According to the United Nations, nearly 160 million people around the world use marijuana, which accounts for more than 3.8% of the planet’s population. In the United States alone, 21 out of the 50 states have legalized cannabis, normalizing its use among people of all demographics. But many do not know the full scope of the legalization story, or the reality of what some proponents had to overcome, endure, and sacrifice in order to be where we are today.
On Thursday (June 29), American Pot Story: Oaksterdam made its debut at TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood as part of the Dances With Films Festival. The feature-length documentary chronicles the rollercoaster of marijuana reform, as a group of underdogs risked it all to fight for what they believe in: the power of cannabis.
Filmed over a decade, filmmakers Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus do an incredible job of showcasing the timeline of legalization from beginning to present. Both are of Israeli background, and have the support of the government by way of Consul General Dr. Hillel Newman, who was in attendance for the premiere.
“Cannabis is very developed in Israel,” said Newman. “One of the developers of cannabis for medical treatment is an Israeli. From there, it all evolved. He developed the basic product, that’s now the most prominent product for medical cannabis. That enabled cannabis to get involved and legalized. This movie follows the whole process of legalization, which is how you lobby an issue.”
It all started in Oakland, California, when a man named Richard Lee used his personal earnings to open up Oaksterdam University in 2006, a college that teaches and educates others about all things surrounding the plant: its botanical characteristics, effects, how to cultivate it, etc. Lee, who is paraplegic and restricted to movement in a wheelchair, found that cannabis provided better relief than most traditional medications.
Alongside Dale Sky Jones, whose husband Jeff Jones was working at Oaksterdam University, the mission to get Prop 19 on the ballot began, bringing a then-taboo topic to the mainstream and sparking the conversation on its social justice impact.
But while it seemed like they were on an upwards trajectory, a federal raid would then strip them clean of all they had built over the years — demonstrating the ongoing battle among government leadership, some of whom still believe cannabis is as harmful as it fellow Schedule I controlled substances like heroin and other opiates.
“Following those devoted activists was an honor and a privilege and I learned a great lesson in civics from their journey,” Markus tells Los Angeles. “Sharing this journey tonight at a sold out theater was just the cherry on top. The massive turn out was beyond my wildest expectations and gave me hope that there’s an audience out there that wants to see this unknown part of this important history.”
Following the screening, Katzir and Markus took the stage alongside the Joneses and special guest Tommy Chong, who makes an appearance in the film. “Well, I knew about Oaksterdam, but I didn’t know the genesis of it, how it started,” said Chong. “This movie just blew me away. Everything we’re doing is ordained. We’re part of a huge movement, to the point where we were picked. We were all chosen. We all hear voices. My computer talks to me. Siri actually said, ‘Why don’t you tell me what you want to type? and I’ll type it for you.’ So everything is ordained, you can see in the movie. We got the forces behind you.”
At the end of the day, American Pot Story: Oaksterdam illuminates the power of the activist, no matter what the cause is. It emphasizes the importance of community, advocacy, and activism in order to push for change in this country.
For more information on the film, visit its website.