It’s been a little over a year since singer, activist and marijuana entrepreneur Melissa Etheridge was arrested for cannabis possession by federal agents in North Dakota near the U.S.-Canada border. Her tour bus was stopped and searched shortly after touring in Alberta, and agents discovered a vape pen containing cannabis oil.
Etheridge, who’s become an outspoken advocate for legalization in the years since she started using the plant medicinally after being diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40s, told Marijuana Moment in a new interview that the experience of being busted did not deter her.
Rather, it has motivated her to continue advocating for patients and spreading the word about marijuana’s therapeutic potential.
Later this month, the singer plans to continue that mission, giving a keynote talk on how art and culture can help bring cannabis into the mainstream at the California Cannabis Business Conference in Anaheim. In the interview below, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity, she speaks about what the audience can expect and the role of celebrities in the legalization movement.
Marijuana Moment: Let’s start by talking about your upcoming speech. How exactly can art and culture “mainstream” cannabis?
Melissa Etheridge: I know that I have lived my life in art. I have made my life art, and my art is my life. I write music and I have experience—when I went through my breast cancer experience, and I used cannabis as medicine for the first time, it was inspiring. It made sense to me on so many levels. Artists, we spend a lot of time in our right brain. We get inspiration—which means “in spirt”—from nothing and make something of it. So it’s easy for us to understand plant medicine. Why shouldn’t we be the ones to help bridge that gap?
MM: Inversely, I wonder how using marijuana has influenced your artistic career?
ME: Oh my goodness, well if you hear everything from after my cancer on, you can hear it. The difference in the work, the depth of my soul-searching, the depth of my spiritual journey. It changed my understanding of parenting. To be more balanced in one’s consciousness, to understand that we have a problem-solving consciousness—the left side, and that gets everything done—yet we need a balance of the oneness, the all there is that’s in the right side.
MM: Where do you see the role of celebrities when it comes to advancing marijuana reform?
ME: Celebrities have a funny role in our world, you know? We keep saying, we’re just people, people. And sometimes we’re just people who have done one thing really well for a long time and that’s what you become a “genius” at—that’s all that that is. So all of a sudden, people are interested in that, so you get this currency, this energy, that is celebrity. Then it’s up to each of us.
I went through this with the LGBT community. I proudly came out and said ‘yes!’ and I’ve heard from, and know that I’ve inspired, many, and that makes me just so happy in my life. Yet I’ve made some mistakes, you know? And we’re all just walking through this. Celebrities, if they choose to, can do a lot. My hope is that I can help others look at cannabis as medicine, as an alternative, when the choice that they’re given is a painkiller, an opioid, to say, “Hey, let’s try to put the stigma away and really get into this plant medicine that won’t harm us as much.” I hope my celebrity can help there.
MM: Do you think there’s a greater need for celebrities who are profiting from the marijuana industry to contribute to the movement in terms of grassroots organizing or contributing to national advocacy groups, for example?
ME: I think that’s a natural byproduct of the movement. I think that the majority of people in the cannabis industry understand it is as a social game-changer on so many levels—on justice reform, on racial inequality, it goes deep. This is a movement.
MM: You also run a marijuana business based in California. What has your experience been like since Proposition 64 went into effect?
ME: We all agree that legalization is a good thing. Prop. 64 is full of almost impossible criteria to me, and it’s causing undue financial burdens. No other industry has ever had to meet these regulation requirements—not even the food industry and certainly not the pharmaceutical industry.
MM: The anniversary of your arrest near the border recently passed. I wonder what you make of the progress we’re seeing in Canada, which is set to launch its legal cannabis system next week, compared to the United States.
ME: Oh, Canada. Again, there are parallels with the LGBT movement. I remember Canada went completely federal—we’re doing gay marriage, bam, same-sex marriage, equality. I don’t know what it is, unless it’s just that anybody who would come to Canada to live—because it’s so darn cold—that they really believe in rights for all, this great thing. I think they also jumped on cannabis pretty early and have seen what it can do for communities, what it can do medicinally, what it can do for businesses and that’s what’s going to just kill us. We are missing out on the opportunity to be the international leaders on cannabis. And it’s these beautiful people up in Canada who are doing it so well. It’s like when the Japanese started making better cars than us.
MM: As a longtime activist, what message would you send to our elected official in Congress, where cannabis reform has stalled for decades?
ME: I’d say, I understand the fear. It has been many decades of misinformation telling us that cannabis is evil. I get it. I’ve heard that also. These are different times and it’s possible to think differently about this medicine. This is an answer for you. Really give it a chance.
Dr. Oz Claims DEA And FDA Blame Each Other For Keeping Marijuana Illegal
According to celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz—or Dr. Oz—representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have each told him they’re on board with legalizing marijuana. And the agencies blame each other for blocking efforts to end prohibition.
In a recent interview, Oz was asked about his professional opinion on cannabis. The host of the popular daytime program of his namesake called marijuana “one of the most underused tools in America” and went on to say that he’s had conversations with individuals from both DEA and FDA who generally share his views about the plant.
