Melissa Etheridge — best known for catchy guitar chords and a raspy voice that has won her two Grammy awards — popped into Pennsylvania this summer to thank cannabis advocates for their efforts leading to the legalization of industrial hemp and medical marijuana in the state.
A survivor of breast cancer, Etheridge joined the cannabis movement in the mid-2000s after returning to the public eye at the 2005 Grammy Awards with no hair, guitar in hand, to sing “Piece of my Heart” as a tribute to Janis Joplin.
More than 11 years later Etheridge has invested in cannabis-infused wine tincture, and she is preparing to announce a new business endeavor, Etheridge Farms.
Etheridge Farms, based in California, will produce cannabis products. Etheridge declined to share more details, but hinted that she hopes to expand the business into states where the medicine is legal, including Pennsylvania.
Etheridge has ties to Pennsylvania through Geoff Whaling, a Berks County farmer who has been at the forefront of cannabis reform in the U.S. He formed the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council and co-founded a national cannabis advocacy group, The Coalition for Access Now. Whaling had organized a series of cannabis business expos in New York and Los Angeles, and invited Etheridge to speak. The two became friends, and she returns to Pennsylvania on occasion to visit.
About Melissa Etheridge
Latest album: MEmphis Rock & Soul, released October 2016
Recent local performance: Dec. 7, H. Rick Luhrs Performing Arts Center, Shippensburg University
“I was so impressed with him and how he’s got this together, because it’s kind of a crazy wild west out there in the cannabis industry, and everyone’s working overtime to get the right business model — to serve patients,” Etheridge said.
Joining the cannabis movement was a natural for Etheridge, as she has long used her musical career to push political messages, such as supporting equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Q: How often do you publicly speak about medical marijuana?
A: Every chance I get.
I have a deep, deep belief in it — not just my own personal use and experience with it and how it helped me through the damaging effects of the treatments I took for cancer in 2004 and 2005 — but just going from there, just seeing how much it can help so many people in so many ways, in ways we don’t even know yet.
What was your personal experience with medical marijuana like?
When I was diagnosed and faced with what cancer treatment would be, many friends said to try cannabis. The minute I tried it I realized it was medicine, and this was about getting to normal, not about feeling high. It was about having an appetite, because that’s such a big part of your health when you’re going through these treatments. Of course, it was easier in California, because it was a medical state at the time.
Even now, it is the greatest for me for sleep. Sleep is such a big part of our busy, busy lives. And stress relief. It’s just a nice thing. It just is.
When did you decide to use your music career to impact the medical marijuana movement?
One of the first interviews I did after I was on stage at the Grammy’s was with NBC television reporter Stone Phillips and I told him, I said, ‘I want to talk about medical marijuana.’
It made a big impact on me, and I want more people to be able to use it. I started talking 12 years ago and people got more and more interested right away. Eventually I got involved in the industry, and here I am getting ready to reveal Etheridge Farms to the world.
What really, really interests me is, California has done so much — 20 years with medical — trying to figure out how to make cannabis work for everything on all sides of the business. We’ve put together a pretty great team, and I would love to take that to different states, and really help.
With the recent election, there are concerns that the federal government will crack down on states that have legalized marijuana, medical and recreational. What are your thoughts on that as someone who’s investing in the market?
Everyone’s kind of holding their breath, and I get it. This movement has been moving fast and hard and steady and strong for years now, and if the Trump administration really wants to come in and try to turn that around, I say “good luck.”
It’s everything Republicans talk about. It’s big business — it is state’s rights. They’re kind of eating their own tail.
The Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland has an exhibit called “Louder than Words: Rock, Power and Politics.” What are some songs you have written that you feel send impactful messages that maybe only music can convey?
My song, ‘Come to my window,’ took on a divergent meaning to the LGBT community, ‘I don’t care what they think. I don’t care what they say. What do they know about this love anyway?’
When I was singing that in the ’90s, I was seeing people raising their fists. It took on more meaning than I first anticipated.
There have been others — “Silent Legacy,” “Scare Crow,” “Tuesday Morning” — a lot of songs specifically to that.
As far as marijuana, I’ve had some.
In my Christmas album, I sing the standard, “Merry Christmas Baby,” by Charles Brown, but I say, “I haven’t had a smoke this morning,” instead of “I haven’t had a drink this morning/But I’m all lit up like a Christmas tree.”
So I do that.
What would you say to people in Pennsylvania — businesses and patients — as they wait for the medical marijuana program to be established?
That it’s a long road, and it takes a long time. It’s not going to happen overnight, and it needs to take time to set it up correctly to where everyone is comfortable, to where everyone understands we’re all moving in the right direction.