Rush, Sarah McLachlan, Adam Cohen & More Canadian Artists Talk Marijuana Legalization

By Karen Bliss,, April 20, 2017

Today (April 20) is the official smoker's holiday. If you didn't already know, you've probably never partaken in the unofficial celebration of all things ganja, where weed aficionados openly paticipate. Some add a protest component, calling for its legalization, if they feel up to it.

But every day could be 4/20 in Canada, if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fulfills his campaign promise to legalize marijuana.

The current cannabis laws according to the federal government are this: "Cannabis (marijuana) remains a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, and, unless otherwise regulated for production and distribution for medical purposes, is subject to offences under that Act. 

"Possessing and selling cannabis for non-medical purposes is still illegal everywhere in Canada."

While medical marijuana dispensaries are popping up everywhere, there are still raids, confiscations and arrests. It's all rather confusing. Is it legal or not?

"Until cannabis laws change, and strict regulations and restrictions are put in effect, local police authorities will continue to address illegal cannabis possession and sales," it states on the Department of Justice web site. 

But PM Trudeau has promised to legalize marijuana by Canada Day (July 1), 2018.  His election campaign made it a part of his platform. "We will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana," begins an entire page on

Last week, a legalization bill was tabled, which means it could take about 15 months to pass — just in time for Canada Day 2018.

After Canadian Music Week at Toronto's Sheraton Centre wraps, its president Neill Dixon will slip right into the launch of his new venture, O'Cannabiz Conference & Expo (April 21-23). The celebrity interview is with Melissa Etheridge, who used marijuana when she had breast cancer 13 years ago and whose company Etheridge Farms produces newly-legalized cannabis products in California.

Given all this pot talk, Billboard asked more than two dozen Canadian artists what they thought of Trudeau's vow to make marijuana legal, and -- if they are all for it -- if they could name a strain, what would it be called and what would it cure or be good for? For the record, this scribe has never tried pot but fully supports its legalization. My pick for a strain name would be Bliss, of course. 

The idea to ask artists to "name a strain" came after a casual hang at an Ottawa restaurant during the Juno Awards with rocker Sam Roberts and The Tragically Hip guitarist Paul Langlois, but when Roberts is asked the following day, he can't remember his original suggestions -- and there was no smoking involved.

Sam Roberts: The singer, whose eponymously named rock band has its own beer called SRB Session Ale, could easily branch out. 

"Was it The Rail Car? Baggage Train? It's called Baggage Train and it helps you dredge up all of your worst memories. So that you can deal with them out in the open and then they're gone."

Rush: Singer/bassist Geddy Lee at first offers Lerxst Kush as their strain name. "That's him," he says of guitarist Alex Lifeson. "That's his nickname." But then Lifeson comes up with Lerxst Couch instead. "It's not my forte," says Lee, "But it is his." "It is my forte," says Lifeson. What would Lerxst Couch cure? "It would cure boredom," says Lifeson. "I was going to say it would cure ambition," says Lee, laughing. "That's more appropriate," Lifeson agrees, laughing too.

Adam Cohen: His father Leonard was taking medical marijuana before his death. 

"Of course he would come up with a better name than any of us. But if he would go through a list of his song titles, he'd probably come up with a good one. It could be called So Long Marianne, if you want to forget your woes or Sisters of Mercy if you want to be taken into some state of elation or Who By Fire if you're feeling mystic. And so on and so on."

Sarah McLachlan: As a non-smoker, the new addition to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame hadn't given strain names much thought but she is clearly pro-legalization. 

"It's great that it's being legalized. Legalized, standardized, it going to be taxed. Think of the roads we can build off of the taxes with pot. Think of the schools we can build. Think of the music programs we could reestablish in schools. It's no different than alcohol. It just has to be legalized, standardized; there has to be requirements put on it. I don't smoke pot. It's not for me. I tried it."

Billy Talent: The rock group collectively agree with its singer Ben Kowalewicz,

"It's taking way too long." And what would they call their strain? Silly Talent. What would it make you do?  Laugh.

Donovan Woods: The Warner/Chappell Nashville signing now on his fourth album didn't seem opposed to the idea of legalization but didn't comment either way. 