“We ought to completely change our policy on marijuana. It absolutely works,” he told interviewer Fatman Scoop, adding that another daytime TV host Montel Williams, who has multiple sclerosis, convinced him of the medical utility of cannabis. “Now I’ve seen this helping people with sleep issues, with pain issues for sure, and a lot of people who have serious medical problems getting relief—and here’s the thing, you can’t die from it. I’m unaware of any case when anyone has overdosed.”
“It’s a lot safer than alcohol. It’s safer than narcotics. It ought to be used more widely and we can’t even study it that easily because of the way it’s regulated,” he said. “You know what, I called the DEA—they said, ‘we don’t want this to be illegal. Your government ought to change that. But we got to enforce the law.’ I call the FDA that regulates the drugs, they say, ‘we think it ought to be used, but until the DEA says it’s allowed, we can’t let people prescribe it everywhere.”
While Oz didn’t disclose specifics about his conversations, such as who he spoke to or when the phone calls happened, it is the case that federal marijuana reform outside of Congress falls largely within the jurisdictions of both agencies. And DEA has denied multiple rescheduling requests, justifying the inaction by stating that FDA has determined that cannabis doesn’t have proven medical value and carries a risk of abuse.
Oz, who previously asserted that marijuana could represent a tool to combat the opioid epidemic and has made other public comments about the plant’s therapeutic potential, said “I’m hoping the federal government at some point—someone’s going to say, ‘come on, this is a farce, open it up for the entire country.’ That way, the right people can begin to prescribe it.”
Although Oz advocate for marijuana reform, he also clarified earlier this year that, despite rumors, he is not involved in a CBD company that falsely attributed an endorsement to him.
Could not agree more with @tomhanks. This is a fake and misleading advertisement intended to take advantage of consumers using false claims and our likenesses illegally. I am not involved with any cannabis companies. https://t.co/EBNvnh0jdM
— Dr. Mehmet Oz (@DrOz) January 21, 2020
“I have never smoked pot in my life, never gotten high, and I only bring that up because I’m not someone who’s saying this because I personally would use it,” he said in this latest interview. “I just as a doctor think it make sense.”
Don’t Drive High On Marijuana Even If You’re Being Chased By An Axe Murderer, Federal PSA Says
The latest push by the federal government to deter marijuana-impaired driving is coming to TV, radio and the web. Its message? Even if you’re being chased by an axe-wielding psychopath, it’s not worth driving high.
The ad, a partnership between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Ad Council, is the first TV spot developed by Vox Creative, the advertising arm of Vox Media. In it, two men run for their lives from a would-be murderer, dodging axe blows while reciting reasons not to drive stoned.
The men ultimately find a vehicle to escape the scene, but the driver pauses before he turns the key in the ignition. “Wait wait wait,” he says. “I can’t drive. I’m high.”
(Don’t worry. The two would-be murder victims swap seats and end up getting away safely while the sober one mans the wheel.)
“The rules around marijuana use can be confusing. But when it comes to marijuana use and driving, all you need to remember is one rule: Driving impaired is illegal everywhere.”
The Ad Council campaign also includes radio and online advertisements. A 30-second version of the video will run on TV, while a longer, 80-second version (embedded above) will reportedly run on Vox.com and the brand’s ad marketplace, Concert.
“Many marijuana users don’t see a problem with driving after use, but research shows marijuana can slow reaction time, impair judgment of distance, and decrease coordination – all skills necessary for the safe operating of a vehicle,” the Ad Council said in a statement accompanying the new video. “Our campaign targets young men aged 18 to 35, many of whom reject the common stereotypes of marijuana users.”
Stereotypes or no, the campaign reminds consumers that driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal in all 50 U.S. states—even if cannabis itself is legal in a growing number of them.
“The rules around marijuana use can be confusing,” its website says. “But when it comes to marijuana use and driving, all you need to remember is one rule: Driving impaired is illegal everywhere.”
Beyond the video and radio ads, the awareness push also includes a number of self-aware signage with messages such as “This is an ad that says you shouldn’t drive high.”
As more states have considered legalizing marijuana in recent years, highway safety has become a major focus. Opponents often contend that increased roadway risks themselves are enough to tap the brakes on reform.
In a typical example, the Washington Post’s editorial board in 2014 came out against legalization in Washington, D.C., citing “negative consequences, including increased instances of impaired driving.”
While being impaired no doubt increases drivers’ danger to themselves and others, some critics have complained that the risks of marijuana-impaired driving have been overblown, used as a fear tactic to chill cannabis reform. They argue that research on cannabis and driving is still thin and conflicted, and that the drug’s effect on driving pales in comparison to alcohol and some prescription drugs.
A report commissioned by Congress and published last year cast doubt on the dire warnings of THC-impaired driving. “Although laboratory studies have shown that marijuana consumption can affect a person’s response times and motor performance, studies of the impact of marijuana consumption on a driver’s risk of being involved as a crash have produced conflicting results, with some studies finding little or no increased risk of a crash from marijuana usage,” the Congressional Research Service wrote.
