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Before Moffitt fundraiser, 311's Nick Hexum talks medical marijuana and his mom's cancer scare

Nick Hexum of 311 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for MMRF)
Published Oct. 31, 2017

Nick Hexum will be the first to tell you: He's not 311's beer guy. That would be bassist Aaron "P-Nut" Willis.

The group's second collaboration with Tampa's Rock Brothers Brewing, an imperial IPA dubbed Beautiful Disaster, "is P-Nut's baby," the singer said recently. "He designed everything. He came up with the idea, he put a little kumquat citrus in there. He was super involved in that. He's probably had as much fun working on the craft beer as I have working on the cannabis products."

The what now?

Ah, yes, the reefer. Since forming in Omaha, Neb., in 1998 — and striking huge success in the '90s with rap-rock-reggae singles like Down, All Mixed Up and Amber — the multiplatinum band has joined artists like Snoop Dogg and Cypress Hill in the stoner canon, attracting a horde of legal weed proponents at each show and on their annual 311 Cruise, which this past spring left from Tampa. The group even has its signature vape kit, the 311 Grassroots Uplifter.

But there's more to Hexum's interest in marijuana than catching a buzz. When the group comes to Tampa this weekend to celebrate the release of Beautiful Disaster, they'll also headline a fundraiser for the Moffitt Cancer Center at the Cuban Club. Hexum is a big believer in the health benefits of medical marijuana on cancer patients, especially when it comes to CBD, a cannabis extract whose psychoactive properties differ from those of THC.

Hexum's stance on legal weed evolved heavily from personal experience, as he explained in our interview.

Your mother is a cancer survivor, is that correct?

Yes, as well as my mother-in-law. But my mother is in full remission right now, thank god. Multiple myeloma. It's something that's touched my life, and I wanted to turn that fear into action. So being involved in things like the Moffitt Cancer Center, it makes me feel good. There are so many treatments available, and cancer in general has been mitigated so much, that helping push that needle toward a cure and treatment makes me feel good.

And also, I'm a huge believer in CBD, and how cannabis can be very helpful for the symptoms of what people go through when they're having cancer treatment, whether it's aches and pains and chemo, or appetite loss or whatever. Being able to work on products in the cannabis field for medical patients like my mom has been another way that I've been helping out.

When you speak with cancer groups or researchers, or play events like this, to what degree do you spread that gospel? Because it's not something that's available to patients nationwide.

I think I'm kind of a blabbermouth about it, because there's a bit of a stigma, and that's just a holdover from the war-on-drugs years, where people spread a lot of false information. The jury is in: There's no question that at the very least, it can make cancer treatment a lot more bearable.

You have a vape and cannabis kit, Grassroots Uplifter.

Yeah. We're going to work on one that's just CBD, that doesn't have THC in it. I'm also working with another company about a CBD-infused beet juice energy shot that's a great way to get a daily dose of CBD. This can really help with aches and pains and inflammation and some mental stuff as well.

It seems like only a matter of time before medical marijuana is legal in every state. Do you see it as an industry where there's room to grow?

It's an interesting time, because when alcohol prohibition was repealed, it was all at once, and everybody knew, 'Okay, it's legal now.' This is such a messy incremental ending of prohibition. There's so much uncertainty, and to a certain extent, it's like, who's going to be brave and challenge the laws? Keeping up on the regulations and knowing where you can sell what keeps everybody in my organization pretty busy.

I'm sure people come up and share their own cancer stories, knowing you've been an outspoken advocate for cancer groups and research. What do you tell them?

Finding a really good doctor, and then having this treatment where now my mom is in full remission, can be a real source of hope for people to hear. People crave relating. That's why we seek relationships. That's the key word: relate. So just sharing that personal story: We were so scared, but now my mom has bought herself many more years of life by having a successful treatment. Don't let your brain go to the worst-case scenario. There's plenty of reason for hope.

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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