The legendary hardcore punk band D.O.A. is known throughout the world as a counter-culture catalyst. Pioneers of hardcore punk and its undeniable influence on social change, the band maintains legions of diehard fans in every corner of the world.
In addition to recording 20 studio albums in 35 years, D.O.A.’s lead singer Joe Keithley has been a force for change in his own right. Since the late 1970s, Keithley has been a vocal advocate through protest, media appearances, and few runs for public office in Canada. He is a huge supporter of the environment, peace, and legal marijuana even though he hasn’t consumed any in decades.
Marijuana.com had the honour of interviewing Joe and talking with him about his life, what he’s doing now, and his thoughts on the rollout of Trudeau’s legal marijuana plan.
First and foremost you just got back from doing some shows. Where did you play?
We just got back from Europe, we did ten countries in 23 days. We did a U.S. tour before that on the West Coast for two weeks. We’ve done 38 shows in the last two months, so I guess you can call that active.
Was your interest first in music and then in politics and social change?
I was a drummer when I was a kid, and I got involved in some Greenpeace protests involving nuclear weapons testing in Alaska when I was 16, so that would be 1972.
At the time the Vietnam War was going on, and it was very present on TV, we would watch the news every night at six o’clock.
So the Vietnam War sparked your passion for change.
Yeah, that and the folk/protest music I was hearing, I was also a musician at the same time.
With all the social change that you were involved in, was marijuana just a part of that? When did you start becoming a marijuana activist?
In high school we smoked pot, but I stopped by the time I was twenty. I had moved to Toronto, and I didn’t know anyone with pot and all of a sudden I realized I hadn’t smoked pot for a long time.
But there was a guy that we used to listen to a lot named David Peel & The Lower East Side, and he was a pot activist from New York. They put out a couple of pro-marijuana albums. This is 1973 and our drummer brings home this record called “Have a Marijuana.” It was all these songs about marijuana and being an activist. We thought it was really funny but also thought it was wrong that people went to jail for smoking or growing pot.
So just like your passion was stoked for social change during the Vietnam War through music, same goes for marijuana.
Exactly. These people were enunciating at the time through their songs.
I don’t believe people should go to jail; they should be able to grow their own and smoke pot, and one key thing is that anybody who has been arrested doing those activities should be given a complete pardon and their record wiped off the criminal justice system.
Did you ever try to promote marijuana activism in any way through your music?
Yeah, we did shows for NORML and in 1995 or 1996 we did a song called “Marijuana Motherfucker.” We put together two different David Peel songs and added a few bits of my own and came up with this song and it became an underground hit.
[The song] talks about people being harassed for marijuana in a very chant-like, tribal, punk rock sort of way.
What do you think of the current political state of marijuana in the world?
Times have changed. We’ve had several presidents who have smoked pot, the Prime Minister of Canada has smoked pot. Which makes complete sense [in asking the question]why should this be a crime?
What year did you decide to enter politics? I believe you started with the Green Party of Canada.
I ran for the Green Party in 1996. Unfortunately, I ended up in third.
Was your platform at the time legalizing marijuana?
It was something I would have pushed for but my platform was more affordability in housing, better education and free tuition. I just ran for the Green Party again and came in third again.
People should be allowed to grow their own. But we could sell it through outlets the same way Colorado is doing and use it to help pay for education. You can grow tomatoes in your backyard why can’t you grow marijuana there too?
We don’t want to turn this over to gigantic corporations, tobacco companies and entrepreneurs who raise capital on the New York Stock Exchange, to finance the biggest marijuana plantations so they can manipulate the prices. If people want to make the effort to grow it, and they have a little veranda in their apartment let them grow it, that seems pretty natural to me.
Nothing against the Green Party, but have you ever thought about running for a party that may have a better shot at winning?
That’s actually what I like about the Green Party. I did try running with a party who had a better shot [the NDP]about four years ago, and they did everything they could to put up a brick wall. So I didn’t get the nomination.
I think they thought I was too much of an activist, and I wouldn’t tow the party line and be a potted plant.
Do you agree with the way Trudeau is handling the roll-out of legalization?
I think he’s taken a bit long to get to it. Obviously, he’s a hundred times better choice for Prime Minister than [his predecessor]Stephen Harper.
Trudeau is trying to give people a voice but in the end [the Liberals]have already made up their mind how they are going to do it.
How do you feel about regulating the current dispensaries and leaving them alone? Should that be a part of Trudeau’s plan?
I really believe that existing dispensaries can be grandfathered in but they would have to prove they are legit and not an outlet for organized crime. I think that’s a key element.
So going forward should dispensaries be a part of the system?
Yes, both models. People smoke pot for pleasure, but they also do it for chronic back pain or PTSD. These dispensaries have been a helper to these people who really need access to medical marijuana.
Keithley is one of those people who will never go gentle into that good night, as he continues his legendary career in politics and music. It is his passion for social change that makes him a worthy opponent to any establishment that needs an overhaul.
No matter what he does next, he’s a squeaky wheel that can carry one hell of a tune.
(Photo Credit aux.tv)