Photo by Tenaya HillsSammy Hagar just couldn't drive 55, so the U.S. Congress raised the speed limit on most freeways to 75 mph. Someday, when smoking pot becomes legal—as opposed to simply fashionable—people may say the same thing about Marijuana: The Band.
The Huntington Beach-based jazz duo—comprised of singer/ drummer Bong Rip and Chronic Sax, a saxophonist/keyboardist/ guitarist/clarinetist—really like smoking pot. A lot. They write music advocating pot use such as "One Hit Wonder," "Sweet Mary Jane" and "Uncle Sams My Dealer." They have a website and "Bong Line"—marijuanatheband.com and (714) 742-9212, respectively—that provide fans with information on how to obtain medical marijuana. It's all part of their singular, defining ambition to, get this, legalize pot.
"We're both highly trained jazz musicians," Bong Rip says. "Unfortunately, there is no money or glory in jazz these days, so we decided to put together the ultimate band that also has a topic, which is rare in bands these days. Most bands sing about love, but how many times have we heard that before?"
Right now, the band is putting the finishing touches on its first album, Hit After Hit, which will be released this summer and distributed in a plastic baggie. You won't be able to hear the band in Orange County any time soon, though. As a vanity ad the band placed in OC Weekly this week boasts, Marijuana: The Band is "Banned in OC."
Last month, the band placed an advertisement in the Weekly for a June 5 "pot party" at the Liquid Den in Huntington Beach. The ad instructed fans to "Bring Your Best Pot to Smoke With the Band!!!" When club owner Jim Cline saw the ad, he immediately canceled the show (see Ellen Griley's "Clubbed!" June 11). That didn't stop Huntington Beach Police Chief Kenneth Small from sending Cline a June 8 letter threatening to shut down his club.
"This type of promotion will not be tolerated in the city of Huntington Beach," Small wrote. "If you continue to promote or advertise the use of illegal substances, such as marijuana, you will subject yourself, your [alcohol] license, your entertainment permit and your business license to criminal and administrative action. By allowing your place of business to be used as a place where illegal drugs are used and/or encouraging patrons to bring or use illegal drugs, you may also subject your establishment to forfeiture laws."
Bong Rip says he assumed that police are too busy dealing with more serious crimes—the ones involving actual victims—to care about marijuana. He says he was told as much during a drug-diversion class he attended shortly after being busted for smoking pot in Seal Beach last February.
"I was quite surprised because the class was actually pro-marijuana," he says. "They showed a video that said the laws against marijuana were more harmful than the marijuana itself."
According to Rip, Marijuana: The Band had played 20 shows at the Liquid Den without any problem.
"The cops didn't do anything, so I kept on pushing the envelope," he says. "That's how I got the great idea to start what I'm calling the 'pot party.' We figured a band needed to come along and make fools of the people who are enforcing prohibition because everybody knows it doesn't work."
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Asked whether he's worried about getting arrested, Rip says, "It's definitely a threat we take seriously." Especially since someone identifying himself as "Officer Clark" left the band a message on their website. "I can't wait to bust you little jackass's [sic]," it states. "You can all keep your weed at home and out of sight, but when you become blatant and stupid like you morons, I'll get ya! See you in lockup."
But, Rip says, Marijuana: The Band will not be intimidated.
"We're not gonna stop," he says. "If the government comes and kills me for the message we're spreading, the band will just keep going. I think the cops will try to make an example of us, but we have medical marijuana slips, and legally, we can smoke in public. You can get a medical slip for headaches, attention-deficit disorder and stress. I spend a lot of hours in the studio, so it helps me to concentrate. And we have the cops on our ass, too, so I have to smoke double now."