Last Wednesday, May 29th, a special screening of Grass is Greener hosted by Minorities for Medical Marijuana (M4MM) at SoHo Playhouse continued the legacy of rewriting the building’s prohibition history. As Brian, the playhouse’s general manager, joked with the audience: “You could smell marijuana, but most importantly, you don’t.”
His quip was an allusion to the slow de-stigmatization of cannabis that is resulting from the work of groups like M4MM, as SoHo playhouse was part of New York City’s originally speakeasy during alcohol prohibition- Tammany Hall. Before an overview of Manhattan displayed an entire island covered in concrete, SoHo playhouse’s block was the final stronghold of urban life abutting the hemp fields that surrounded the city.
Now, Brian considers SoHo Playhouse a “weedeasy”, ushering in a new generation of those fighting cannabis prohibition and all of the destruction that it has wrought. At this event, by teaming up with M4MM, the playhouse continued its mission of “connecting Cannabis to the arts in a SoHo revival.”
After a light reception, attendees of the screening settled in to watch Grass is Greener, and no matter how many times an audience has seen the documentary, its impact never diminishes. Directed by MTV’s Fab 5 Freddy, this documentary tracks cannabis through jazz, rap, and hip hop to engage with the destruction wrought by the War on Drugs on communities of color.
The documentary’s star-studded lineup includes Snoop Dog, Damian Marley, Steven Hager of High Times, and B-Real of Cypress Hill all sharing the same message: cannabis should be legalized for countless reasons, but the most important is its ability to repair damage done to communities of color. Legislators, mothers, and stars alike detail the harrowing imprisonment of friends and family, victim to mandatory minimum sentencing for even carrying cannabis.
Reparations need to be made as cannabis legislation opens the door for legitimate profit in the industry: people of color should have forwarded licensing processes, records must be expunged, and the imprisonment of black and brown men for cannabis related “crimes” must end.
Following the screening, M4MM organized a panel of some of the most educated activists on reparations in the emerging cannabis industry. The evening’s hostess and M4MM CEO Roz McCarthy moderated the panel of Gia Morón of Women Grow, Leo Bridgewater, Alex Lleras from Weedmaps, and Fab 5 Freddy, himself.
Fab 5 Freddy discussed his involvement with the film and the devastating well of injustice behind cannabis prohibition, and now legislation. The information presented in Grass is Greener, he says, merely scratches the surface of the legislative attention, accessible context, and accurate portrayal of history that is necessary to begin to rectify the wrongs done, and still being committed, by the War on Drugs. He urged viewers to reach out to elected officials to really make a change.
The panel continued with contributions from all participants, especially Leo Bridgewater, about the misinformation spread about cannabis. He said: “The misinformation about this plant (cannabis), including hemp, is grossly below basic.” Not only does objective education begin in schools, but it must reach older generations as well. This education could begin the reparations necessary in the cannabis industry: “The facilitation of a massive, massive transfer of wealth”, to communities of color who could have legally been receiving that income for generations.
Gia Morón returned to the topic of SoHo Playhouse and the arts as a resource and a conduit. It is communities like these, participatory education like this, and documentaries like Grass is Greener that will allow cannabis to emerge from the speakeasy scene and promote healing and reparations in the communities of color that have been ravaged.
GRASS IS GREENER is now available to watch on Netflix. View it here.
Stay tuned for more on GRASS IS GREENER, Fab 5 Freddy, and innovations in the cannabis community in our upcoming print edition THE GREEN ISSUE: Sex, Plants & Rock ‘n’ Roll!
Annie Iezzi is a second-year student at Barnard College of Columbia University, studying English and Political Science and writing in her scarce (and cherished) free time.