Melissa Etheridge says she feels like a “rock star now” that she’s been arrested for marijuana possession. “I’m in good company,” the singer tells Variety, referring to others like Paul McCartney, Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson who’ve been busted for pot over the years.
Etheridge was sleeping on her tour bus when it was pulled over by Customs and Border Protection agents in the middle of the night on Aug. 17 in Portal, North Dakota. She’d performed at the River Cree Resort & Casino in Enoch, Alberta on Aug. 16.
Etheridge knew this wasn’t a typical stop when she saw K-9 dogs ready to enter the bus. “I’ve crossed many, many borders in my life, hundreds of times,” she says. “I’ve never had a search like that.”
As the dogs sniffed the luggage and the bus, the agents “went through every little thing,” Etheridge recalls. Eventually, one dog poked its nose into her bag. “I had some cannabis oil, actually a vape pen, in my toiletry case and they found it. They didn’t get much, it was a small amount.”
Clad in her pajamas, Etheridge was taken into one of the rooms at the border for questioning. “I was fingerprinted,” she says. “The mug shot was taken with a cell phone! I was like, ‘Oh my God, I hope this never gets out!’” At the same time, she wanted “to send love with the photo. That’s why I’m smiling.”
But she wasn’t happy at all about the incident and partially blames herself. “I’m mad at myself,” Etheridge admits. “I was careless. It’s an international border, I should’ve known better. But I hope this can move the issue forward, shed some light on how many people use cannabis as a medicine.”
Etheridge has been treating herself with cannabis ever since she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. She found it “awkward on all levels” that the Ward County sheriff who booked her “knew North Dakota had just legalized medical marijuana, but nobody knows what to do yet. They have yet to change the laws and adjust. I went from Canada, which is about to legalize marijuana sales, to North Dakota, which just went medical, yet nobody seems to know what to do.”
Last November, North Dakota became the 30th state to legalize the use of medical marijuana, but the state program has yet to start. In California, where she lives, Etheridge has a cannabis card given to patients with a variety of conditions. They’re allowed to make legal purchases at dispensaries around the state.
With Trump in the White House and Jeff Sessions his attorney general, Etheridge can’t be too sure that the stop and search weren’t politically motivated. “Who’s to say, but I can draw my own conclusions,” she offers.
The sea change in Washington has caused Etheridge to put the brakes on her cannabis company, Etheridge Farms. “When the new administration came in, the whole cannabis industry went, ‘Woah!’” she says. “Legalization is so brand new that nothing is happening quickly. Our products are close, but they aren’t here yet.”
As far as the arrest, Etheridge is not too concerned. “I was given a misdemeanor,” she notes. “I was just detained for a couple of hours. There was no bond. It will cost me lawyer fees and a little money.”