As a rapper, father, and business owner, Killer Mike wears many hats, not the least of which is an advocate for the decriminalization of marijuana and the opportunities it can provide for nonviolent drug offenders. Through Weedmaps’ new four-part Vice docuseries Tumbleweeds with Killer Mike, he will educate a mainstream audience about the history of marijuana and its legalization in Las Vegas, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.
Tumbleweeds will take viewers through the evolution and impact of cannabis in the featured cities, each of which is taking a different approach to the marijuana economy. Whereas Illinois was the first step to legalize adult-use marijuana through legislation, New York is taking a progressive approach to licensing, with the first sales permits going to people with marijuana-related convictions.
For Killer Mike, giving people directly affected by the war on drugs a direct pathway into the marijuana industry is the way to create an equitable business model. He thinks corporations looking to capitalize on the Green Rush should be required to work directly with the people who are responsible for building the “highways and byways” that allowed the business of marijuana to exist in the first place.
“There should be some preference for those people, seeing as how they’re the people who were trailblazers in the industry — not just people who can simply raise capital,” the Atlanta native tells Consequence. “I believe if we did that, you would see major corporations that are trying to come into states and take advantage of legal marijuana laws would then have to partner with people who come out of the outlaw or trailblazing system. We would see an influx of growth of people who would usually be left out.”
Consequence also talked with Killer Mike about the Marijuana Opportunity and Reinvestment Expungement Act, a House bill that removes cannabis from the list of scheduled substances under Controlled Substances Act and eliminates criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana. It also expunges previous federal criminal marijuana offenses and would institute a tax intended to help fund programs for communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
It’s not expected to pass through Senate in its current form, but he has strong words for any member of Congress standing opposed to such legislation. (The Senate has its own bill, called the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, in the works.)
“Any Senator that’s so behind the times and treats this as a heavy drug or somehow not as harmful as additives in our food should be punished by losing their political career by getting voted out and never getting voted in again,” the Run the Jewels member says. “We have the ability from the groundswell of marijuana support right now to change this country in one sweep of the wand and make it more fair and equitable.”
Speaking of his duo with El-P, Killer Mike expressed his gratitude for being able to reunite with his musical partner during Coachella and is looking forward to finally kicking off “one of the greatest tours ever” with Rage Against the Machine this summer. Better yet, Run the Jewels have already begun working on their next album.
“I say this with a smile and a wink — me and El-P were in the studio together,” Mike says. “We may have messed around and started Run the Jewels 5. So we’ll see what happens.”
The first episode of Tumbleweeds with Killer Mike premieres tonight on Vice TV at 10:00 p.m. ET. Grab your seats for Rage Against the Machine’s reunion tour with Run the Jewels via Ticketmaster.
In the below one-on-one interview with Consequence, transcribed and edited for clarity, Killer Mike dives deeper into Tumbleweeds and the legalization of marijuana while also opening up about balancing the seemingly disparate aspects of his life and sharing his plans for new music.
Tumbleweeds is described as exploring the impact and evolution of cannabis culture. What can viewers expect to learn from watching the docuseries?
They’re going to further expand what they know in terms of seeing what’s out there on the horizon in terms of advocacy and creating equity and fairness around marijuana. In terms of people that have been sentenced and charged for things, what will happen next in terms of opportunities for them as the world blossoms.
There’s something to learn about how veterans that are coping with PTSD have dealings with marijuana advocacy. You also get to learn some just very cool stuff that’s happening on the art scene in terms of interactions with marijuana in some of the museums and spaces. A lot of us already know, but as this opens up to a more free society and people are able to dictate what they put in their bodies, people will discover there’s more to marijuana than getting stoned.
It takes place in four different cities — Las Vegas, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. Each of those cities is in a different space in terms of the legalization of marijuana. What are the differences that you found when you were in those cities?
For Illinois as a state, and Chicago being in Illinois, marijuana is recreational off the top. In terms of Nevada and Las Vegas, gambling rules Nevada and whether it’s legal prostitution or marijuana, they tend to be a little more restrictive because they don’t want it to compete with the coin in terms of what else may be happening.
