Melissa Etheridge has had an illustrious musical career spanning decades, but it’s only recently come to light that she’s a proponent of cannabis for all sorts of purposes. It’s been a long, winding journey of reflection and self-discovery for her to get where she is today.
Weeds and Springsteen
Known for her smoky voice and emotional lyrics, Etheridge moved from Boston to Los Angeles in the 1980s, looking to break into the music scene. She played the club circuit, and was discovered by record producer Bill Leopold while she performed at a bar called Vermie’s in Pasadena. Incidentally, one of her first paid gigs was recording songs for the 1986 movie Weeds, but the title is deceiving–it’s a murder mystery with nothing to do with cannabis.
She made a splash on the music scene when she released her self-titled album after recording for just four days, and her single “Bring Me Some Water” was nominated for a Grammy.
By this point, Etheridge’s career was growing by leaps and bounds. She recorded Brave and Crazy, which peaked at #22 on the charts, and subsequently took her music on the road. An admitted Bruce Springsteen fan, she would often perform “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road” during her live shows. Later, she and Springsteen would perform a duet of “Thunder Road” together, a moment that she cites as one of the highlights of her career. She was so nervous about the duet that she flubbed the lyrics during the first run-through and they had to start again from the top.
Her third album, Never Enough, was well-received, and Etheridge won her first Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female, for her single, “Ain’t It Heavy.” At the time, she was not widely known to be a lesbian and rumors about her sexuality were swirling through the media. The album was speculated to be unofficially addressing these rumors. Conscious of the consequences of coming out as a lesbian, she kept quiet about her personal life, although it was during this period that she met Julie Cypher. Cypher was married to actor Lou Diamond Phillips at the time, but she left him after falling for Etheridge.
By 1993, she finally took the plunge and opened up about her sexuality during an inaugural ball for President Clinton. With acclaimed singer k.d. lang by her side, who had only come out the year before, she took a deep breath and said into the microphone, “You know, I’m very proud to have been a lesbian all my life.” With that, the crowd roared, and k.d. lang immediately reacted, jumping for joy at the long-awaited admission.
Etheridge needn’t have worried about the effects on her career. Her star continued to soar, winning another Grammy for her single “Come to My Window,” as well as earning two more nominations and, funnily enough, losing out to her rock idol, Bruce Springsteen for his song, “Streets of Philadelphia.”
Crosby, Cancer, and Climate Change
She and Cypher had two children, Bailey and Beckett, during their tempestuous 13-year-long relationship. The biological father of their children was widely speculated on in the media, culminating in Etheridge spilling the beans. David Crosby, of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, was the biological father of both kids. Cypher and Etheridge split in 2001, and soon after, Etheridge began dating actress Tammy Lynn Michaels. The two wed in 2003 and in 2006, Michaels gave birth to twins, Johnnie Rose and Miller. The relationship was not destined to last, and the pair divorced in 2010.
In 2004, Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer and she became a vocal cancer awareness activist. It was during this time that she began regularly using medical cannabis to battle the effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Her activism also began to take a more central role in her music, and she was awarded an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “I Need to Wake Up” from the film An Inconvenient Truth, about the effects of climate change.
An Outspoken Cannabis Advocate
After overcoming so much, from breast cancer to the scrutiny of the public limelight, Etheridge has become much more open about her life, including her cannabis use. She created her own line of cannabis products and her own brand, Etheridge Farms, which produces flower, edibles, topicals, and oil cartridges. She’s also a firm believer that cannabis helped her survive her battle with cancer, saying, “I’m…wanting to bring a product to America that is focused on health and on wellness and how important this plant is and used to be in our medicinal system.”
“I believe anybody who smokes cannabis is using it medicinally, whether they consider it so or not,” she says. “If it’s my means of relaxing and unplugging and de-stressing at the end of the day, who’s to say that’s not good medicine? Isn’t that what you do when you take your Ambiens and your Valiums and stuff? It’s the same thing. My stress level and all the things I felt contributed to my cancer 12 years ago, I absolutely treat them everyday by smoking cannabis and keeping a balance in my life.”
In an interview for the Yahoo project Cannabis & the American Family, Etheridge opened up about smoking marijuana with her current wife, Linda Wallem, and her grown children, Beckett and Bailey. “It’s a very natural, end-of-the-day [thing],” she told Yahoo. “And it brings you much closer. I’d much rather have a smoke with my grown kids than a drink—oh, God, no.”
Inevitably, she faced criticism and backlash over the admission, and responded publicly. “I want people to understand that this is not ‘Hey kids, let’s go get high.’ That wasn’t what it is at all. It was an experience that was kind of family and sacred,” she described in an interview. “And so … having the whole world kind of judge it off of one sentence, it breaks my heart a little bit.”
These days, Etheridge encourages the media to look beyond her choices as a parent and instead focus on prison reform, saying, “Beyond judging my mothering, I wish the discussion could be about people that are spending time in prison, whose lives have completely been wrecked for [drug] possession.” After building a long, successful career as a musician, she’s become an important voice in the fight to end cannabis prohibition and dissolve the stigmas shrouding this misunderstood plant.