By James Longshore
I catch the buzz at cannabis expos and events all over Europe and in North America. Everywhere I go–Barcelona, Milan, Prague, Toronto–it’s pretty much the same: focus on commerce and industry, and leave behind all that unpleasant prohibition business and forget it ever happened.
But what I saw in the UK was different, and it was a breath of fresh air. Brits are determined not to repeat the mistakes they’ve observed in countries like Canada, so as not to drive over–on either side of the road– the community that built this movement.
I attended London Cannabis Film Festival for the premiere of my new web series, “The Chronic Comedy Show”, which satirizes over 80 years of prohibition, and it was my first on-the-ground exposure to cannabis in the UK. I’ll tell you a little about who I met and what they had to say, and let you decide for yourself.
The debut edition of the London Cannabis Film Festival took place on Sunday, July 28th at a funky little neighborhood theatre and arts center called Rich Mix Shoreditch.
The LCFF was started by 3 whippin’ snappin’ young fellas who had chance meetings at UK cannabis events: Mark George, Conor Prentice and Francis Hall.
They all believe in the power of stories to change hearts and minds– especially Mark, who likes to tell the story of showing his mother a documentary about medicinal cannabis. She now uses CBD and cannabis-related products to treat a variety of ailments.
The boys all agreed that the movement needed a film festival and thusly they brought to the scene a well-curated social event for UK cannabis advocates and the cannabis curious alike.
The gang wanted the event to be not just a silly collection of stoners, but instead a well-informed, educational and entertaining day for any who attended. So besides the films, they invited some cannabis organizations and businesses to partake in the festivities, and it was a well-representative slice of UK cannabis.
The organizations present included We The Undersigned, who are currently petitioning the government for cannabis law reform. I spoke with representatives Phil Monk and Donne Edwards-Stuart. The organization argues that current cannabis regulation is incompatible with human rights laws.
Phil explained to me how the current system is based on lies and corruption, fueled by greed and using a media-set narrative. When he sent letters to the government outlining his patients’ rights and offering the olive branch, he received in return a letter warning him of the 14-year sentence for growing cannabis.
For a longer time than is really publicly known, Brits have been taking matters into their own hands at underground cannabis clubs. The clubs are often found in the basements of head shops. The proprietors repeatedly suffer long and disruptive legal battles and constant copsecution.
Chairman Greg De Hoedt shared the old tricks authorities are still using to demonize the movement, for example, focusing on the term “skunk” for cannabis and linking it to stabbings and Albanian gangs.
Greg quotes the number of cannabis users in the UK at 7.5 million and stresses the needs of patients, whom the government wants to manipulate in order to achieve its own regulation aims.
Besides advocate organizations, multi-nationals made their presence known. WeedMaps, a U.S. based company that likes to get in early in developing markets, sponsored the documentary program “The Drugs Don’t Work,” which focused on the opioid epidemic and how cannabis can help solve the problem. Weedmaps believes documentary film is an essential component of moving the cannabis industry forward.
But Weedmaps isn’t the only savvy, young group that sees the potential in the UK’s developing market. I spoke with Madi Grace of Mary Jane Club and Pablo Romero, CEO and co-founder of Kushtopia.
Madi believes that what’s missing in the rush to legalize and regulate a cannabis industry are discussions of human rights and expungement of previous records, which were mostly a built-in product of the prison system. That’s why she’s launching Mary Jane’s Club for high-minded stoner gals, starting with blogs and events that promote a socio-political awareness.
Pablo Romero of Kushtopia is a Spanish native who pointed out that yes, he could have stayed in his more cannabis-friendly home country. But he recognizes that the UK has a market that needs support and innovation for expansion, and he has decided to base his company here.
Kushtopia is an online cannabis community whose goals include raising awareness, connecting medical and recreational users across the globe and erasing stigma and prejudice.
A guest of honor was Mila Jensen, the legendary “Queen of Hash”. A documentary called “Mila’s Journey”, about her time as a young woman in India in the 70s and her return there 3 decades later, screened during the “Women In Weed” program.
The program was followed by a “Women In Weed” panel featuring parental activist and darling bud Callie Blackwell and of course, Mila herself, who is also the founder of the world-touring “Dab-A-Doo” festival.
“Women In Weed” also included the charming “Cheer Up, Charlie”, which could be described as “Nancy Botwin young and delivering weed in New York City”. This web series from Kara Grace Miller took home the “Best Short” award at the festival.
I felt “The Chronic Comedy Show” was in good company at the festival. Films from all over the world, from Uruguay to the U.S. to the U.K., screened and were well-received by the packed house. As noted by Callie, if anything, there weren’t enough British films.
Maybe next year. Or in some other country. The founders dream of expanding into satellite festivals around the world, from Canada to Romania; more news as it sparks.
The day ended on an important note: hemp. This festival aims to celebrate all the beneficial elements of the plant, so the founders organized a panel with members of the British Hemp Association. Farmers explained the barriers and obstacles the government employs to block efficient hemp cultivation, regulations so ridiculous they seem to ignore the laws of time, space and climate.
I enjoyed Kirck Allen of Amberstalk’s comparison: “Hemp and marijuana are like lemons and oranges–they’re both fruits but not the same crop.” Amberstalk manufactures premium hemp seed oil and plans to branch out.
One thing the United Canndom has in common with every other country? It’s got a long way to go. First, and this is a common complaint I heard, all the infighting in the movement has to stop. Teammates need to start focusing on the bigger picture instead of their own micro demographic and just free the plant!
In the end, I agree with Simpa Carter, , who was on a panel about cannabis in pop culture that quickly morphed into a discussion about the stoner image. As long as the reefer madness image and discrediting and segregation of the cannabis consumer continues, the authorities can continue setting policies that enable stealing our money and restricting our rights.
The canna crusaders in London don’t intend to let that happen.
James Longshore is an actor-writer-comedian. “The Chronic Comedy Show” will have its U.S. Premiere at Cannabus Culture Film Festival in Miami, FL. SEPT 28th. He also writes the internationally published comic book “James Bong: Cannabis Crusader”.