A perfect example is I was leaving Cookies, the store, and coming back to my hotel, and one of the Black guys who was a bellman there encouraged me to keep my bag low because, for whatever reason, hotels just weren’t as friendly with marijuana as you think they would be. My state, Georgia — they tend to be restrictive and only opening to a limited amount medicinally, I would encourage them to be more like Illinois, and just make it adult recreational use for the full spectrum from the start.
New York City and New York state are pretty new to the legalization of marijuana. Based on your experiences with the docuseries, how would you suggest they move forward in the best possible way?
Really just open up. You are an adult; no one can tell you what type of corn to buy or put in your mouth. Even alcohol — which is sugar and alcohol and much worse for you than marijuana. I think marijuana should be legal from day one for adult usage. It should be up to you what you put inside your body and out.
You shouldn’t have to go get ridiculous things such as a medical card or have a medical issue to use it. I am pro-you make your own decisions about what you’re putting in your body from day one instead of going through these ridiculous steps of first very strict medical and then decriminalization and finally legalization. I think it should be legal from day one for you to use — we should be using those tax dollars to fund things like education like they do in places like Colorado.
In the show’s trailer, there’s a sneak peek of a discussion in which you talk about the direct pathway from people who have been in prison for nonviolent offenses into the marijuana industry. What was that discussion like and how do you think that states can move forward with that?
I’ve heard in New York — I haven’t seen the law myself — I’ve heard that there are preferences in terms of who will have the ability to get a license there to distribute marijuana — I don’t know if that’s going to be a store or an individual. In New York, there’s going to be a preference given to people who had marijuana convictions. I believe that the same way that NASCAR was born out of moonshine running, we should have an industry that’s born out of marijuana. Marijuana should be decriminalized and legalized. The people who should have first priority — to me, the people who built the business while outlaws.
These are the people who have built the highways and byways for the industry to exist. It shouldn’t only be people who own big companies or have the ability to get capital that once it’s open, all of a sudden are going to open these corporate K-Marts of marijuana distributing hub centers. There should be more people like [the rapper] Berner, who owns Cookies in Las Vegas, who were outlaws at first and fought their way into a legal business.
There should be some preference for those people, seeing as how they’re the people who were trailblazers in the industry — not just people who can simply raise capital. One example is Mayor Jackson, who is the first Black mayor of Atlanta, required businesses who worked with the city to have 29% Black or minority participation in the business.
I believe if we did that, you would see major corporations that are trying to come into states and take advantage of legal marijuana laws would then have to partner with people who come out of the outlaw or trailblazing system. We would see an influx of growth of people who would usually be left out. That way, we’re not only growing the business, we’re growing the business with people who are authentic to the business.
I don’t know if you heard — the House has been trying to do this for a few years now; they passed a marijuana legalization bill that would make it legal nationwide. It actually has some parts of what you’ve been talking about, where there would be a tax on marijuana that would provide for job training, mentoring, and substance abuse treatment. It would also provide loans to small businesses. It seems like it will be a long shot to pass in the Senate, but do you think that federal legalization is the way to go?
I support Bernie Sanders. He would’ve decriminalized marijuana off the Schedule I drug list from day one [of his presidency]. I think that any Senator who votes against this should be punished at the polls. An overwhelming amount of Americans are pro-decriminalization of marijuana now. Any Senator that’s so behind the times and treats this as a heavy drug or somehow not as harmful as additives in our food should be punished by losing their political career by getting voted out and never getting voted in again.
We have the ability from the groundswell of marijuana support right now to change this country in one sweep of the wand and make it more fair and equitable. If our Senators are not listening to us, I’m in an old woman voice saying, “Decriminalize or legalize now!” Those Senators should never be allowed to hold public office again. We should show them they’re not allowed by voting other people into office who are doing the wants of the American people, instead of the will of the lobby groups who are against it.
