Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of medical marijuana for such conditions as chronic pain, epilepsy, nausea and anxiety. But medical cannabis advocates like filmmaker Abby Epstein and actress/producer/talk show host Ricki Lake maintain that politics and propaganda are preventing children with cancer from benefiting from the psychoactive drug’s potentially life-saving properties.

Their new documentary, “Weed the People,” follows five families that — convinced of the efficacy of medical cannabis to shrink their children’s tumors — circumvent regulatory obstacles to treat their children with cannabis oils and achieve positive results.

Epstein and Lake also collaborated on “The Business of Being Born,” an award-winning 2008 documentary that looked at the experience of childbirth in the United States.

The filmmakers will be in Charm City to screen “Weed the People” at the fourth annual Cannabis Science Conference at the Baltimore Convention Center from April 8-10. With more than 75 expert presenters, the conference is being billed as the world’s largest and most technical scientific cannabis event.

Jmore recently spoke with Epstein, 48, about the documentary and gathering.

How did you and Ricki Lake get involved with this film?

About six or seven years ago, Ricki was on ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ She had a little fan who was going through chemo. This little girl was really into Ricki and she was really cute. At the time, Ricki’s late husband had been researching cannabis for his grandfather’s bone cancer and his own pain issues.

So Ricki put two and two together and thought maybe cannabis could help the little girl. [The child] had NF1 [Neurofibromatosis type I] — tumors start growing all over the nervous system. There’s always chemo with this and the chemo was killing her.

One day, Ricki called me from the airport. ‘You’re not going to believe this,’ she said. ‘We’re about to get on a plane [with the little girl and her family] to see a [cannabis] doctor in Mendocino [Calif.].’ I thought, ‘This sounds like a movie. I’m not sure, but it could be.’ So we just dove in and started filming.

As mothers, what was it like for both of you to make this film?

It was really tough, especially not having any idea how [the children] would do. The mothers in the film really blew me away. I couldn’t believe their strength. All of them went to such great lengths for their children. …

It was so inspiring and incredible to watch, and also hard on a filmmaker because you get close to the families and don’t know what will happen to the children. The good news was we were giving them hope and allowing them to do more for the kids.

One child in the film died. What was different about his cannabis treatment?

He was the only kid in the film who had terminal cancer. He had a type of tumor that is rarely survived. We took him on knowing this would be a story of hope and quality of life. He was able to get off steroids and other medications. Unfortunately, the family lived in Illinois where medical cannabis is not legal. So they had to find angels from California to ship them cannabis.

'Weed the People'
A scene from “Weed the People” (Handout photo)

Did the children who got
THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol, experience a traditional marijuana high?

Kids have endocannabinoid systems [molecular systems that keep in balance such functions as digestion, sleep, reproduction, fertility, appetite, moods and inflammation] that are still developing, and they can tolerate higher levels of THC. But remember, a kid like A.J. [a teen in the film] was taking huge amounts of OxyContin and was already high as a kite. Sophie [an infant in the film] just got sleepy.

The reaction about kids being high is just stupid and goes back to a puritanical stigma. Cannabis could replace opiates as the go-to pain reliever.

It seems like the children in the film are all on maintenance doses of cannabis. Will this go on indefinitely?

I don’t think the parents will ever take these kids off cannabis. We’re finding really great preventative effects with just three drops of CBD [Cannabidiol] daily.

Marijuana is still a Schedule 1 narcotic. Why hasn’t it been de-scheduled so more testing can occur?

The prohibition [against cannabis] is very deep. It has political, economic and racial roots. Big Pharma, opiate makers have tried to block cannabis. There’s a real revolving door between the FDA [the U.S. Food and Drug Administration] and Big Pharma. The government has to figure out how they’re going to control and profit from it in some way.

What’s going to happen at the Cannabis Science Conference? 

It’s one of the top conferences in the world to bring international experts together to compare data and research.

'Weed the People'
A scene from “Weed the People” (Handout photo)

Ricki and I are going to screen the film on April 9, and we’ll do a talk about how the landscape of cannabis has changed since we started making the film about six years ago. When we went to the first cannabis conference in 2012 and 2013, everyone was a hippie. The hallways reeked of pot. A few doctors and scientists were there. Now, we just screened the film in London for Parliament. The cannabis movement used to be driven by activists, [but] now it’s a business. It’s evolved.

What can be done to promote medical cannabis?

A lot of it is just education. Movies like ours open people’s minds to the fact that this is powerful medicine.

We have to change our relationship to this plant. It’s a slow cultural shift. Go to iTunes, Amazon and rent the movie. If it moves you, tell people. It’s been hard for us to get the word out because we’re pretty heavily censored on social media.

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