I headed to Austin, Texas for SXSW in 2016 to discover a lot more than one expected, but was ready for the adventure. Sit back, roll one and prepare to venture with me as I take you to Texas, where the weed is illegal on any level.
Imagine if you will: traveling to a place beyond sight and sound in a state that in some parts will put you in jail for less than a gram of cannabis… you’ve entered the prohibition zone. Our story begins with this native Californian flying to Texas with a week supply of edibles candies and a few handy prefilled vape pens tucked away for the trip. If this trip had a strain name it would be called the backside of SXSW crossed with the fear and loathing of being in a prohibition state. One stop along the way our good friend in weed, Denver, Colorado then it was quick to another plane to Austin. Being that I have never been to Texas, I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially after hearing all the stories that involved arrests for cannabis in Texas, one would have some concerns.
Let the trip begin…
As soon as the plane landed, the adventure began with an authentic Texan native (accent included) driver, who would be driving me to the hotel where I would soon meet up with my host for this adventure. The hotel is in a town called Round Rock, where it just so happens that if you are caught with so much as a joint, you could spend some time in jail (the driver was an advocate and informative.) The fear was starting to set in, so I took a few TetraLabs Gold caps and tried to keep my cool. Just as the car arrived at the hotel, my host pulls up in his vehicle, this is no ordinary car or truck– it’s a weed ambulance!
Host with the most
Pete Marrero, my host is a passionate supporter of the cannabis movement in Texas and he’s invited me to be part of the show that he has organized for the last day of SXSW. Pete has to be one of the most interesting guys I’ve met over the years serving the cannabis community. An entrepreneur in his own right, his journey in cannabis activism started off like many throughout the country, he enjoyed cannabis in his younger years, but then was diagnosed with cancer. He began using cannabis daily, mainly CBD. Once he was cancer free, he decided to make it his mission to educate others about this miracle plant and uses cannabis as maintenance for his health.
For several years he has been involved with NORML in his home state of Texas as well as on the national level. Somewhere along the way in his activism journey he discovered a company that makes CBD lollypops called Weed World Candies. He recognized the opportunity to stay working in the music business (producing artist showcases, marketing of artists and brands) while at the same time support the movement that he is so passionate about. Now he spreads the word about cannabis throughout the country in weed world van (the ambulance died on the road in Seattle last summer) offering up CBD lollypops wherever he goes. The stories that he shared about his experiences driving a “weed ambulance” are epic as one could imagine. It takes guts and glory to drive around the country in states that may have zero medical cannabis laws, including his home state.
“At the end of the day, if I have had an opportunity to make an impact for the movement and educate the public and law enforcement, my job is done.”
Pete is passionate about the artists that he works with and the music they produce. His integrity and intentions all come from a good place as he would not be where he is today without the respect of the artists that he helps support. Pete’s career in the music business started in 1993. Some of the record companies that he’s worked for in the past include; Capital Records, Jive, Sony, Def Jam, RCA and many others. The music business has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, Pete has experienced it all; the good, bad, and the real ugly. He later developed his own entertainment business in 1999 called PVM Entertainment. This “behind the scenes” guy is the real deal when it comes to supporting his artists, the music, and the movement for cannabis freedom.
On with the show
Planning a gig on the closing night of SXSW in the thick of 6th street is no easy task, considering there are literally a multitude of different events going on at the same time. Show time and the lights go up for a band from Pasadena called The Letters Home; they volunteered to start up the audience with their own brand of funk, soul, and rock stylings. They certainly have a sound all their own and worth checking out. Next up happens to be another Southern California artist by the name of Semi, who has her own style of hip-hop, a strong female voice. The night continued with a variety of hip-hop artists that are staking a claim on their music career as well as some well-known old school artists. The line-up included Nappy Roots, Killah Priest from the infamous WuTang Clan, Devin The Dude, Lil Cas, Grim Nasty, Sterling, Dirty Wormz, and IlliZem. The night wrapped up with hip-hop legend, Keith Murray.
The show went off without a hitch, Pete worked with all parties to make the night a successful one, but it didn’t come without some seriously scary moments with the venue owner double booking the spot, staging and lighting concerns and other fun behind the scenes hi-jinx. Through it all, Pete handled it like a pro and came out winning. After the show we made our way to the nearest open restaurant to eat and then back to the hotel to pass out.
Activism & Beyond
The next day we had a chance to talk about some of Pete’s experiences driving the weed ambulance all over the country. Stories of police pulling him over for no reason or in more often cases the police just want to take a picture next to the ambulance. Pete explains it this way “It’s all about your approach and how you communicate with law enforcement, generally curiosity is the biggest reason I get pulled over and often I get excited at the opportunity to interact with them and ultimately give them some knowledge about the non-psychoactive part of the plant that helps so many people and yes, it is legal.”
Most interactions he has with the police are positive. However, about a year ago Pete’s trip to a car show that one of his friends was producing in Waco turned into a fiasco. The Weed World ambulance would soon have an entire city of law enforcement along with the DEA swarming the convention center parking lot surrounding him. They immediately accused him of selling narcotics in the city, he explained to Commander Crook (yes that is her real name!), “This product has CBD inside which is completely legal, so how could I sell a THC product in Texas knowing that it is against the law, I live in Texas.”
He proceeded to explain to her what CBD is and how it is not illegal to sell products with CBD only. He proceeds to show her pictures of other law enforcement officers next to the ambulance and explains that the truck is flashy for a reason, it is a moving billboard, but the only products he sells are these completely legal CBD lollypops. Again, it doesn’t compute with the commander as she looks around the situation of over 50 law enforcement officers and DEA agents all looking to her for direction. She puts her arm around Pete and tells him that she wants to field test the products and search the truck; she explains that he should expect that law enforcement is going to have questions when there is a vehicle with marijuana all over it and that it would cause concern. He explains to her that he normally contacts the cities prior to coming into town just to give them a heads up however, this was a spur of the moment trip to his friend’s car show.
Stick out like a big bud
He knows that driving through small towns quickly generates chatter about this weed ambulance that drove through and the controversy and attention it brings- that’s the point. Pete completely complies with her demand and after sometime the officers come back puzzled that they can’t find any THC in the lollypops. This of course is not good enough for their efforts, so the commander decided to cease all of the lollypops as well as his cash, which ultimately got returned to him the next day. They did however; cease his large supply of lollypops for further testing. The lollypops would stay with the DEA for 5 months and 29 days, just one day short of the DEA having to pay him for what they ceased, since he wasn’t arrested or charged with anything. In fact, the DEA had to pay him for the destroyed property, so they wrote him a check for what he said they were worth, 420.00.
Being the best activist you can be
Through it all Pete stays calm and cooperative with the police and quite often they are a bit taken back by how calm and respectful he is with them. There have been other occasions of being harassed and threatened with jail simply because many law enforcement officers are not educated about CBD and in one case in Corpus Christi they thought the lollypops had a synthetic THC inside and were ready to arrest Pete, but after several hours of being detained and again the DEA was called and, in the end, they released him. Pete’s attitude is surprisingly positive and he explains “these adventures are mainly an opportunity to spark the conversation with law enforcement, it’s not just about making money or going to fun events, I see it as a chance to create a forum for education. I don’t mind being detained; I don’t mind being questioned because I’m not doing anything wrong. At the end of the day, if I have had an opportunity to make an impact for the movement and educate the public and law enforcement, my job is done.”