NHTSA, part of the Department of Transportation, has long acknowledged that THC concentration in drivers’ blood levels does not correlate with driver impairment. (The campaign even includes that fact on its website. “Unlike alcohol, there is no correlation between rising THC level and driver impairment,” it says. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe to drive high: “Some research studies have found that peak performance deficits are observed long after peak THC level occurs.”)
The lack of a clear correlation between marijuana and impaired driving has been enough to push some jurisdictions to reconsider per-se THC limits, under which drivers can be charged with a DUI based on the amount of THC in their blood regardless of any evidence of actual impairment.
In Pennsylvania, lawmakers last month introduced a bill that would force police instead to prove impairment. The legislation would exempt medical marijuana patients from the state’s existing DUI law, and police would instead have to demonstrate that a patient’s driving was actually impaired by the drug.
Meanwhile, Congress is taking steps to require states to study the impacts of marijuana-impaired driving. Legislation introduced last month would force states that have legalized cannabis, and only those states, to consider how to educate and discourage people from driving while high. Advocates have questioned that approach, noting that while impaired driving is an important issue, it’s not limited to states with legal cannabis.
Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to take a number of steps related to marijuana-impaired driving, including directing federal agencies to prepare a report on “the establishment of a national clearinghouse for purposes of facilitating research on marijuana-impaired driving.” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), a sponsor of the bill, also wants the report to outline how researchers in states that haven’t legalized marijuana can still access cannabis from dispensaries to study the drug’s effects on driving.
Congress rejected another amendment, however, that would have required NHTSA “carry out a collaborative research effort to study the effect that marijuana has on driving and research ways to detect and reduce incidences of driving under the influences of marijuana.”
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia
HBO Teams Up With Marijuana Companies To Sell THC Gummies Promoting New TV Series
HBO is partnering up with major marijuana businesses to market a line of promotional cannabis edible gummies meant to bring attention to an animated series premiering next week, the entertainment giant announced on Monday.
The 10mg THC gummies are made by the marijuana company Kanha and will be available at select California dispensaries as well as via delivery from Eaze. Each blend was developed to produces effects the network says reflect the personalities of the four main characters from “Close Enough,” which will be streaming on HBO Max starting July 9.
“It has been so thrilling for my team and I to create a campaign that feels so authentic to Close Enough,” Peter Sherman, senior vice president of program marketing at HBO Max, said in a press release. “When crafting any campaign, our aim is always to create an experience for the audience that feels genuine and exciting, and this partnership with Kanha hits the nail on the head. We’re so excited about this one and we can’t wait to see how fans react.”
What’s interesting about the promotion—beside the fact that a major, international media company is working with the cannabis industry—is that the series doesn’t even seem to have much to do with marijuana. It’s an adult-themed comedic animated show that touches on themes like raising children and navigating careers. The trailer doesn’t even mention cannabis.
So instead, it seems HBO is simply embracing the culture of consuming marijuana while enjoying TV.
“Kanha’s partnership with HBO Max is an exciting opportunity to showcase our delicious, award-winning gummies to a brand new audience,” Cameron Clarke, CEO of the parent company Sunderstorm, said. “We can’t think of a more playful, fun collaboration to announce to our fiercely loyal fans. We’re thrilled to partner with one of entertainment’s biggest media giants to help bring the adult characters in their new show to life through our gummy flavors and profiles.”
In celebration of the new series #CloseEnoughMax, @HBOMax releases limited edition cannabis-infused edible gummies in partnership with @bySunderstorm's @KanhaEdibles: https://t.co/J2REn3EPHj pic.twitter.com/I1u3JffGwk
— HBO Max PR (@HBOMaxPR) June 29, 2020
Here’s how HBO described each of the flavors that are based on the show’s characters:
JOSH: Cool dad, husband, and future world-famous video-game designer, Josh likes to chill with his Indica Strawberry Gummies.
EMILY: Emily is logical, organized, a planner — everything her husband Josh is not. She’s a loving mother and a strong working woman who tries to have it all. Busy mom Emily gets it done with her Sativa Pineapple Gummies.
ALEX: Alex is Josh’s neurotic best friend from high school. He lives in the walk-in closet of the apartment he shares with Josh, Emily, Candice, and Bridgette (his ex-wife, but it’s not a big deal). When Alex wants to get lost in thought, he stays cool and carries on with his Hybrid Watermelon Gummies.
BRIDGETTE: Bridgette is a glamorous social media influencer — at least in her mind. ‘Working’ is more of a hobby she squeezes in between partying. Bridgette stays on top of partying and her social game with her 1:1 Pink Lemonade Gummies.
Eaze CEO Ro Choy said that the partnership with HBO Max “is so exciting and it’s a great way to connect with audiences.”
“Eaze is all about high product standards and the best value for customers, and we’re pleased to align with one of the biggest and most respected names in entertainment,” he said.
The promotion begins on Monday and extends through the end of July, or until supplies run out. There are 20 California dispensaries that carry the products, and Eaze will offer them through deliveries in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/JasonParis.