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Melissa Etheridge: Pot got me through

By Melissa Etheridge, Special to CNN
August 7, 2013 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Joan Lunden returned to her old stomping grounds, ABC's "Good Morning America," with a personal news update on June 24. The former "GMA" host revealed that she's facing an "aggressive" form of breast cancer. Joan Lunden returned to her old stomping grounds, ABC's "Good Morning America," with a personal news update on June 24. The former "GMA" host revealed that she's facing an "aggressive" form of breast cancer.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Melissa Etheridge: Drugs and drinking "were not a part of my rock 'n' roll lifestyle"
  • She says medical marijuana eased chemo's excruciating side effects after she got cancer
  • She's a mother who believes pot should be legal for adults, regulated like alcohol
  • Etheridge: Legalization will take the lawlessness out of its sale and distribution

Editor's note: Melissa Lou Etheridge is an American rock singer-songwriter, guitarist and activist.

(CNN) -- My friends have always told me that rock stardom was wasted on me.

To them it seemed that being a rock star was a free ticket to debauchery. It was sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, and I was only taking advantage of two. Drugs were not a part of my rock 'n' roll lifestyle. I wasn't even much of a drinker. I have never thrown up from being over intoxicated.

What kind of rock star is that? I had certainly encountered drugs during the '80s, mostly cocaine, but nothing about grinding my teeth and rambling on about myself appealed to me. During the '90s, I smoked an occasional joint. Those were usually fun social occasions. My work was a drug-free zone.

Then in 2004, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The chemotherapy that was prescribed was called "dose dense": a harsher, stronger chemo than the usual because I had the benefit of not having to work during the treatment. My close friends told me that, as an alternative, medical marijuana was a natural way to help with the excruciating side effects of chemo.

Marijuana grows at a California clinic.
Marijuana grows at a California clinic.

It worked. The entire experience changed my life. It opened my mind to a new way of thinking about my body, my health and the future.

This herb, this weed that is so strong it grows wild by the side of the road, has always been with us. In ancient times it was highly regarded and has even been found in tombs. It has even been put forth from some biblical scholars that Jesus may have used cannabis oil to heal.

Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge

Now, this herb, marijuana, is at center of a debate within our society. The American Civil Liberties Union just released a report called "The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests," which outlines why marijuana reform is necessary. Many people are being arrested and their lives affected forever, sometimes devastated, because of marijuana possession.

People use marijuana for different reasons, and I needed it to get me through tough times. I used it every day during chemo: It gave me an appetite so I was able to eat and keep my strength up. It also helped with the depression, and it eased the gastrointestinal pain.

I have been a medicinal marijuana smoker for nine years now. I find relief from the gastrointestinal effects of the chemo even now. I find it helps with regulating my sleep. I also enjoy it before I watch "Game of Thrones."

Along with so many other social morals that are taking on new meanings and definitions, the stigma that has pot lumped in with heroin and other Schedule 1 opiates -- those that have "no currently accepted medical use in the United States -- is being re-examined.

The state of fear in which these laws were created has changed. Educated people have experienced pot or they understand that research has shown that while marijuana use is not entirely safe, its dangers have been grossly overstated.

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I am also a mother.

I have teenage children and it has not been an easy journey holding the boundary between teenage abuse of marijuana and legitimate adult use. In my efforts to refrain from saying "Do as I say not as I do," I have found a way to inform my children that the growing adolescent brain reacts differently to cannabis and studies have shown that the benefits an adult brain experiences are actually detrimental to the growing teenage brain. Common sense tells me that kids smoking pot is not a good idea. Just like sex, you can handle it when you are mature enough to respect it.

So as a mother and a rock star I find myself asking, are we ready to trust ourselves and our children in a world where the sale and use of cannabis is legal?

With the Supreme Court considering the legalization of same-sex marriage, along with the new dialogue on ending pot prohibition, we have arrived at the tipping point of understanding that true freedom is the ability of a nation to handle diversity.

These days our society is experiencing a new open-mindedness. We are beginning to break away from the old fears that governed our parents' world. We do not automatically fear someone because of the color of his or her skin. We do not fear for our children if homosexuals are living in the neighborhood. And we do not fear that smoking pot will necessarily lead to a life of ruin.

I believe it is time to shine a light on the old "Reefer Madness" fears. Let's legitimize cannabis sales so that our youth are as protected from illegal pot as they are from illegal alcohol and tobacco sales. Legitimize the growers so that pot can have regulations and I know I am supporting American businesses and not outlaws when I purchase it.

The legalization of pot is making sense. It will create a real business form and take the lawlessness out of its sale and distribution.

The ACLU report on racial bias in pot possession arrests is enlightening. The fact that people of color are arrested four times more often than whites is disturbing. This imbalance is coming to a head. We can be the generation that makes the change. We live in a nation that holds freedom as a sacred right.

Our great Constitution challenges us to grow constantly Let's put an end to marijuana prohibition and get clear regulations on the legal sale of pot. The benefits might surprise us.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Melissa Etheridge.

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