Film and TV

Ricki Lake's Weed the People Premieres in Denver to Recount America's MMJ Battle

Weed the People follows families as they struggle with overcoming obstacles in front of medical marijuana.
Weed the People follows families as they struggle with overcoming obstacles in front of medical marijuana. Weed the People trailer screenshot
Weed the People is not your typical weed documentary full of rants and conspiracy theories. The film, which debuted in Denver on Friday, December 7, at the Alamo Drafthouse Sloan's Lake, is social commentary on the lack of government research into the possible health benefits of cannabis.

Spanning over four years, Weed the People is a journey into difficult territory as families struggle for alternative methods of curing their children's cancer. Parents take matters into their own hands by dosing their sick children with cannabis oil, oftentimes paying thousands of dollars without insurance to help their children.

One of the film’s youngest subjects is an infant named Sophie, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at eight months. After learning that cannabis oil was curing certain forms cancer in other pediatric patients, Sophie’s parents began working with Mara Gordon, co-founder of Aunt Zelda’s cannabis extracts, to customize a treatment plan for their young daughter in hopes that it would work alongside chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. The film depicts the success of these treatments, which ultimately saved Sophie’s life.

Gordon goes on to help others in the film, like Chico, a teenager who is also battling cancer. In the beginning of the documentary, we see Chico riddled with pain as his mother is buying cannabis oil that she suspects is infused with rubbing alcohol, a toxic leftover of certain forms of cannabis extraction. Gordon helps Chico’s mom find the right medicine for her son, and his condition eventually improves.

“I can’t even imagine the suffering, and needless suffering, that’s going on throughout this country, and throughout the world, because of the inability to access this miraculous plant,” Gordon says in the film. “Cannabis can be dosed, and it can be dosed consistently — and you can know what’s in your medicine and how to take your medicine. You can have an understanding ahead of time what your side effects are going to be, or if there are going to be any.”

click to enlarge Ricki Lake attends a screening of her documentary Weed the People. - WEED THE PEOPLE FACEBOOK PAGE
Ricki Lake attends a screening of her documentary Weed the People.
Weed the People Facebook page
Weed the People is the second film directed and produced by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein. Their first documentary, The Business of Being Born, was released ten years ago, and explored American health care's approach toward childbirth.

Lake, a former actress and talk-show host, started their most recent project after developing a social-media friendship with a young girl who was using cannabis for her cancer. Shortly after, Lake and her late husband, Christian Evans, learned that many children were using cannabis to treat their cancer.

The film also touches on research occurring in other countries, such as Spain and Israel — which brings us back to Weed the People's biggest unanswered question: Why is the United States government denying its citizens access to this medicine?

The Denver premiere, hosted by the Colorado chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, brought cannabis advocates and businesses owners Larisa Bolivar, Jeri Shepherd and Keegan Peterson for a Q&A session after the film’s showing.

Peterson, founder of cannabis management software Wurk, is helping with the distribution of the film; he met the filmmakers a year ago after filming finished. “It’s the stories [like these] that are going to cross that barrier and build a bridge, and that’s why I have personally been so passionate about this film,” he said during the screening, explaining that effective documentaries can be a tool for cannabis policy reform.

Shepherd, a criminal defense attorney in Weld County who is also on Colorado NORML's board, claims that most of what she sees while representing clients accused of cannabis crimes can be traced back to the failed War on Drugs. “It has everything to do with control.” She said. “I don’t see the insurance companies as advocating for a model of wellness — I see them advocating in conjunction with the pharmaceutical companies for corporate interest."

Bolivar, founder of the Cannabis Consumer Coalition and boardmember of Colorado NORML, moved to Colorado in 2001 to grow cannabis for medical marijuana patients. After seeing her grow raided in 2004 and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Bolivar has fought for the rights of cannabis users and continues to care for several medical marijuana patients.

“It’s been a fight,” she said. “In the course of twenty years, I’ve seen so much. I have seen cannabis save lives and help people overcome cancer. There are a lot of unknowns, but I feel a renewed interest in fighting this fight because of this film.”

Weed the People is playing at the Alamo Drafthouse Sloan's Lake location every afternoon at various times through Thursday, December 13, and is expected to appear on Netflix in 2019.
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Tiffany Bergeron is a contributor for Westword's marijuana section and has been published numerous times in Sensi Magazine's Denver/Boulder Edition. She currently writes about Boulder's cannabis scene.