"He's really trying to hard to solidify himself as the cool Prime Minister, that's for sure. But a strain? The other day I got asked to name a candle and I said bourbon and honeysuckle, so maybe something like that. Maybe something downhome and sweet like that."

Shaun Frank: The co-writer of The Chainsmokers' "Closer" and an artist/DJ himself with a new song and tour called No Future, is continuing the theme. 

"No Future. It's such a good name for it. It would allow you to watch FOX News and just be okay with it. Find the comedy in it."

Whitehorse: The husband and wife duo, which just released its new single "Boys Like You" from the forthcoming album, Panther in the Dollhouse, shouldn't have a problem coming up with a strain name after a title like that. And the cover art might scare the hell out of someone who was high. 

Melissa McClelland: "I think a lot of things should be legalized and properly controlled and distributed."

Luke Doucet: "Or decriminalized anyway. I think all drugs should be decriminalized."

McClelland: "I am not a pot connoisseur."

Doucet: "I would call it ... crack's already taken, maybe Quack and it would cure people's proclivities for pseudo science. It would make people skeptical."

McClelland: "Great answer [laughs]."

Ruth B: The 21-year-old "Lost Boy" singer, signed to Columbia, just didn't want to answer, perhaps because she has young fans and the topic is an illegal drug.

"I don't know. I haven't been paying attention to that so I have no comment." 

Is legalization a good thing? "I really don't know."

Dallas Smith: The first Canadian male country artist to have three No. 1 hits at country radio has the perfect name for a strain -- the title of his latest single, "Side Effects," but that's not what the 604 Records signing picked. He couldn't think of a name!

"I love the move [to legalize it]. I think it's absolutely fantastic  It takes it out of the hands of people [dealers]. Tax it and put it back into the communities and capitalize on something that's going to happen anyways, I'm all for it."

Strain name? "I like its ability to knock down a bit of anxiety.  So I don't know what you would call that, but that would be my strain."

Exco Levi: For five-time Juno Award winning reggae artist, ganja is his religion. So what does he think? Stupid question.

"I'm a Rastaman, yeah. We do reggae music. Positivity. And weed is a plant, is the only old sacrament, nah mean? Just like the callaloo, just like the flower. It's just a plant. I don't know why it was banned in the first place."

A strain? "It would be a good for everything and it will be called Exco Levi Kush."

Buffy Sainte-Marie: "I live in Hawaii and, of course, pot has been very very popular always . Now it's kind of legal. You can have a license, a doctor's license, and I'll tell ya, I used to be all for it and now I'm not so sure anymore because the cigarette companies and he alcohol companies are moving in and taking over. And so that's what scares me. I'm all for pot, but I'm not for the attitudes and the crazy money-making schemes that I would feel. So I would tread lightly on it. I kind of prefer that people have a license. I'm scared of big business. I don't like everything they do."

Marianas Trench: Josh Ramsay, frontman for the pop-rock band and co-writer of Carly Rae-Jepsen's once ubiquitous "Call Me Maybe," had an immediate answer.

"I'm for it man. It will make us safer. Being from BC [British Columbia], it will make an awesome natural resource for our province. I'm completely for it. Mine would cure boredom and it would be called Fun Time."

Tanika Charles: The soul/R&B singer, who was up for a Juno this year and has toured with hip-hop artist and activist Emmanuel Jal, didn't have a strain name but is right behind PM Trudeau.

"I don't really know. Legal it. It's helping so many people, especially medicinal marijuana. Go for it. But I don't know anything other than that. Way to go."

A Tribe Called Red: Ian "DJ NDN" Campeau from the Indigenous DJ group, revealed a special reason for wanting the bill to be passed. 

"I'm a huge fan. My wife is a cancer survivor. We both have our MMARs [Marijuanna Medical Access Regulations]. We use it often."

Strain? "For me, it would definitely be curing anxiety. That's what I use it for, my anxiety and depression. And it would be called the Don't Worry Everything's Gonna Be Okay [laughs]."

Paul Reddick: The award-winning blues veteran doesn't hesitate.

"I think it's a great idea. It's ridiculous that it's illegal. It's always been ridiculous. Of course it should be legal. And a strain name? I would call it Bâton Rouge and it would cure the blues."

Coleman Hell: The Columbia Records artist, who had a hit with his 2015 debut single "2 Heads," ties his answer in with his name and song.

