“Weed the People,” a documentary from director Abby Epstein and executive producer Ricki Lake, is all about the tension between the medical cannabis industry and the existing federal legislation that prohibits the full exploration of the plant’s efficacy. Although 33 states, four U.S. territories and the District of Columbia have passed laws that allow qualified patients to use marijuana to treat various conditions, there are still lots of states where people don’t have any legal access to a treatment that could save their lives.
The passion project, which was six years in the making, seeks to answer a central question that many people in the medical cannabis industry wonder: If weed is truly saving lives, why doesn’t the government want people to access it? It’s a tug-of-war between life and death, highlighting those suffering from conditions that require treatment and living under a government that won’t acknowledge cannabis’s healing power enough to remove it from being considered a Schedule I substance along with acid, heroin, ecstasy and bath salts.
Epstein and Lake utilize the intimate stories of families who bravely share their struggles and triumphs to challenge the notion of what makes something medicine versus what makes it a drug. At about 90 minutes running time, “Weed the People” is moving and appropriately dramatic, without exaggerating the gravity of each tragic and heart-wrenching situation.
For example, there’s Mara Gordon, who began treating herself with cannabis-infused edibles after she experienced debilitating spinal pain — and later went on to start a cannabis oil company, Aunt Zelda’s, to help other patients, like Tracy and Josh Ryan daughter’s Sophie, who was only 9 months old when she was diagnosed with an optic pathway glioma brain tumor.
There are also a host of cannabis experts who offer insight, historical information and in-depth data about cannabis in the film. The experts include Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the Israeli organic chemist and professor who is credited with discovering THC; Dr. Bonni Goldstein, the pediatric ER doctor who founded Canna-Centers in Los Angeles; Ethan Nadelmann, the founder of New York City-based Drug Policy Alliance; and Dr. David (Dedi) Meiri, who heads Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Cannabinoid Research, where they are currently investigating the therapeutic potential of phytocannabinoids.
This documentary can serve two very different but important purposes. For people who are already aware and convinced of cannabis’ power to heal, this film will bolster your confidence in what you may al- ready know and believe. For others who have yet to be convinced of how weed can help improve the lives of patients, this will be an informative and eye-opening look at not only how there’s more to marijuana than getting high, but also how the government has meticulously kept cannabis away from those who need it most.
Many people have had their own small successes with cannabis, perhaps using it to help reduce pain or combat insomnia, but this documentary brings out the big guns with conditions that the conventional medical industry has struggled to remedy. For example, it spends a good amount of time discussing the anecdotal evidence that cannabis can assist in complete and total remission from stage 4 bone cancer and disappearing metastatic growths. This documentary is really a compilation of miracles that each patient had to fight for the right to have.
“Just as parents deserve to choose how they bring their children into the world, we all have the right to access natural medicines that are potentially life-saving,” director Epstein said in a press release in reference to her previous film, “The Business of Being Born.” “These are basic human rights that institutions should not have the power to take away.”
For people interested in checking out the documentary, it can be watched online on various streaming platforms, including iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay and elsewhere. It is also available for purchase and had a 420 Netflix release.