Willie Nelson Changes His Tune

The Teapot Party began two days after Willie Nelson was arrested for marijuana possession in Texas on Nov. 26. He sent me an email suggesting the need for an alternative to the Tea Party – the “Teapot” Party. I started the Facebook page and and within 48 hours our nascent movement had 30,000 supporters.

Nelson christened the party with the motto: “We lean a little to the left – tax, it, regulate it, legalize it,” of course referring to marijuana. Several months went by and our numbers grew to 50,000. State and local chapters sprung up like weeds across the nation. A group calling themselves the Teapot Party State Administrators wanted more concrete action and soon divorced themselves from the main Teapot Party.

At this point I asked Nelson for more direction. He wrote back: “The purpose of the Teapot Party is to vote in people who believe the way we do, and vote out the ones who don’t.” With that in mind, we embarked on a campaign to find candidates to support in upcoming elections. Three of our candidates – Doug Linkhart (Denver mayor), Kris Bailey (Austin City Council) and Dana Larson (BC New Democratic Party – have lost their races. We recently endorsed Washington State Rep. Roger Goodman for Congress. We’ve also endorsed Nelson’s longtime friend Gatewood Galbraith (Kentucky governor) and Bill Levin (Indianapolis City Council).

On Tuesday, the Teapot Party announced our biggest endorsement yet – former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson for the Republican presidential nomination. This was done with great thought. Johnson has been courting the marijuana-reform establishment ever since he was governor from 1995 to 2003. With his position in favor of legalizing marijuana as an acting governor, Johnson was clearly blazing a new path. Since he left office, and especially during the last year, Johnson has attended and spoken at numerous marijuana events, including the NORML Conference, MPP Gala, Cypress Hill Smokeout, High Times Medical Cannabis Awards, Seattle Hempfest, Portland Hempstalk and the Austin Marijuana March & Rally.

Ten days ago, Johnson was in Texas for the Austin Rally. That night, he attended Nelson’s show in New Braunfels, near San Antonio. I set up a meeting between Johnson and Nelson before the show. I wanted them to get to know each other. If Willie approved of Johnson, we would move ahead and endorse him.

Two days later, I received the following email from Nelson about Johnson: “I think we should endorse him.” I informed Johnson’s campaign and they happily provided an “acceptance” quote from the Governor: “I am truly gratified to have the endorsement of such an iconic entertainer, philanthropist, innovator and champion for individual rights as Willie Nelson. Not only is he a superstar talent, he is a bold advocate for social change. Americans are demanding the freedom and opportunity to pursue their dreams without interference from a heavy-handed government, and Willie Nelson lends a tremendous voice to those demands.”

Yesterday, both the Teapot Party and Gary Johnson 2012 sent out press releases announcing the endorsement. The media immediately jumped on it, with Politico, Fox and Raw Story leading the coverage. We were on a roll.

But not so fast. I sent the press release and coverage links to Nelson. His response took me by surprise: “My position is it too early for me to endorse anyone. And I think every one should vote their  own conscience.”

I wrote back reminding him that he had approved the endorsement.

“I know I said that,” Nelson replied. “But I think I will wait and see where he stands on other things. My bad. Sorry. I still think he is a good guy but so Is Dennis and if he decided to run I would personally vote for him. If it came down to either him or Gary I’m already committed to Dennis. They both have said they support legal pot.”

Willie was referring to Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who he supported in 2008 for the Democratic nomination. I defended our choice of Johnson and reminded him that we were only endorsing him for the Republican nomination, which is wide open.

Willie then wrote back: “The Teapot Party is millions of people. It’s not me. I jokingly said after I got out of jail in Texas that there is a Tea Party and there should be a Teapot Party. The difference between us is we follow our own drummer. No one can tell us how to think. If we back someone that’s us telling them how to vote. I’m not qualified. You can say or do anything you like and I will do the same but let’s don’t back a political candidate. Let’s give our opinions and say what we know about everyone but let’s let everyone decide for themselves.”

He sent this quote to Linda Banks at stillisstillmoving.com and she posted it Wednesday morning.

So the cat was out of the bag, so to speak. Willie Nelson has changed his tune. “Where do we go from here?” I asked him.

“I still say that the people have the power to change things and they will if they vote,” Nelson replied. “The Teapot Party started as a joke but it could still be a way for people to speak out about important things. I am not a criminal. The millions of pot smokers in this country are not criminals. We don’t like being treated as such and I for one will stand up for what I believe in and will vote for anyone I choose. You should do the same. We are not ever going to agree on everything and everybody. The best advice I ever got was from my ex father-in-law. He said take my advice and do what you want to. End of story.”

And one more email from Nelson, sort of a postscript: “This will blow over and the world moves on. No harm done. We sound like a bunch of pot smokers, that’s all… The more I get into politics the more I realize that I am a guitar player.”

Over the next few days, Teapot Party coordinators around the country will reassess the party’s direction. Where should we go from here? Let us know.

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