For people to be locked up for something as minor as cannabis, it's mind-blowing. It's crazy how a sentence for cannabis can be longer than an offense for something violent. A lot of these people are just trying to make a dollar to survive.
There's something about a live performance that can really sit well with a listener. There's only so much I can do through recorded material or talking about it in an article. But when people come and see a community backing a cause, that's much more profound. I've been a part of a lot of Last Prisoner Project fundraisers, and they poll cannabis-industry players. A lot of these big hitters are making pledges to hire some of the first prisoners that Last Prisoner Project has gotten out.
Between seeing so many people in front of you while on stage and traveling around the country to perform, how have you noticed the boldness around cannabis use change over the years?
I think it depends on the region. In California, it felt like it had been legal for a long time. When recreational cannabis became legal out there, I didn't really notice a change, and I don't think many others did, other than seeing people who weren't involved in cannabis before now trying to get involved. Around the country, though, it definitely has.
My band has been touring for about twelve years, and we've been in a lot of places where we really had to hide smoking weed. Although some places still make me feel that way, there are definitely less. I think people who weren't cannabis users are now hearing about the benefits of it, and they want to be involved — even my own friends and family. I feel like a lot of the stuff I was told about cannabis were lies, and music and art are great ways to educate people about cannabis.
Have there ever been some close calls on the road with law enforcement?
Oh, yeah. Rebelution has a few stories on tour, and luckily none of us got locked away, but we could have. I know many other bands and artists who've been in similar situations. We feel privileged about that, so we feel a duty to do something to contribute back, because I can't imagine that ever happening to a close friend or family. I know people who've been locked away under false pretenses or have been locked away for seven or eight years for cannabis charges.
That sounds like a legitimate career obstacle for budding musicians on the road.
Absolutely. Almost every situation where we've run into potential trouble, it was because we were targeted as musicians. Law enforcement will just see a traveling bus or RV with a trailer, and they'll know it's a band. We're easy targets. That's another reason why we're pushing for federal legalization: We'd like to be able to use it freely in all states.
I imagine a lot of people throw a lot of joints and cannabis at you on stage.
What do you do with all that weed?
We don't know what exactly is in those joints [laughs]. We'll usually let the crew have them if they want, or something like that. I'm sure a lot of fans might be mad to read that — sorry, everyone — but it's just so abundant now, which is great. It should be normalized, because it's a useful plant.
How has using cannabis influenced your career?
Whenever I use cannabis, it makes me want to write music and perform. It actually makes me really productive, and that's one thing that people used to wrongly tell me: that if I smoked pot, I'd be a loser who did nothing with his life. But for me, it's the opposite. Every time I use cannabis, I want to do something creative or organize something [laughs]. I think it can be incredibly beneficial for a lot of people.
Has the acceptance of cannabis culture over the past decade affected your music career?
I would imagine so. I think cannabis and the arts are related, whether it's music or some other art form. When cannabis is consumed, I think a lot of people want to see art or contribute to it. So, yes, actually, I think it has.
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How do you use cannabis to spur your creativity?
I prefer flower these days, just because I kind of know how much I'm using. There are just so many products out there, but I'd like to get more into edibles. Back in the day, when someone offered you an edible, you really didn't know what was in it or how potent it was. Man, do I have some stories of getting on stage after eating an edible and forgetting words. It's tough. Some people can do it, but it's hard for me.
What do you do in those situations? Sounds intense.
All of a sudden, the lights just get brighter and you get super-paranoid. You just have to fight through it.