When Lemmy Took on the War on Drugs

How the late metal visionary was inspired by the death of a lover to fight for the legalization of a drug he despised.

12.29.15 9:50 PM ET

The late Lemmy Kilmister was, like so many other deceased and aging rock stars, a walking stereotype of rock ’n’ roll excess.

Lemmy, the founding member and frontman of the British heavy metal band Motörhead, bragged that he drank a bottle of Jack Daniel’s every day since turning 30. He boasted about sleeping with more than a thousand women. And the man sure loved his drugs, including amphetamines.

But all the hedonism and flamboyance aside, Lemmy did take a principled, deeply personal stand against the international war on drugs.

Lemmy’s politics were essentially libertarian, favoring a philosophy that “government causes more problems than it solves.” (He was a self-described “anarchist.”) He was anti-war, anti-theistic, anti-totalitarian, pro-choice, and thought 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was a “fucking monster.”

But perhaps the political issue that struck closest to home for Lemmy was the drug war. The rock star never married, saying that the one true love of his life, a woman named Susan Bennett, died of a heroin overdose at age 19. Lemmy quickly became repulsed by heroin—but instead calling for a ban on the substance, he came at the issue in a way that somebody with libertarian instincts likely would.

“The reason I said you should legalize heroin is because it’s out of control,” he told the Tampa Bay Times in 2009, discussing what he called “the single most destructive drug” on the planet. “Locking people up is definitely not working. There’s more heroin on the streets now than when the [war on drugs] started.”

In November 2005 (when Motörhead was in the midst of their 30th anniversary tour), Lemmy was invited by British Conservative politician William Graham to address the Welsh Assembly on the dangers of heroin. The frontman, donning his trademark black cowboy hat, motorcycle boots, and an iron cross, used the platform to call for the legalization of the illicit drug.

“I also lived with a young woman who tried heroin just to see what it was like,” he told the assembly. “It killed her three years later. I hate the idea even as I say it, but I do believe the only way to treat heroin is to legalise it…If it were legal and on a prescription, then at least two-thirds of the dealers would disappear, you would have records of who was and wasn’t using it.”

Lemmy went on to say that criminalizing heroin means sending abusers to prison where they will likely be “brutally sodomised by long-term prisoners and polarized against society in general,” and against law enforcement.

“You have tried heavier and heavier policing—it hasn’t worked, has it?” he continued. “Know why? It’s because you cannot keep people from doing what makes them feel good. If a junkie has a regular supply of heroin, most are quite able to do a job. They will never rehabilitate until somebody—you—gives them a chance.”

Graham emphasized that Lemmy was there to present an “alternative” anti-drug policy, and a Conservative Party spokesman later clarified that the party did not endorse the rocker’s views.

“[Graham] was very embarrassed,” Lemmy recalled. “He sort of distanced himself immediately. But apparently it’s been raised a few times since, by several MPs on both sides, so maybe I’m not just a voice in the wilderness.”

Lemmy summarized his longstanding hatred of heroin as such: “It’s the only [drug] I ever saw kill people…It’s too easy to fuck up…It makes you into a dog, and then it kills you. It makes you into a thief and a whore.”

And as much as Lemmy enjoyed his run of indulging in booze and narcotics, he was sure to reassure fans of the thriftier alternative.

“If you think you can do without drugs, go ahead and do without them,” Lemmy said. “Cuz it’s a very expensive hobby.”