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Ricki Lake discusses returning to Baltimore to speak at CSC East and her award-winning documentary, Weed the People.
For this installment of “Cannabis Crossroads,” I sat down with 2019 Cannabis Science Conference (CSC) East keynote speaker and television and film icon, Ricki Lake. We discussed how she feels about returning to Baltimore, Maryland to speak at CSC East and her new award-winning documentary, Weed the People, a ground-breaking film that follows five families who are looking for an alternative to treat their children’s cancer. The film documents their journey in utilizing cannabis as an option.
Ricki Lake has been a household name since 1988, when the world first met and fell in love with her character “Tracy Turnblad” in John Waters’ iconic film Hairspray. Her additional film and television credits are extensive. At age 24, Lake became one of the youngest daily talk show hosts in history with the debut of The Ricki Lake Show. Day after day, millions of viewers tuned in for more than a decade, chanting “Ricki! Ricki!” as she discussed contemporary and sometimes more serious issues with a myriad of guests and a live studio audience in New York City.
What some of you may not know is that Lake has cowritten two books, released a four-part DVD series, and served as executive producer on several documentaries. Lake’s award-winning, critically acclaimed documentary The Business of Being Born debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2017 and is often hailed as the “must see” film among mothers-to-be. Lake created this film with fellow filmmaker, Abby Epstein, who served as executive producer.
Lake and Epstein’s latest project, Weed the People, has already become widely popular since it’s premiere screening at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival in March 2018 and at other film festivals, such as the Nashville Film Festival in May 2018 where it received the “People’s Choice Award.” We are thrilled to have Lake and Epstein both joining us as speakers at our first east coast conference in Baltimore, Maryland April 8–10 and to be hosting a special screening of Weed the People on the evening of April 9th with a cast and filmmakers Q&A discussion to follow.
What inspired you to create Weed the People?
Ricki Lake: My husband, Christian Evans, is the reason and the catalyst for Weed the People. He passed away on February 11, 2017 but was researching cannabis for his own health issues, both physical and mental, back in 2011–2012. It was at that same time, we met a little girl who was suffering, which led us on a journey to explore integrative care for her that included cannabis oil. That was the start of Weed the People.
What was one of the most surprising things about cannabis that you learned during the process of filming Weed the People?
Lake: The most surprising thing I learned during the making of Weed the People is the hypocrisy with our own government. They hold a patent on this plant and at the same time say there is no medicinal value and it is a Schedule I drug. It makes no sense whatsoever.
There has already been great reception and praise around the film. Are you and Abby Epstein looking ahead to any other follow up projects that are also related to cannabis as a medicine?
Lake: Abby and I are always open to seeing where these projects go and what other stories need to be told. With The Business of Being Born, we ended up making a four-part educational series called More Business of Being Born, because there was so much interest and more information to share.
The CSC Events team is excited to have other participants of the film involved with the 2019 Cannabis Science Conference East, including Tracy, Josh, and Sophie Ryan. What has it been like getting to know these families on a personal level?
Lake: It has been wonderful getting to know the families personally over the course of the last six years. I am so grateful to all of them for entrusting us to tell their stories. My husband Christian was able to get especially close to Chico, Sophie, and little AJ. All of the families are incredibly brave and will undoubtedly help so many others by letting us document their journeys.
What has the response been from families that have seen the film that are also dealing with pediatric illnesses around the world?
Lake: The response from families with sick children has been overwhelming. They get how powerful a film like this is for their plight to help their loved ones. We must change the mind-set about this plant so that we create a new understanding that this plant has the ability to help pretty much any and all ailments out there. We have even had families with their extremely sick children show up at our screenings looking for help. They are desperate.
I know you were heavily involved in Baltimore-based projects early in your film career. What are you most looking forward to in returning to Baltimore as keynote speaker at the Cannabis Science Conference East and screen Weed the People for the local community?
Lake: I always look forward to coming back to Baltimore, it is my home away from home. I made five movies there all with John Waters, starting with Hairspray in 1988. I lived there for as much as four months at a time. I am so excited to share Weed the People with the community there.
Do you have any closing thoughts that you’d like to share with the Cannabis Science and Technology readers?
Lake: It is thrilling for me at this stage in my career to be doing work that is so important and in the case of this film, is literally saving children’s lives. My beloved husband, Christian, would be so proud to know that his initial interest in the powerful plant has sparked the making of this beautiful film. It is his legacy and it is an honor to share it at your event.
The National Pediatric Cancer Foundation (NPCF) reports that 1 in 285 children, or 43 children per day will be diagnosed with cancer and that cancer is the number one cause of death by disease among children (1). The NPCF also reports that only 4% of federal government cancer research funding goes to study pediatric cancer. Given these alarming pediatric cancer statistics and the lack of reliable, proven treatments, I believe many of us would also look at alternative treatments such as cannabis, especially with the ever-growing mountain of “anecdotal evidence” that we have seen year after year. The problem is that given cannabis’s Federal Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act, it is next to impossible to move forward with actual U.S.-based clinical research. Even if you can somehow get approved for a coveted U.S. Schedule I cannabis research license, there is currently only one source for obtaining federally approved cannabis for studies, which comes from the University of Mississippi using the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) archaic growing standards that have been outdated for decades.
It is great to see more and more celebrity influencers like Ricki Lake joining in our fight to normalize, legalize, and standardize cannabis, especially for medicinal purposes. I’m glad that I had the chance to sit down with her for this column. I hope that you’ll all consider attending Ricki Lake’s talk at the 2019 Cannabis Science Conference East in Baltimore, Maryland on April 8–10 and our Baltimore screening of Weed the People. We will also have multiple participants of the film speaking at the conference, including Tracy Ryan and Dr. Bonni Goldstein, a California-based pediatrician specializing in treating sick children with medical cannabis. For more information on Weed the People, please visit www.WeedThePeopleMovie.com and to learn more about the 2019 Cannabis Science Conference East, please visit www.CannabisScienceConference.com.
I’d like to close this column with a famous quote from Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” This quote really stands out to me, given the fact that cannabis prohibition in the U.S. was based on propaganda (Reefer Madness), misinformation, stigma, racism, and greed. We must work together to ensure that our future is fueled with facts, honesty, and equality. We the people of the United States must share our knowledge and experiences and come together to continue to make cannabis a first-line option for all Americans, including families dealing with pediatric illness.
Joshua Crossney is the columnist and editor of “Cannabis Crossroads” and a contributing editor to Cannabis Science and Technology magazine. Crossney is also the president and CEO of CSC Events. Direct correspondence to: firstname.lastname@example.org
J. Crossney, Cannabis Science and Technology2(1), 28-30 (2019).