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Everybody knows about Cypress Hill. “How I Could Just Kill a Man.” “Insane in the Brain.” “Rap Superstar.” But less known among non-fans and non-stoners are the group’s efforts to educate the masses about the benefits of marijuana.

Prior to Cypress Hill’s show at the Howard Theatre tonight and on the heels of Washington City Paper‘s pot issue, I spoke to B-Real (above, center) about DJ Muggs’ return to the group, the fight over marijuana decriminalization vs. legalization, and Cypress Hill’s influence on weed culture.

Washington City Paper: You guys have been to together about 25 years now, right?

B-Real: It’s about 22 going on 23.

WCP: How do you keep performances fresh?

B-Real: We go out there and have fun. When we want to change the set around, we make sure that we all like the set and just try to give as much energy as possible and look for that crowd reaction. Because that always motivates you; when the crowd’s feeling the set and they’re moving and having fun. You pretty much get motivated by that, so that’s what keeps us going as far as the live thing.

WCP: So I understand that DJ Muggs is back in the mix now, no pun intended.

B-Real: Yeah, he’s definitely back in the mix doing production for the next album and basically back in the fold completely. [Our next record] will be a traditional Cypress Hill record with Muggs at the helm production-wise, and so far it’s been pretty fuckin’ dope. He’s come with some really tight tracks and we can’t wait to keep working and keep that momentum flowing.

WCP: Would you call the hiatus that he took from you guys “creative space”?

B-Real: Yeah, I guess you could call it that. When you work together for so long, sometimes you have these ideas that you might want to get off creatively, and they might not work for the collective. You might want to get some of that creativity out, so you venture out and sort of do your own thing, and that creates the space. We all individually went and did solo records and mixtapes and shit like that, and it gave everyone time away from each other to get whatever creativity off their chest that might not work for Cypress Hill. It gave us that time and space and made us appreciate each other and the creativity we bring to the table when we get together.

WCP: The City Paper just devoted an entire issue to weed last week because, among other issues, there’s a bit of a battle going on in D.C. over decriminalization and straight-up legalization. What do you think medical marijuana has done for the state of California?

B-Real: It definitely created jobs, that’s for sure. It stimulated the economy, I would say. They may not admit that, but a lot of these dispensaries do very well in California and you need a staff to man them. You’re creating jobs with that, and obviously creating revenue for the state through the sales tax of all this medicine and the income tax they take from the actual workers. It’s a great system, but Colorado and Washington have taken things a bit further with actually legalizing it. They’re now the frontrunners for this movement. California was in the driver’s seat, but when we didn’t legalize [marijuana] when it came into our voting cycle, Colorado took advantage of it, as well as Washington, and now they’re setting the standard for all of us.

It’s working out there, and if it’s really working out there, I think other states will follow through afterwards because the type of revenue that this industry is creating is undeniable. You can’t keep a blind eye to that.

WCP: What are your thoughts on the struggle between decriminalization and legalization? One issue is that there are too many people sitting in jail over bullshit arrests for small amounts of marijuana. I know Sen Dog did an interview a few years ago where he reinforced this point, specifically advocating for legalization.

B-Real: Yeah, exactly. I think you decriminalize and then you legalize; you do it as a step-by-step process. It will clear jails of people in there for mere possession and petty shit like that. There’s so many people in there for some bullshit, and it’s basically a victimless crime as it stands right now. It’s pretty fuckin’ ridiculous. I think what [the government] is focusing on is maybe the people that are growing and selling the product and not paying taxes, so they’re looking at the tax evasion part of it. Realistically, I’ve seen a lot of changes go down with this movement, and there are 16 to 17 states now that have the legislation in place, and I think more will fall in place in the years to come. I think you will eventually see it legalized and those jails will be cleared up—-well, not cleared up, but it will get all the people that don’t really need to be there out.

WCP: Did the need for education regarding marijuana rights and benefits motivate the Cypress Hill Smokeout?

B-Real: Yeah, definitely. It’s about educating people about the movement and what they can do to protect themselves if they’re medical marijuana users, or if they’re a grower that wants to donate to these collectives and get involved with the industry and even the political process of it.

WCP: Would you say the Smokeout helped pave the way for festivals to be marijuana-friendly? The Smokeout is a genuine pro-marijuana festival that’s just short of Hempfest. Didn’t you guys have a dispensary on-site a few years ago?

B-Real: Yeah, the Smokeout was definitely ahead of the game on that. What everybody is doing now is based off our template, and I’ll probably get heat for saying that, but it’s the truth. At the Smokeout, we did some things that no other music festivals have done, and obviously it inspired some things. You’ll see other festivals doing something similar and we appreciate that because it shows that we educated people properly. For us, instead of being torn up about it and accusing people of stealing our format or idea, it’s a win because it inspired what we wanted. We wanted people to get more involved in the process and to become more educated. Now that you have people throwing their own festivals and trying to educate people, that just means it’s spreading. So we don’t really have a problem with it, because who would’ve thought that the Smokeout would spawn all these other things?

WCP: Do you still have an interest in opening dispensaries?

B-Real: I think one day we will. I think people probably expect that—-Cypress Hill fans, maybe not your average person who doesn’t know shit about us. But I would think our fans and people that are part of the culture would expect something like that. So eventually, but I think certain laws would have to change so that we’re not putting our asses all the way on the line. We’ve done that throughout our career, we don’t want to jump all the way into the fire, you know?

WCP: Right, especially not at this point. Are you aware of the wax and dabbing trends in marijuana culture?

B-Real: Oh yeah, I’m definitely well-versed in it.

WCP: How do you feel about it?

B-Real: I think to each his own. It’s a new form of smoking the THC and whatnot; some people think it’s the purest way if processed correctly and I’ve got nothing against it. It’s not something I go out of my way to do all the time, but I definitely partake every now and then. But hey, it’s just a different part of smoking culture. Some people like smoking joints, some people like smoking bongs, some people like pipes. It’s all about your preference these days, and in the last couple of years, I’ve seen more people into smoking the oils as opposed to smoking the flower. It’s crazy, but it is what it is. Like I said, there are some people who prefer smoking bongs to joints. Guys like me look at that as crazy, but it’s a person’s preference. Overall, I think it’s a new part of the culture, and as the technology gets better, I’m sure that product will get better and safer, and you’ll see more of it.

WCP: People have rapping about weed for a long time and will continue to rap about weed, but do you guys think you helped usher in the “weed rapper” phenomenon that’s been popular for the last five years or so?

B-Real: I think we definitely played a role. We’re maybe the guys who set it off, but others played a role in it as well like Snoop Dogg, Redman and Method Man, and even The Kottonmouth Kings and different groups who have come along over the years and championed the movement. Like Wiz Khalifa, he’s the guy right now that a lot of people are paying attention to, and he’s putting a lot of passion behind it just like we did. But in hip-hop, I guess you could say we did start that movement. The movement was there before we came along, but not necessarily in hip-hop—-not the way we were talking about it.