When Colorado first legalized recreational cannabis, legislatures and businesses from other states kept a close eye on the process.
Now that Illinois is the first state to include reparations into its legislation, legislatures and businesses from other states are keeping a close eye on the process.
Keeping a closer eye on the process are two Illinois filmmakers who are documenting the licensing process.
Directors and producers Risé Sanders-Weir and Andrea de Fraga are in the early (and delayed) filming stages of the project, which is described as, “Five teams of people—historically targeted by the War on Drugs—fight to make it in the legal cannabis industry, testing Illinois’ ﬁrst-in-the-nation law that promises equity to right the wrongs of the past.”
The project is tentatively titled Pot Policy.
Sanders-Weir and de Fraga are following several groups of social equity applicants from the time they are awarded licenses through their first year in business. In the accompanying cover photograph to the article, Sanders-Weir and Darryl Parham are filming Richard Park and Twista during a party over NBA All-Star weekend by for Pot Policy.
Sanders-Weir and de Fraga have met with and filmed many people involved in the process but do not know exactly whom they will follow for the documentary until the licenses are awarded mid-July or later.
Illinois is trying to ensure that communities historically impacted by the criminalization of cannabis have an opportunity to participate in the legal cannabis industry. In order to address the impact on those communities, the Pursuant to the Cannabis Regulation & Tax Act (“Act”), 410 ILCS 705, establishes a program for Social Equity Applicants (SEA) to encourage the participation of those who were disproportionately and negatively impacted by cannabis prohibition.
Each applicant was permitted to apply for up to 10 licenses, and 50 points out of a possible 250 were awarded to those who qualified for social equity status.
The documentary will take on a cinema vertié style of filmmaking with some added context.
“This means that we will follow the licensees as they build their businesses,” de Fraga said. “We will film their actions, but also do some interviews to reveal what they are thinking at each stage of the process. We will also interview experts from the worlds of state policy, the cannabis industry, and social justice/reform. It is important to us that the audience understands why it is important that the social equity applicants/licensees get extra support in the process of opening dispensaries from the state.”
The Covid-19 pandemic and processing issues already have delayed the SEA process and left many applicants holding on to their business while they waiting to see if they will be one of the 700 applicants to receive at least one of the 75 highly sought-after licenses.
“So much of America culture is built around the idea that everyone has a fair shot at the American Dream and that simply isn’t true,” de Fraga said. “Illinois acknowledged this in the way lawmakers designed the application process for dispensary licenses giving people who had been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs a leg up. As filmmakers, we are very interested in documenting this process and seeing if the outcome that Illinois wants (people of color succeeding in the marijuana industry) works. If it works in this industry how do we do the same in other industries?”
Sanders-Weir and de Fraga have worked together at Kartemquin films helping other filmmakers realize their vision, but have always kept a lookout for good story ideas that they would like to direct and produce. Kartemquin is a collaborative community that empowers documentary makers who create stories that foster a more engaged and just society.
“Carpooling every day through the west side of Chicago, we became very curious what would happen as recreational marijuana came into being,” de Fraga said. “We started researching the laws and attending meetings with various organizations and started meeting people who were applying for dispensaries. As we dug deeper, we became even more convinced that this is a story that needs to be told.”
The most interesting part of the preproduction and early filming for them has been the loopholes in the process.
“Even though SEAs have a better chance at a license, they still need to come up with a lot of capital,” de Fraga said. “We are very curious to see how this plays out over the first year of legal cannabis.”
The director/producers have been funding the project through in-kind donations from Kartemquin and other vendors willing to work for reduced rates. They also are actively applying for grants and seeking financing for the film.
As Director of Production and Post for Kartemquin Films, Sanders-Weir shepherded more than 10 films to completion. She has produced and directed documentaries for MSNBC, PBS, History, National Geographic, CNBC, A&E, and the Weather Channel. Her independent directorial debut documentary Gadget Girls was selected for the U.S. State Department’s American Film Showcase. Sanders was series producer on America to Me, for Steve James and Participant Media, which aired on STARZ and was named by the Hollywood Reporter as the best television series of 2018.
As Director of Finance and Operations for Kartemquin Films, de Fraga managed a staff of 15 and a slate of more than 10 films through to completion and has been working in documentary and film production for more than 15 years. She began her career as an associate producer and then post-production supervisor at Towers Productions, working on documentaries for A&E, History, National Geographic, TLC and many others. De Fraga then became its VP of Finance and was responsible for an annual revenue of more than 20 million dollars in production. She served as Controller for Cinespace Chicago Film Studios.
Brad Lichtenstein and Suzanne Jurva (371 Productions) are the Executive Producers and Mike Strautmanis is the Co-Producer of the project.
They would love to talk to more applicants. If anyone is interested in talking with them about participating in the film, please contact them at email@example.com.
For more information about when the licensing will be awarded, click here.