Tony Bennett Called for Drug Legalization in 2012 After Whitney Houston Died

NEW YORK, APRIL 1962: Singer Peggy Lee (R) hands marijuana cigarette stub to Tony Bennett (C) in dressing room during a break in her nightclub performance. (Photo by Bob Gomel/Getty Images)

Most musicians drink and use drugs. It's a given and even impacted pop singer Tony Bennett, who passed away on July 20 at 96. In the late '70s, after a couple of decades of hitmaking and building his reputation as a Sinatra-style crooner, Bennett went into debt and an extended period of drug use.

“I owed something like $1.2 million, which was a fortune in those days," he said in 2011. "At least half of it was in back taxes I couldn’t afford to pay... I used to take pills – uppies, downies and sleepies." He smoked marijuana and snorted cocaine to forget his financial woes: “I was in a completely self-destructive tailspin.”

Bennett and his second wife Sandra Grant had moved to Los Angeles. In his his 1998 memoir The Good Life, the singer recalled:

"At every big party I'd go to, people were high on something. Cocaine flowed as freely as champagne, and I soon began joining in the festivities. At first, it seemed like the hip thing to do, but as time went on it got harder and harder to refuse it when it was offered. Compounded with my pot-smoking, the whole thing started to sneak up on me."

Bennett overdosed on coke during this down period and was saved by Grant who found him near dead and got him to the hospital. This was followed by pianist Bill Evans' OD in 1980, which he wrote, "made me think hard about my own drug use. I knew that somehow, something had to be done."

Just days after Whitney Houston's overdose death in 2012, Bennett commented:

“First it was Michael Jackson, then it was Amy Winehouse and now the magnificent Whitney Houston. I’d like to have every gentleman and lady in this room commit themselves to get our government to legalize drugs. So they have to get it through a doctor, not just some gangsters that sell it under the table."

RELATED: When Whitney Houston Was Busted for Weed in Hawaii

Bennett went on to say:

“Let’s legalize drugs like they did in Amsterdam. No one’s hiding or sneaking around corners to get it. They go to a doctor to get it.”

Clearly, Bennett knew what he was talking about. The music world is littered with addicts and alcoholics. In Bennett's early days prior to Civil Rights legislation, he saw racism playing in mixed groups as they traveled around the country. Bennett regularly performed wih the Count Basie Orchestra.

Tony Bennett: "Let's legalize drugs."

Pot, reefer, herb, grass - it was popular among the jazz cats, both male and female as the above photo with Peggy Lee attests. Bennett was one of them and certainly ahead of his time. He suffered for his hard drug use, and knew weed wasn't the problem.

One of the many posts at Facebook paying tribute to Bennett refers to his prodigious marijuana use. A guy names Paulie used to score for him. "It was always the best shit for Tony," Paulie recalled. 

You might call it the Good LIfe. 


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.