Though marijuana unfairly remains a Schedule I drug under U.S. federal law, a large number of states have legalized weed for recreational and/or medicinal use – and many of the others have taken major steps toward decriminalizing the drug. Yet, that wasn’t always the case. Just a few years ago, having even a small amount of bud on your person could land you in serious legal trouble, and that was especially true if you were a celebrity. These days, few stars are caught with illegal cannabis, largely because so many states allow anyone over the age of 21 to possess a rational amount, but in the recent past, a good number of stars were caught with cannabis. Here are a famous few:
In 1976, David Bowie was on tour for his album Station to Station, an album notoriously written and produced under the heavy influence of cocaine. Yet, it was not blow that got Bowie hauled into a Rochester, New York police station in the wee hours of the morning at his hotel with Iggy Pop by his side; it was marijuana. Bowie was charged with Class C felony fifth-degree criminal possession of marijuana, which came with a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. However, after paying bonds for himself and Iggy – and securing a court date for April 20 – Bowie hardly saw the inside of a jail cell. A grand jury declined to indict the icon and Bowie went on to a career of never-ending style and grace.
Singer Neil Diamond was also arrested for marijuana possession in 1976 after police raided his Bel Air home and found less than an ounce. He entered a drug diversion program. Ironically, eight years earlier, on his third album Velvet Glove and Spit, Diamond included “The Pot-Smoker’s Song,” a bizarre anti-drug track that features interviews with addicts, many of whom started with marijuana.
Robert Downey Jr.
For those even slightly familiar with this Hollywood bad boy’s career, a drug arrest was pretty par for the course. But marijuana was never the problem. Except for one day at Disneyland. Downey revealed what happened when he accepted an award for his role in Iron Man at the 2019 Disney Legends event at the Anaheim Convention Center in August.
“The first time I went to Disneyland I was transported to another place…within moments of being arrested,” he told the started crowd (see clip below). “I was brought to a surprisingly friendly processing center, given a stern warning and returned to, if memory serves, one very disappointed group chaperone. I’ve been sitting on that shame for a while. I’m just going to release it here tonight. I would like to make amends to whoever had to detain me for smoking pot in a gondola without a license. I don’t want to further confuse the issue by insinuating that pot-smoking licenses for the gondolas are in any way obtainable or for any of the other park attractions as far as I know. They may be imagineers, but that’s their own business. Anyway, that’s a load off.”
An advocate and medical-marijuana user, singer Melissa Etheridge was popped for pot and cannabis oil heading back into the U.S. from Canada in her tour bus on August 17, 2017. She pled guilty and paid a $1,000 fine several months later. “I was careless,” Etheridge admitted. “It’s an international border, I should’ve known better. But I hope this can move the issue forward and shed some light on how many people use cannabis as a medicine.”
The '70s were a much different time – as evidenced by the story of Bill Murray’s arrest for marijuana. On September 21, 1970, Murray’s 20th birthday, the then–college student was boarding a plane at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport bound for Denver where Murray intended to resume his pre-med studies at Regis College. As a joke, while waiting in line, Murray whispered to his neighbor that he had two bombs in his bags. Ticketing agents overheard the conversation and summoned U.S. marshals, who searched Murray’s belongings. Though they didn’t find any explosives, the marshals did discover roughly 10 pounds of marijuana worth more than $20,000 at the time and over $120,000 today if it were a Blue Cheese strain. Murray was spared jail time, but he did subsequently drop out of school and start his career as a comedian and actor. He would later play a stoner in Caddyshack.
The SoCal rapper has been arrested six times on marijuana charges – twice in Burbank, California; and once each in Stockholm, Oslo, New York and Sierra Blanca, Texas. He was sentenced to 960 hours of community service for the Burbank charges in 2006.
It’s an understatement to say that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr experimented with drugs throughout the 1960s and ’70s. Many of their songs make references to mind alteration (“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”) and most of their albums were created under the influence.
Still, people may not know that three of the Beatles were arrested for marijuana possession. Sergeant Norman Pilcher busted Lennon and Yoko Ono for having less than an ounce in a Scotland Yard raid conducted on October 18, 1968. Lennon pled guilty to protect his then-girlfriend, who could have been deported if she was convicted, and paid a minor fine. The Beatles referred to the Sergeant as “Semolina Pilchard” on “I Am the Walrus.” The song, of course, ends with the “Everybody smoke pot” refrain.
A year later Pilchard was at it again, pinching Harrison and his wife Patti Boyd for small amounts of pot and hash. It happened on the same day as McCartney and Linda Eastman’s wedding, which they had to miss. The couple paid modest fines.
McCartney had the most problems with the law, getting arrested for pot in 1972, 1973, 1975 and finally in 1980 while on tour in Tokyo with Wings. After being nabbed with nearly a half pound at the airport, he pled guilty, spent 10 nights and then was deported to the U.K. McCartney has long said that “Got to Get You into My Life” is his ode to Mary Jane.
Starr, the only Beatle to be spared a drug arrest, wrote his own anti-drug tune, “No-No Song,” in 1975.