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.
Al Sharpton Jokes About Reaction To Elizabeth Warren’s Marijuana Bill
At a conference focusing on legislation in the next Congress on Tuesday, civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton joked about the particular attention some attendees paid to a marijuana bill sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
Warren described the bipartisan legislation—which would let states implement legal cannabis systems free from federal interference—as part of her talk about criminal justice reforms she hopes to enact. Marijuana prohibition disproportionately impacts black Americans, she pointed out, and this bill would represent “a step toward making a real difference.”
“We cannot give up on this.”
When Sharpton, who founded the conference’s hosting organization, National Action Network, came back to the podium to introduce the next lawmaker, he quipped:
“I know for all of you old weed smokers, y’all like that marijuana bill. I’m not calling no names, but I saw some of y’all kind of nodding off and your heads snapped up when she started talking about—when she got into that weed thing, some of y’all woke up.”
Sharpton has made repeated calls for federal cannabis reform, characterizing decriminalization as a “civil rights cause” in a 2017 op-ed for The Guardian.
He’s also challenged the marijuana industry to do more to create business opportunities for people of color and get behind civil rights movements more broadly.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
‘Walking Dead’ Actor Raises Money For Kids Who Use Medical Marijuana
Norman Reedus, who plays zombie-slaying Daryl Dixon on AMC’s The Walking Dead, is once again raising money to help kids suffering from serious illnesses get medical marijuana treatment.
Yes, again. It seems he loves helping kids as much as he loves taking out walkers on TV.
— norman reedus (@wwwbigbaldhead) November 9, 2018
Right now, for every $5 you donate to SavingSophie.org, you’re entered to win some Reedus-signed memorabilia from the organization. Saving Sophie is a non-profit set up by the parents of Sophie Ryan, who was diagnosed with a low-grade, optic pathway glioma brain tumor when she was eight years old.
After creating a Facebook page around their child’s situation, a friend introduced them to Ricki Lake and filmmaker Abby Epstein, who were in production on their recently released documentary “Weed The People.” With this new connection and information, the parents decided to use a combination of chemo and cannabis oil to treat Sophie’s condition. Sophie’s brain tumor has since shrunk by up to 90 percent, according to their website.
Through the donations to the non-profit, Sophie’s parents “hope to pay it forward to those who are now in the same financial troubles we once found ourselves in.”
Contributions will help fund the group’s cancer research initiative, which currently consists of eight patients who are using “cannabinoid therapy alongside doctor-prescribed treatments,” according to an email blast.
“Our goal with this research is to bring non-toxic cancer treatments through human trials so that doctors will have access to this life-saving medicine for patients in need.”
This isn’t the first time Reedus has helped raise funds for pediatric patients using cannabis.
In January 2017, he tweeted a call for donations to CannaKids.org for a raffle featuring some of his autographed gear and more.
$5 per entry and all proceeds go to help CannaKids’ pediatric cancer patients. https://t.co/YGvN8pxhnR DO A GOOD THING. XXX
— norman reedus (@wwwbigbaldhead) January 3, 2017
It’s clear the Boondock Saints star and heartthrob of early 2000’s Hot Topic shoppers has a caring heart for children seeking to use cannabis as a cancer treatment.
Photo courtesy of Heather Paul.
Michelle Obama Talks Smoking Marijuana In New Memoir
Former First Lady Michelle Obama got candid in her new memoir, “Becoming,” which includes a brief admission that she smoked marijuana as a teen.
In the book, released on Tuesday, Obama reminisces about her youthful transgressions, at one point writing that she and a high school boyfriend named David “fooled around and smoked pot in his car.”
She doesn’t get much further into it than that. Though she does allude to a “looser, more wild” young Barack Obama in another section. As a teen, the future president “smoked pot in the lush volcanic foothills of Oahu,” she wrote.
In a recent interview, ABC News anchor Robin Roberts asked Obama about the admission.
“You even write about smoking pot,” Roberts said. “Now you didn’t go into great detail, but you could’ve left that out, so why’d you talk about it?”
“That was what I did,” Obama said. “That’s part of the ‘Becoming’ story.”
“Everybody had something that they had to work through, something that they were figuring out. Why would I hide that from the next generation?”
Photo courtesy of Obama White House archives.