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.
Via Tina Lawson.
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.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Melissa Etheridge Talks Art, Culture and Marijuana Advocacy In The Legalization Era
A study conducted by Monitoring the Future, a group located at the University of Michigan, indicates that the percentage of college students using marijuana daily or near-daily in 2014 has increased over recent years.
For the first time, cannabis consumption among college students has overtaken daily cigarette use, according to the study. A reported 5.9 percent of students use marijuana daily or near-daily, the highest rate since 1980, and an increase from the reported 3.5 percent in 2007. One out of every 17 college students is using marijuana almost daily, according to the surveys done by Monitoring the Future.
The rise in consumption can be traced to general change in public opinion on the dangers of marijuana.
While 55 percent of people ages 19 to 22 believed marijuana to be dangerous in 2006, that number has dropped to 35 percent in 2014.
The increased usage can be seen not only throughout college campuses, but also among high school seniors. Lloyd Johnston, the author of the study, commented about the stats that he and his colleagues discovered,
“It’s clear that for the past seven or eight years there has been an increase in marijuana use among the nation’s college students. And this largely parallels an increase we have been seeing among high school seniors.”
The Monitoring the Future study is in the 41st year of their national college surveys. With the expanding legalization and growing public acceptance of cannabis around the country, it will be interesting to see how the younger generation continues to grow with the increased acceptance of marijuana.
There’s irony everywhere you look in the cannabis culture. From Hawaii’s medical legalization that allows small gardens, but prohibits citizens from purchasing seeds or clones, to the judges who sentence inner city youth for minor possession and then go home and smoke up themselves, many characteristics of the pot world are rife with hypocrisy and double standards.
The pot fields of the Himalayan valley in India, situated at a potency-enhancing elevation of 10,000 feet, are no exception. Regarded by many as the homeland for a variety of high-quality indica landrace strains, Himalaya maintains a small cannabis tourism business despite the fact that most villagers who produce the herb remain impoverished.
Most of this poverty is caused by the simple fact that marijuana is officially outlawed in India, and has been since 1985. As a result, the majority of the profits are kept by the distributors, rather than the farmers. These black market operators take not only the cannabis and hash to distribute, but also most of the cash.
Poverty & Top-Shelf Hash
Despite this trade inequality, top-shelf Indian hashish from the region, which is called charas, is highly valued throughout Europe and around the world.
Unlike Colombian fair-trade coffee farmers, no such protections exist for Himalayan villagers cultivating thousands of acres of illegal cannabis destined to become high-priced hash in boutique smoking cafes in Amsterdam, Barcelona, and other canna-friendly regions of Europe.
After it reaches its retail destination, charas sells for 10 times what it fetches within the confines of these small, backward communities where 10 grams of the potent hashish costs as little as $30.
According to one villager,
“In Amsterdam, it’s like a vintage car. Dealers can name their price.”
Paved roads do not exist in these remote villages of the Himalayas, so walking time remains the main measurement for distances. This has made it quite difficult for law enforcement to locate and eradicate the huge fields of marijuana growing in the region. Some of these massive cultivation sites are estimated to be as large as 3,000 acres, often blanketing entire mountains.
Why don’t villagers switch to a different crop or seek employment elsewhere? The work simply isn’t available. Cannabis farming and the production of charas hash are literally the only ways of putting food on the table for thousands of residents within these communities.
Steeped in Tradition
The Himalayan region features a long tradition of cannabis cultivation that dates back to 2,000 BC. Hash production and consumption is highly ingrained in Indian culture; it’s even mentioned in the Hindu scriptures. While some efforts have been made to introduce legal farm crops to the region, most villagers show little interest. This is mostly because such crops produce for farmers income that’s equal to or less than what they receive for cannabis, obviously giving them little or no motivation to become legal farmers of things like sweet peas and beans.
Of course, this needless poverty could be eradicated if cannabis was simply legalized in the country and fair-trade relationships were established with villagers in the region, giving them a larger slice of the pie. This would help remove the criminal elements that are currently grabbing the lion’s share of profits and lift residents of the Himalayan region out their third-world subsistence, vastly improving education, health care, and their overall quality of life.
Just as in other areas of the world, prohibition is penalizing Indian villagers by perpetuating their poverty and handing the spoils of the drug war to outside criminal elements.
The newly budding cannabis industry has birthed many “firsts” while making smooth strides from counter-culture to mainstream. So far, the first airplane made from industrial cannabis has emerged, the world met the first weed critic, and the first-ever marijuana credit union has been federally approved.
Now, courtesy of Racked, the industry has also introduced the world to the first-ever “weed style writer,” Katie Shaprio. So does the boss of a marijuana-style writer expect that she might smoke cannabis while on the job, and does he approve? Shapiro enthusiastically says, “Yeah!”
Shapiro has not always been immersed in cannabis culture. She was born and raised a mid-western girl in Ohio, and moved to New York city to work in the fashion industry as an adult.
Then in 2007, she planted a flag in Denver, CO to set up shop as the PR director for Denver Magazine. Being in Colorado for seven years, Shapiro told Racked that she has had the unique pleasure of watching as the world of marijuana has grown from medicinal usage only to the booming retail industry it is today.
Watching this development, and recognizing a window of rare opportunity encouraged her to reach out to Ricardo Baca, editor-in-chief for The Cannabist, Denver’s most respected marijuana publication. She brought her idea for a marijuana-style section to Baca in December. Shapiro said, “He let me run with it,” and she has not looked back since.
Among other assignments, Shapiro enjoys doing her “Shop Sesh” interviews. For this work, she said “I visit Denver-based artists and designers, people who are culturally involved in the community and are proud pot smokers. We do an in-person Q&A and we usually share a smoke during an interview.” She also focuses on how big-name and boutique designers are incorporating cannabis culture into their styles, and covers the moves of celebrity cannabis enthusiasts.
But it’s not only about clothing and accessories, says Shapiro, there are “THC-infused topicals” and edibles too, which she anticipates seeing on department store shelves one day. Shapiro explained her thoughts on how fashion will organically embrace the marijuana culture to Racked,
“I think it’ll be more about the lifestyle and the trends coming back into fashion instead of just stamping a leaf on something. Fashion will pick up on what’s happening and incorporate it in its own way.”
Shapiro’s story is a great reminder to all people, especially females, that it’s important to strike while the opportunity-iron is hot because it just might work out for the best.
The cannabis industry is estimated to introduce up to 200,000 new jobs in the future. If the titles that have already made their way to the forefront are any indication of the future, it will be very exciting to see what comes next.
photo credit: Randall Malone at L’Eagle