"I feel like that's been a long time coming and makes perfect sense. What would it be called? Maybe Hellraiser and it would be a heady high. It would give you a bit of an edge."

Cold Creek County:  Guitarist Justin Lester, the Sony Music Canada country act, is quick to come up with "Cold Creek Kush."

"It would make you chill out and enjoy our music and focus really well on Jordan's [Honsinger] banjo's solos."

The Dirty Nil: Singer Luke Bentham and drummer Kyle Fisher from the Dine Alone Records rock act work together on this important task, like they are working out a part for a song.

Bentham: "I think what people decide to put in their bodies is their own personal business and I think ridiculous that I understand that there needs to be some kind of regulations to not have a total free for all on this type of thing but in terms of our personal strain, I would say that it would make you feel like banana bread."

Fisher: "Like banana bread struck by lightning."

Bentham: "Electric Banana Bread." 

Fisher: "It would be flavored. It would be great. 

Bentham: "Coming to a store near you. It's actually endorsed by Justin Trudeau."

The Strumbellas: Bassist Darryl James and keyboardist David Ritter

Ritter: "We're a band of six very democratic people and so I bet if you asked everyone individually they'd give you very different answers on these questions. I would probably name it something like Kushada. I'd probably try and throw a pun in there, but everyone in the band would have their own take.

"It would probably make you just be nice and polite to everybody and being really chill."

James: "That's a really interesting questions. Let's say my strain would be called The Negotiator and it would hopefully assist in positive negotiations for all communities and races within the country [laughs]. Maybe it would bring out something positive."

Neon Dreams: The band, whose "Marching Bands" feat. Kardinal Offishall had chart success in 2016 and whose producer/co-writer Corey La Rue has been working with Waka Flocka Flame, collectively decided on the name The Kadillac, after its singer Frank Kadillac.

"It would bring life happiness just like Frank Kadillac does."

Holy Fuck: The band's Brian Borcherdt and Graham Walsh also work well together.

Strain name? That's a no brainer. It would be called Holy Fuck.

Borcherdt: "We were just chatting about this. We were just waiting and biding our time.  It's a controversial subject even for fans of marijuana, but what we like about it is this idea that you can open a dialogue about how different people react to it, in terms of mental things. Like some people have a hard time with marijuana because they have paranoia and that's always been under-discussed. I like the idea that you can be open about that and you can explain that to people and they can tailor-make what you want and adjust the dosage and whatnot. And it truly does become a little bit more medical. Remember in high school just having a miserable time in the parking lot, ‘Oh God, I got too high!' [laughs], but I think it's cool that we can really zoom in on it and find out for curing pain and making people feel at ease and making people feel happier and getting them off pharmaceuticals, I think that's a good thing."

Walsh: "Nothing bad will come from studying it."

Borcherdt: "Exactly. If there's a way that it becomes so chemical that it's getting away from this very natural homegrown thing,  maybe there's something to be said about that and spraying and whatnot, but I think it's good to give someone an alternative to pharmaceuticals. It's also good to give people a chance to improve their lives and improve their lifestyle and improve their state of mind. That said, I think Holy Fuck weed would be a real good time"

Walsh: "It would make music sound amazing."

Borcherdt: "I was just talking about the idea of naming strains. So if you really want to take it seriously and have people embrace it, on a grand scale, you wouldn't name it cheesy named like Holy Fuck or Purple Penguin. Maybe you could make a more serious name that everyone could understand and make it less gimmicky and wacky."

July Talk: The band members, signed to Island Records in the US , Sleepless in Canada and Universal in the UK, all seem to agree on legalizing. No one chimes in to say otherwise.

Singer Peter Dreimanis: "I think it's great that they're legalizing it. We've been to a lot of countries where it is legal and I think it's a great idea. It makes it regulated for kids and it makes it a lot safer for them to get it because they're going to get it regardless."

Strain? Jellin' or Body Buzz, they all agree. You pretty much lie on the couch.

Protest the Hero: The progressive metal group, currently on tour in New Zealand and Australia behind its latest album Pacific Myth, jumped right to the naming before the legalities.

Guitarist Luke Hoskin: "Steel Panther -- that's taken. We'll think about that. We're a tough group to answer. You feel sexier, that's for sure."