Where will Rihanna get her Canadian weed?

Rihanna GigCity EdmontonWhen Rihanna came to Edmonton in 2011, there was said to be distinct reek of pot backstage at Rexall Place.

One Edmonton police officer on duty that night described a “fog” in the hallway outside the dressing rooms. The cops held their noses and looked the other way. Busting a headliner for weed 30 minutes before a sold-out concert would not be conducive to keeping the peace. Besides, it’s no secret Rihanna likes to smoke pot. This is a chick who tweets pictures of her bud and gets 90,000 “likes” for it. Of course the performers toked to their hearts’ content – and then put on an amazing show. Coincidence?

So where will Rihanna get her weed when she comes to Canada this time? She plays Edmonton on Wednesday, March 27, after crossing the border from St. Paul, Minnesota to Winnipeg on Monday the 25th. Winnipeg it is.

No pot-smoking American star is stupid enough to bring their stash over the border, or rich enough to get away with it – not Willie Nelson, not Snoop Dogg, not Rihanna. Get caught with so much as a roach and you risk losing those precious work visas, worth their weight in, well, at least cocaine.

Rihanna: “This nug look like a skull or am I just....?”

Rihanna: “This nug look like a skull or am I just….?”

Going viral recently was the story that 10 of Rihanna’s tour busses were stopped en route from Toronto to Detroit on March 20, and one of the entourage was found in possession of a small amount of marijuana. Rihanna wasn’t on board at the time. Dogs sniffed all the vehicles and found nothing more. The unnamed person – crew member, musician or dancer, it wasn’t made clear – was given a citation and the fleet was allowed to proceed. This was going back INTO the US, remember. Canadian border officials are not known for being so nice (though they are polite). The message is clear: Rihanna needs a Canadian connection.

Whose job is it exactly to buy illegal drugs for musicians who are “in need of weed” when they arrive upon Canadian shores?

The Weed Runner

There are temps called “runners” employed for every major concert event, hired to fetch guitar strings or vegan lasagna or moustache wax, whatever the artist desires, and there is usually one guy in every town who “knows how to get things.” He knows which star is likely to be in need when he or she comes to town, anticipates the order, and is treated rather like a CIA agent: If caught, the artist, the label, the concert promoter and everyone else in the vicinity will disavow all knowledge of his existence. There was a story about a guy on Nelly’s tour bus being arrested in October 2012 when he took responsibility for a duffel bag full of marijuana and heroin (plus a handgun). He was charged, released on bail and has since pleaded not guilty. Nelly’s official statement read, “It is my understanding a member of my staff made an unfortunate decision to bring unlawful materials onto our tour bus that resulted in his arrest. Neither I nor anyone else on the tour bus was aware of his decision to bring these on board.”

Experienced touring artists rarely have problems getting anything they want. The bigger the star, the better the treats. They get to know the local dope contacts in every town, make friends, and deals are brokered with a minimum of fuss.

Touring rock musicians ask for dope “constantly,” according to “Jim,” an Edmonton musician and former tour manager who doesn’t want his real name used. He worked for several prominent Canadian rock bands over the years. Procuring drugs was part of his official duties.

“On tour I would always keep the search for drugs away for the promoters and record companies,” Jim says. “I’d just walk up to someone on the crew who looked like a druggie and go from there. It was rare that we didn’t score.”

One well-known Edmonton promoter, who shall also remain anonymous, personally made dope deals for visiting artists, back in the day. “You just try to accommodate the artist to elicit a better performance, and you do whatever you can,” the promoter says. “If they need a special drum, you get it for then. If they want some pot, you give it to them. You just want a good show. On the other hand, it is illegal.”

Yes, it is illegal – and this story is a heat score. We’re straying dangerously close to not just breaking the Criminal Code, but the more important “Code of the Road,” since modernized: What happens on the road stays on Instagram.

Let it be known that not every rock musician gets lit up before a show. Another well-known Edmonton promoter currently active says there has never been an instance of any artist on his gigs asking him for dope. “A lot of them don’t even drink,” the promoter says. “I think the stoner thing is burning out with the younger musicians.” Along with the age of the people in question, bands and fans alike from 16-25, it might have something to do with the “straight-edge” attitude of some of the hardcore bands. Vegan Lasagna it is. This could be an anomaly. In 1,000 rock shows at Rexall over 20 years, young and old, in every subgenre known to man, the most common smell in the venue at least half the time was marijuana. Not once did a performer object. Sometimes it reeked.

On enforcement at rock concerts, an Edmonton Police Service spokesman says this: “If an officer saw someone smoke marijuana, they would arrest that person and charge them.”

Willie Nelson High Times GigCity EdmontonIndeed it’s not rare to see patrons escorted off the premises at just about every show. Yet at least three out of five rock concerts reek – on stage or off. Chad Kroeger, another huge pothead last we checked, asked fans to pass him their lit joints during Nickelback’s 2009 concert in Edmonton. “Canada has the best weed!” he declared to general agreement. The Black Crowes used to put weed on their rider, right there along with the plates of Ding-Dongs and Yoo-Hoo. Wiz Khalifa, another weed enthusiast whose stage set included a giant smoking bong, would ask the crowd at his shows, “Who’s got the best weed?!” The answer: We do!

Good times.

Music business professionals don’t talk about this stuff. Many of them are afraid of losing their jobs or besmirching their reputations. A number of people approached for this story were aghast at the very idea and refused to have anything to do with it. The three sources who did agree to talk didn’t want their names revealed. Pot use may be rampant among certain musicians, but it remains a taboo topic.

More disturbing is that when the stars want the hard stuff, the same clandestine rules apply. You talk to the same guy who knows how to get things.

Ashley wanted coke

Brett Fraser, live entertainment manager of Rexall Place, remembers his first gig on his first day as the entertainment booker for the Pantages Theatre in Winnipeg around 1998. According to Fraser, Ashley MacIsaac, who was opening for the Chieftains that night, asked him flat out, “How do I get some coke?” Fraser says he replied, “‘You’re already downtown, you won’t have to look far.’ I wasn’t going to phone anybody for him at that point.”

MacIsaac allegedly did the same thing before an appearance at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. No word on whether the fiddler managed to score in either case. He’s been clean and sober for some years now.

So has “Jim,” who in doing his job for one particular band that liked cocaine became addicted to the drug himself. “By the time that tour was over, rather than leaving it at work, I was bringing it home with me.” He adds, “I was terribly addicted. It was because of my procurement of that drug for that performer that I became addicted. It was just there all the time.”

Few people these days would ever claim that marijuana is as dangerous as cocaine. You can also make a good case that pot being illegal is at least partly responsible for it being a “gateway drug.” In any case, weed is by far the drug of choice among rock musicians. After booze, of course.

What’s really funny is to see all these grown-up, professional, respected people who work behind the scenes in show business sneak around like guilty high school delinquents, afraid to talk, forced to keep their dirty little secrets, coerced into consorting with known criminals in order to feed the appetites of a large cross-section of entitled rock stars for whom drugs are an important part of putting on a “good show.” It tinges the whole music industry with a touch of the outlaw – and let’s be honest, a lot of badass rock stars wouldn’t have it any other way.