"There are some people in this world that have no idea what the real deal is," he told the Bakersfield Californian newspaper, when asked about buddy Willie Nelson's recent drug arrest. "I think it's silly to put someone in jail for [marijuana possession]. I think it's a threat to the pharmaceutical industry that you can go to the garden to grow something that might keep you from having to use Lipitor."
The Grammy winner says he would like to see his friend be able to get back to what he does best -- make music. "I would hope they would get off his back," he says. "Someone said he might have to do some time. The ones that are against [marijuana use] feel like he's really breaking the law. People that love him, love him and the ones that don't like him, hate him. Same goes for me."
Even though Merle is a staunch supporter of the legalization of pot -- and at one time enjoyed recreational use of the drug himself -- he admits he gave up that habit, along with several others, in light of his ongoing health problems, including a bout with pneumonia and a cancer diagnosis. "I had to give up everything," he acknowledges. "I tried it for a while, but I don't like it like I did. I guess that's the way it's supposed to be ... I gave up tobacco and coffee in '92 and right after that, I gave up sex!"
Merle continues to rack up the awards and accolades more than 45 years after his first album was released. He was inducted earlier this month into California's Hall of Fame, in a class that included Barbra Streisand, Betty White and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. He was also honored in December as part of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors, at a special ceremony with President Obama, fellow honorees Oprah Winfrey, Paul McCartney, composer Bill T. Jones and dancer/choreographer Jerry Herman. An all-star cast of performers paid tribute to the honorees, including Miranda Lambert, Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson, Willie Nelson, Julia Roberts, Barbara Walters, John Travolta and Dave Grohl. Merle says he walked away with a few new friends.
"[Oprah] and I had some funny things happen. She leaned over to me one time during the presentation and she said we came the farthest," the country legend reveals. "She sent me some gifts when we got home. There was a six-pack of some of the most expensive champagne I've seen in my life. She's quite a lady."
Merle describes fellow honoree Paul McCartney as not being "very funny," but says the ceremony made him a new fan of the Commander in Chief. "He was really nice to us and he was nice to everybody else. It wasn't just a brush-by -- he made a special effort to get to know us, the singer says of President Obama. "I was highly impressed with him. I'm not one to go for the charisma, [but] I realize that's a talent and it's really not something that may or may not make his presidency better. He has that charisma. I think that's necessary and I think that when you represent America around the world, you need it. Ronald Reagan had it, and Bill Clinton had it."
The Kennedy Center Honors will air tomorrow (December 28) on CBS at 9:00 ET.