Thursday, March 21, 2013

Where's Cannabis?

If films are meant to portray the truth, where is the truth about cannabis on the big screen?  Not weed; cannabis.  Weed is marijuana.  It’s typically smoked as a recreational relaxant.  Cannabis is an ancient medicine, and a conduit for creative and spiritual explorations.  While marijuana the chill-out drug is finding its way to the big screen with increasing frequency, authentic medicinal use of cannabis doesn’t yet rate a cameo.

Booze, butts and bad behavior

Feature films and the characters that come to life within them have traditionally reflected and even informed our popular culture and social practices.  This is particularly evident with our use of drugs.  How many smokers light up and squint like Bogey and Madsen, or sip a stiff one like Pacino and the Bonds?  And who hasn’t seen folks, from gay men to socialites, holding their cigs high-wristed, palm to the ceiling, with the other hand cupping the elbow.  The Bette Davis pose.

From the indies to the major studios, drunkenness and hangovers remain standard vehicles for character tells and scene development.  Every December, millions of viewers still snicker as Uncle Billy, clearly a serious alcoholic, staggers home while proclaiming to be okay.  The same audience response is expected in Thor (2011) when Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård ) passes out from alcohol over-consumption while trying to keep up with the big guy. 

Now that we know the truth and have the stats, tobacco and alcohol use on the big screen ought to be going down.  But it’s not at all.  That’s surprising because filmmaking is renowned for giving us a view of our culture that is just one step ahead of the norm.  Even as Colorado and Washington state embody what lies ahead as prohibition fades, visionary films like Avatar (2009) still show us a future with drug choices and practices that even now are so last-century.

Welcome to Cannabis Country

Cannabis country is all around us, and the beauty of that (particularly for dramatic storytellers) is that for the most part that world remains very well hidden and largely unknown to mainstream Americans.  Private grows are taking off, and many of those home cultivators are making their own medicine—an act that is strictly forbidden by our government and yet impossible to stop, tax or control.  And within that shadowy realm, regular folks in ordinary neighborhoods are utilizing cannabis the exit drug as a substitute for toxic and addictive substances that wreck the lives of people from all walks of life—and still define the choices of big-screen characters.

While cannabis use in upscale neighborhoods is on the rise fast, the best place for storytellers to find truly dynamic, provocative, knowledgeable, and colorful characters is to visit with the sort of people found in films like Where the Heart Is (2000) and Winter’s Bones (2010). Think white, broke down, broken, addicted, violent, uneducated, and truly sad.

Unless of course they live in cannabis country, where that same demographic embodies passion, clarity, exploration, empowerment and enterprise.  In rural Maine, you can connect with such people at the summertime festivals in Starks, where many of them remember the old days when drunkenness and beating on things was just the way people got through the long winters.  Not anymore.  Local police in that state and in others have long understood the convenient connection between cannabis use and a reduction in alcohol-related crime, violence and stupid behavior.

In the process of learning how to treat themselves (often completely off the grid of Westernized medicine), rural medicinal pioneers have discovered that cannabis is a safe and versatile medicine they can grow in the basement and refine in the kitchen.  And since all that (scene-making) personal exploration can’t kill them, the valuable knowledge they are acquiring and sharing with trusted friends and family will eventually attract economic opportunity to regions of this country long assumed to be beyond hope.  Not over night, and probably not for decades, but absolutely.  And if it’s in our future, it ought to be in pictures.

Character, Color and Conflict

There are two major reasons why filmmakers ought to enrich their stories with medicinal cannabis themes.  For one, cannabis people and practices represent an untapped goldmine of color, conflict and progressive social realities.  The other reason is that since prohibition is a deeply installed war of words and images, bringing the truth to the big screen would be a massive advocacy win for a movement still defined by its love of binge-bonging festivals. 

Movies take us to places we’d like to be, and to worlds we could never go.  If believable big screen characters in excellent feature films were to use cannabis as medicine in the privacy of their own lives, mainstream understanding would rise in a Gore minute.

Cannabis prohibition is on the way out, and since the proof of that future shock can been found in private homes and lives across America, the truth ought to be evident on the big screen.  It’s not.  So while full and unfettered use of cannabis is sweeping the nation, particularly in states where home cultivation is permitted (or at least not busted), screen characters are still rolling fatties, filling bowls and smiling through the smoke. 

Cannabis is medicine; so use it.  Lights, camera, cannabis!

Root essay:  Lights, Camera, Cannabis!

Related essay:  Cannabis Country sketches for storytellers

Carl Hedberg is a guitar teacher and cannabis freedom writer living in Lafayette, Colorado.

1 comment:

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