Rocker Melissa Etheridge is coming to Toronto, and she couldn’t be more excited.
Aside from performing for Canadian Music Week (on April 22 at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall), Etheridge is in town for the first-ever O’Cannabiz Conference & Expo, a three-day event running from April 21 to 23. The gathering will explore the latest marijuana regulations, industry standards and best practices for both medicinal and recreational marijuana in Canada. Several keynote speakers — including Etheridge herself — will discuss the future of cannabis and the “budding” Canadian market.
Etheridge has been a cannabis activist since surviving breast cancer in 2005, when she used marijuana to deal with the adverse side effects of chemotherapy. She doesn’t mince words: she says the plant has changed her life. In 2014, she teamed up with Greenway Dispensary in California to create a line of cannabis-infused wine, called Know Label Wine, and then in 2016, she launched her own company, Etheridge Farms, which produces legal cannabis products (in California only).
She’s looking to expand her businesses north of the border, and with Canada considering a change in marijuana legalization by June 2018, it’s looking positive for the longtime musician. Global News spoke with Etheridge about her new initiatives, why the U.S. differs so much from Canada in terms of our views on marijuana, and why she’s a big fan of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Global News: Can you tell me a little bit about your background, your relationship with cannabis and how it has changed over the years?
Melissa Etheridge: Before breast cancer I was that casual rock-star user, it wasn’t something I did all the time, but I certainly didn’t turn it down. I probably did it more than I did drinking, but it was sort of a social thing.
When I went through breast cancer, I used it as medicine, and it really became clear to me what a medicine it is. It can be so powerful and strong for so many things, and it made me an advocate when I felt the pain relief and its help with appetite. I started walking that walk and that led me into the community in California — these fine people who’ve been fighting this fight for many, many years — and inspired me to jump into the business.
Why does marijuana have a terrible reputation? Is it historical, is it ignorance, is it both?
It’s lack of education, and there was a concerted, amazing effort in the ’30s and ’70s to really vilify cannabis, to make it scary. “This is from bad people across the border, they’re bringing it into our country…” They really did a number on Americans, especially my generation.
Realistically, if we compare it to anything… any other sort of drug…
… marijuana is far less impactful, less damaging. Correct?
Yeah. You see what a good PR job they did on it! It’s very sad, but slowly… I feel it’s like the LGBT movement 20 years ago. It takes people to come out of the closet, to tell their family members, their coworkers, their neighbourhood, “Hey, I am a person who smokes cannabis. I am a contributing citizen and I’m not a stereotype.”
You have two marijuana businesses on the go right now. What sorts of products do you make?
We have vape pens coming out in a few weeks, edibles, oils… oh, and a topical! When I started seeing how many uses cannabis has, aside from the psychotropic effects, I was blown away. The topicals have been used for generations for broken bones, sprains, cuts, burns and bruises. It goes deep into the wound and helps healing because [humans] have our own endocannabanoid system that connects with cannabanoids. [Laughs] It’s like we were made to be on the Earth with this medicine.
I have grandmothers who have knitted all their lives, and arthritis has crippled their hands. They sleep with gloves on after putting the topical on their hands, and they come in the next day and say, “It’s a miracle!” I’ve seen this with my very own eyes. If we could just reschedule it, make it a legal herb… we could investigate and research the amazing things this flower can do.
Music-wise and songwriting-wise, how does cannabis impact you?
Cannabis and music go hand-in-hand. There is the experience of listening, which is a mystical experience that we can’t explain. This shows how important music is to our very existence. When you have an herb that enhances that experience, that deepens it into our soul and emotional life, then that’s something. My ultimate goal is… I want a Melissa Etheridge show and a Melissa Etheridge dispensary so people can have that experience. I love to smoke and write, it puts me in a place of inspiration. It sets me in a place to understand how human beings are connected in this wonderful way, and we shouldn’t be afraid of the spiritual side of us.
Just last week, the Canadian government announced it would be tabling legislation to legalize marijuana. Things are changing here. Any thoughts on that, considering we’re just across the border, yet we have such different viewpoints?
Yes! I love Canada! [Laughs] Do you know what’s weird? I can have my legal cannabis here and be in Canada and have my legal cannabis there, but I can’t fly from Canada to California with my cannabis. [Governments] really have to step up with how it’s changing and what’s happening. Once they take the fear out of it, then we can really move forward with it like you guys are. You’ll find there will be more jobs, the economy would be better, people are going to be healthier, there will be fewer opioid deaths, fewer alcohol deaths.. really, the plus sides of this are astounding.
So what is the difference here, between the U.S. and Canada?
Your country has been on its journey, and yes, you have religion and values, but there hasn’t been a sector of Canadians who’ve been taught that your country is based on certain religious values. That can kind of mess up something. When things are thrown into the category of “good” and “evil,” and they’re never looked at again… cannabis, we don’t even talk about it! It’s thrown into the “drugs” category.
Canada has been moving along on all fronts. You were the first with the LGBT rights, now with cannabis, the immigration policies. Your [Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau, I want to kiss him on the mouth. [Laughs] OK, maybe not on the mouth! [Laughs]
It’s because he’s “hot,” right?
[Laughs] He is, I know. Even to me, isn’t that weird? No, but seriously, I love what he stands for, and what you all stand for. He’s a consistent leader, and your government is showing consistent leadership. Not from fear, but from looking into the future and saying, “Wow, look where we can go.” I’m loving me some Canada.
[This interview has been condensed and edited.]