There’s definitely a groundswell; 37 states have legalized medical marijuana, and 18 for recreational purposes. Now that we’ve covered that, I had some questions more toward the music side. You do a whole bunch of different things; you’re in politics, cannabis products that you have with Berner and El-P; your church; you have your own businesses and your family. How do you compartmentalize all of these different aspects of your life?
I don’t know; it’s not always easy. It can be incredibly difficult. There’s an old saying in the South: God will never put on you on more than you can bear. I’ve been blessed to have an amazing job. It’s a job I’ve wanted since I was nine years old. That job has given me a platform to speak the truth for a wider base of people to hear on behalf of my community where I’m from — wanting marijuana to be decriminalized and legalized in order to give people who have suffered from the drug war the opportunity to participate and gain from the legalization of marijuana.
It’s just a part of me using my platform to speak on the behalf of people who look like me, who come from communities like mine, and are overwhelmingly — even when they don’t look like me — from a working-class background. I’ve been trained as an organizer by people like Alice Johnson and James Orange. I’ve been encouraged to speak the truth every time I could by my mother, my grandmother, and my grandparents. I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do.
There’s no better way to tell your children, to tell the truth than for them to see you do it. There’s no better way to tell young people in your community to be an example than to see you doing it. To me, the compartmentalization is best because I get an opportunity to show what I’m doing by simply doing it. Sometimes, being a dad — I remember when Michael K. Williams died when my youngest daughter was 14 — she’s 15 now — she was worried because it was reported that he died of an overdose. I interviewed him and considered him a friend.
She and I had to have a discussion about marijuana versus hard drugs. It took me having to say to her, “Dad has a fancy for drugs, but Dad’s mom was also an addict, so Dad is not a user of hard drugs. This is why Dad doesn’t see marijuana as what we would define as a drug, and this is why.”
It caused a great conversation for us. It was not only that my daughter was worried about me potentially overdosing on marijuana, but she also got a chance to understand the difference between marijuana being a sedative versus an opiate versus a Xanax versus even things they’re prescribing kids with ADHD. It provided a good understanding for us, so I welcome cross-sections in my life because it gives me the opportunity to be honest — not only with the public but with my children in private to grow a stronger bond.
You recently returned to the road with RTJ. How does it feel to go back after two years of delays from the pandemic and everything?
Life’s getting back to normal again. You really don’t understand how incredible of a job you have until you’re not able to do it, how much you love it until you can’t be out there doing it. Being on stage at Coachella with El-P over the weekend, it was as dope as the scene in The Color Purple when Celie and Nettie finally met each other again after 30 years. I really missed my partner, I missed being on stage, I missed the energy exchange with the crowd. Being back on a bus traveling through the highways and byways of America feels pretty normal for a musician. As Willie Nelson would say, “On the Road Again.”
You’ve done a handful of guest appearances over the past year with artists like your close affiliate Big Boi, Robert Glasper, and Ace Hood. Do you have any plans for making solo music outside of Run The Jewels?
I never know what I’m planning — but what I do plan right now is actually completing one of the greatest tours ever in Run the Jewels and Rage Against the Machine. I would say look for Run the Jewels to pop up on some guest appearances, I’ve done some solo guest appearances as well. So just look for more music to be coming out period. I say this with a smile and a wink — me and El-P were in the studio together. We may have messed around and started Run the Jewels 5. So we’ll see what happens.
Are there any newer artists that have caught your ear recently?
There are a lot of new artists that are out that are dope. I was riding around listening to Sushee, who I think is incredible. I was riding around listening to Nardo Wick, Kaash Paige. There are dope kids out there like Jack Harlow, who’s on the rise. Westside Gunn, he’s not a new artist but I’m excited to see what he’s coming out with next.
I’m just excited because so much new music is coming out period. Big Latto, she’s an Atlanta artist and I think she’s one of the dopest rappers coming out today. I’m always looking to discover new stuff, so if you’re reading this and there’s somebody I should hear and I haven’t checked them out, please direct me to them.
Run The Jewels play Coachella again this weekend; you can also catch them on tour — tickets are available via Ticketmaster.