You'd think Melissa Etheridge would run out of new ground to break after producing 12 albums, winning 2 Grammys and an Academy Award, and surviving breast cancer. In addition to her well-established advocacy for LGBTQ rights, she's now also emerging as a major proponent of medicinal cannabis.
We reached Melissa Etheridge in Los Angeles for our first Civilized Conversation: a series in which Civilized founder and publisher Derek Riedle chats with entrepreneurs, politicians, and entertainers. Over the next few days, we'll publish edited and condensed excerpts from this conversation: in the following segment, she discusses her experience with medicinal cannabis. You can listen to their entire chat on our first podcast, below.
You're on the record as being in favor of medical marijuana. Tell me about your experience.
I'm a little unique as a rock star. I stayed out of the arena of any drugs or addiction or alcohol. It really wasn't my thing at all. I really was focused on my career, and I was a casual smoker. A social smoker, you know. I didn't not do it.
It wasn't forefront in my life until I was diagnosed with cancer. As soon as I was faced with chemotherapy treatments, my good friend David Crosby called, and he said, "you've got to use medicinal marijuana. All my friends say you just can't get through it without it. And I was like, 'you bet.'"
I'm a Southern California granola kind of gal, and I have a very healthy belief in natural things. And so when the doctor looked at me and said, "Okay, you're gonna have this pain...here's five pills and they all have their side effects," I said, "No thank you. I will smoke this one plant."
And so I never did any of the other stuff and started right away with the plant [...] I smoked it first. Then after a while, it was so hard I had to vape it, and finally I had to ingest it just because [...] my body was getting so weak. And it provided relief from pain, from depression. It gave me an appetite. It kept me awake and aware for my children while I was going through this. I just cannot imagine how anyone goes through chemo without it.
How do people react when you, as you say, came out of the closet as a cannabis user?
Well, my experience in life in general has been one where I've walked a path of speaking truthfully. I made a promise to myself 25 years ago that, whatever anyone asked me, I would answer them truthfully. I felt the truth was what I was going to hold on to. My truth. You know? And so, as I walked through this, I felt really strongly about cannabis, even though it was this hush-hush thing: yeah, it's legal but you can't really buy it anywhere in California. It's legal to have it, but you can't grow it.
I'm like, what kind of law is that? You know? And so the first interview I did with 20/20 after my Grammy performance, I told Stone Phillips I used medical marijuana and I want to talk about it. I really wanna bring this up. And we didn't do it the first interview, but he brought it up six months later once I stepped out.
I tell a lot of people it's actually like the LGBTQ movement. There are a lot of closet cannabis users. We need to come out of the closet. We need to show people that we are functional people. That it's not a stereotype. We're not potheads that are smoking and dropping out of society. That's not what it is at all. We're using it to cope with our society. We want to get it in, play the game, live our life and have fun. And we find great relief, just at the end of the day, this is my chance to unwind. You know?
It sounds to me like it helped you medically, but then in ways you didn't even expect. Can you expand on that a little more?
Yeah. The funny thing is, this slippery slope of, okay, we're going to allow it for medicine...We can do medical marijuana, but we just don't want those people getting high. Where are we gonna draw the line of what's medical? Who is to say that me having my favorite indica at the end of the day isn't medical? It keeps my blood pressure down, my stress levels low - all these great rewards we get from this plant medicine. Who is to say [...] am I just wanting to get high at the end of the day or is this my medicine? That's what's gonna change, is our view of medicine.