For more than 20 years, Michael Franti and Spearhead have been bringing social justice issues to the forefront. The San Francisco-based musician is known for his inspiring, positive messages of peace and love. He's also generous with his time when it comes to his fans, spending concerts moving through the crowd, dancing, high-fiving and hugging people. His charitable foundation, "Do It For the Love" helps terminally-ill patients see their favourite musicians in concert. Michael Franti is outspoken on politics and cannabis, too. Earlier this month, he sat down with Civilized's Deborah Irvine Anderson at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival. You can hear their entire conversation in our podcast. This is an edited and condensed version.
Congratulations on your new marriage.
We had a beautiful wedding. Two days of music and food, friends, DJs and dancing - and of course our wedding vows, which was to me the most important part. I know it was for Sara, too. Committing to be a partnership and honouring the experience of everything she has brought to my life to this point. We both share a goal of trying to give back to the greater good. We have a motto in our house which is, "Be your best. Serve the greater good and rock out wherever you are."
Your music is all about inspiring people to do exactly what you just said. Where did that come from?
I grew up in a very mixed household. I was adopted. My birth parents are Irish, French and Belgian, African-American and Seminole Indian and I was raised in a Finnish household. One sister is a lesbian. My parents had three kids before they adopted me and another African-American son, so three kids that were white and blonde and then two brown kids. We grew up in unique situation and our mother encouraged us to be our authentic selves, to not only learn to get along with other people, but to celebrate difference and to see difference as something that we can each learn from. And to take on what we learn as part of who we are and part of our life.
My mom taught us to be open to other experiences and to reach out to those who are the poorest among us and to to be kind to those who felt marginalized. To be appreciative to those who work tirelessly to get crumbs. It seems in our world today that those ideals, at least in the political space, are not held as virtues. And through my music I hope to spread the message that they should be.
What role has cannabis played in your musical, creative journey?
When I was a kid, I started smoking pot when I was just out of high school. It was part of my band's social life and part of our creative exploration. But at a certain point, I realized I didn't want that to be the focal point of what I did. I didn't want to be dependent upon pot to be something that woke up my senses. I wanted my senses to be, my emotions to be up front, without having that gateway opened.
Today I'm a proponent of legalization for a number of reasons. First of all, I don't believe it's as dangerous as what people 30 years ago in the Reagan administration would have told you it is, and they're still kind of touting those things.
Second of all, I don't think people should be locked up in prison for long stretches of time in any country in the world for this medicine.
That brings me to the final point, which is there are so many medicinal uses. I've seen it in my life - and with family members living with cancer who have used it not only for pain, but to put their disease in remission.
We should know why, and how that works. There should be freedom for every scientist, every university in the world to explore those things. And for every adult who chooses to [consume cannabis] just like they would choose to have a beer or a glass of wine or whatever they should be able to choose to use cannabis when they want to.
Perhaps the more important thing is what it could mean to the world in terms of our energy consumption, our use of it for fibrous materials that could replace cotton or other things that are so damaging to our forests. The chemicals we use currently could be eliminated if we used cannabis.
How do you feel the media portrays people who use cannabis right now?
I think it's changing. It used to be that everybody's like Cheech and Chong if you smoke pot. But now with the legalization that's taken place in a number of states, I've seen a new wave of dot-com entrepreneurs who are getting into the cannabis business. It's taken on a new legitimacy.
We did a fundraiser for our foundation, Do it For the Love, in Denver recently and they served champagne and then there was a separate room for people who wanted to smoke weed. It was as accepted as the bartender serving wine at the bar. That's the way it should be.
I think that as we grow up as a society, we'll learn what is the best, healthiest way to look at it. The healthiest way to consume it. What age people should have the freedom to make those decisions. What are the effects it has when people drive.
Those things are still unclear. Those are the kinds of questions that are going to come up as we evolve. But there has to first be that freedom to have that dialogue. And up to this point, that dialogue hasn't had a chance to mature.