By Kira Clavell
Sophie Ryan is a beautiful child. With her inquisitive blue eyes, soft wisps of blonde angel hair, pillowy cheeks and contagious smile, she could be straight out of an ad for Pampers or a commercial for Johnson & Johnson. “She’s quite the special little baby,” her mom, Tracy Ryan, says proudly. We watch as Ryan feeds Sophie just a dab of cannabis oil in a spoonful of her baby food. Just a tiny drop on her pacifier for while she’s sleeping. There’s a moment in the film where Sophie, heavy-lidded and sluggish on the couch, appears… mellow. “This is what Sophie is like when she starts to feel the effects of her medicine. She’s not moving around as much and she’s a little sleepy face but this is it,” says Ryan. Why would a mother be giving cannabis to her baby? Love. Special little Sophie, at just 8 1/2 months old, has been diagnosed with Optic Pathway Glioma. The inoperable, malignant tumor in her brain has grown in size and is pressing against the nerve connecting to her eye. This is just one of the families in Weed The People, trying to pursue what they believe is the best treatment for their child. Giving them the “gift from heaven,” a.k.a. “liquid gold” or cannabis oil.
The documentary, directed by Abby Epstein and executive produced by Ricki Lake, gives us a glimpse of the lengths these parents will go to cure their children. It’s the second documentary made by the duo. The first, The Business of Being Born, was an incredibly personal project about obstetrics and the birthing process in the United States and featured both women giving birth in the film. Weed the People is another intensely personal film for Lake. “It really started from my own life experience,” she says. “That seems to be the beginning stages of all our projects thus far. It’s so important on so many levels but also because my beloved husband who passed away.” Christian Evans who had battled against bipolar disorder and took his own life in 2017 had researched and utilized cannabis for himself to treat his chronic pain, migraines and anxiety. “This was his passion, this was his idea, this was his experience, so this project was his legacy and he gets to live on and leave his work behind that I believe is going to help save so many lives,” Lake says.
Footage for Weed The People runs from 2013 through to 2017 and takes place primarily in California. Much has changed in regards to cannabis during those years and especially now most recently in Canada where, as of October 17, 2018, recreational cannabis in addition to medical cannabis is federally legalized. Yet in the United States, cannabis is still stalemated in Schedule 1 under the Controlled Substances Act, which places cannabis alongside heroin and LSD.
“It’s crazy,” Lake says. “The climate has changed dramatically since we started the film in 2012. Its outrageous and I think part of it was [Dr.] Sanjay Gupta going on CNN and apologizing for his take on this plant really did so much to open people’s eyes and get the ball rolling with more and more information.
“I think what’s going to probably happen is once the US starts to watch what happens in Canada, I think that’s what will hopefully push the [US] federal government over the edge,” adds Epstein.
“We’re dealing with children. This is not about getting high. This is a human rights issue. Families have a right to have access to this plant if it helps, even if it doesn’t help, you know,” Lake stresses. “It’s criminal. When you look at the opioid crisis in this country [US], when they looked at states where cannabis was legal medicinally, the opioid deaths were actually lower, significantly, because of the access to cannabis legally so I think that the [US] federal government has blood on their hands with this issue.”
The film has already made an impact according to Lake. “I’m hoping that through educating the public there will be some major change. We’re already seeing it. We brought the film to Oklahoma two weeks before the referendum on medicinal cannabis and they said that by bringing the film there for their deadCenter Film Festival, that helped them pass it, which is arguably one of the most conservative states in our country. It passed by 58 per cent [56.8 per cent as reported by CNN] there. We brought the film to parliament over the summer and it’s all about changing the laws and educating the public and having a new understanding of the magic that is this plant.”
Bonni Goldstein MD, Pediatric Cannabis Physician, states in the film: “I think it’s really important to understand that to a family that’s suffering it feels like a miracle but it’s really just science and there’s no reason to be afraid of it and there’s no reason this is not an option for everyone.”
The Canadian premiere of Weed The People is 6 p.m. at the Rio Theatre. Both Lake and Epstein will be participating in a Q&A after the screening.