If we can thank U.S. president Donald Trump for one thing, it’s for giving Los Angeles–based comedian Chelsea Handler incentive to find a healthier alternative to manage politics-induced anxiety.
“The first time I smoked weed I was probably 16 or 17 years old and it was a disaster because… Well, not a disaster, but I coughed for about an hour,” Handler tells the Georgia Straight by phone, adding that it wasn’t until later in life that she discovered an appreciation for cannabis.
“Around the time Trump was elected, I had to find another avenue to suppress my rage and harness it into something useful instead of something toxic. I turned to cannabis…and I realized what it could do for other women like me.”
During the past year, Handler has ramped up her pot advocacy across the U.S., and with the help of a Canadian company, she’s bringing it north of the border just in time for legalization.
In June, Handler delivered the keynote speech at the World Cannabis Congress in Saint John, New Brunswick, presented by Civilized, a digital-media and lifestyle brand focused on weed. Shortly after the presentation, the brand’s founder and CEO, Derek Riedle, approached her with the idea of taking the cannabis conversation cross-country.
The five-time New York Times best-selling author says she jumped at the opportunity, adding: “They [Civilized] talk about marijuana use in a cultural context and normalize it as a way of life, and I just thought: ‘This is incredible. We have to educate people.’ ”
The tour, a speaking series modelled after the town-hall events Handler has hosted in cities across the States, will start in Alberta on September 20 and end in Nova Scotia on October 6. Handler and Riedle will be in Vancouver on September 21 at UBC’s Chan Centre to talk political activism, legalization, and her personal journey to cannabis use.
Speaking on the phone from London, England, she says that once she experienced success with cannabis for sleep, she began experimenting with the vast array of products available in California’s newly legalized recreational market.
“I was taking sleep aids way too frequently. And it was a great alternative to that, because I didn’t want to be on any of those medications that pharmaceutical companies are peddling,” she says.
“I realized it [cannabis] is so different than what it used to be. Now with microdosing, you are able to control what you are taking in…it’s much more of a controlled experience.”
Handler is known for her guinea-pig approach to exploring new substances and experiences, particularly when it comes to drugs. One episode of her four-part Netflix special, Chelsea Does, is dedicated entirely to exploring the benefits and harms of a mix of drugs, from over-the-counter pills like Adderall and Ambien to black-market weed and psychedelics. In it, she mixes booze and prescription medication (under supervision) and dines on THC–infused feasts, with the episode culminating in Handler participating in a traditional Peruvian ayahuasca (a psychoactive plant medicine historically used by Indigenous communities) ceremony—all in the name of education.
Since taking a step back from her high-profile entertainment career, Handler now only uses small doses of cannabis to deal with the stress that accompanies her activism.
“For me, it is more about getting off anti-anxiety medication and getting away from sleeping pills and being a more functional person…and making everybody a lot less annoying,” she says, laughing.
“It helps me not lose my temper, it helps me be a lot less reactive, and it just makes everybody just a little bit cooler.”
Since embarking on her normalization campaign, she has smoked with the cream of the pot crop, from rappers like Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg to the weed legend himself, country singer Willie Nelson.
“Smoking weed with Willie Nelson was a seminal moment. It was great,” she says.
“After I smoked a joint with him, I was, you know…let’s just say I was not able to drive afterwards. It was a situation. He’s got some potent stuff.”
Getting stoned off of a canna celebrity’s superstash may be quite the experience, but she says a line of products for the everyday cannabis consumer is in the works.
In February, Handler teased her pot-friendly fans with an Instagram post indicating an interest in starting a line of weed products. When asked for an update, she says she’s still in the research phase but is certain of one thing: any company she creates will have a focus on bringing female consumers into the fold.
“Women really need to be reintroduced to marijuana,” she says.
“There is a joke in L.A.: whoever has the best plastic surgeon never reveals it, because they don’t want anyone else to have a good facelift. And I’m here pushing against that when it comes to marijuana. Girls need to share information, they need to embolden and empower other women to own their marijuana use.”