What Documentarian Trish Dolman Learned From Eight Months in a Dispensary

Director and producer Trish Dolman specializes in making heroes out of outlaws. Take the radical environmental activist Paul Watson, who she shadowed for 10 years for her documentary Eco-Pirate, or the protagonist of the Sook Yin Lee-directed comedy Year of the Carnivore, which Dolman produced, who sets out to become a better lover by having lots and lots of sex.

The Canada In A Day director continues her commitment to telling outsider stories withBud Empire. The reality show, which premiered on History Canada on Tuesday, follows Bob Kay and his family as they run Kelowna, B.C.-based dispensary Be Kind. As a small-business owner, Kay faces pressure both from the government, navigating the tricky and evolving laws around pot distribution, and from corporate interests as they maneuver into leadership positions within the cannabis industry that could ultimately force people like Kay out of business. On the phone from her home city of Vancouver, Dolman spoke about how spending eight months at Kay’s Be Kind dispensary changed the way she thought about marijuana.

Canada is the first G8 nation to legalize marijuana federally, and that is going to be a very big social change. I thought it would be really interesting to watch the cannabis industry emerge out of the shadow of prohibition and into the light of legalization.

Rather than do a generalist documentary on the state of cannabis and the legalization of marijuana it’s always good to focus on compelling characters. Bob is a maverick and is someone who is making history. Bob was willing to give us an all-access, behind-the-scenes look at his work and his life. Documentaries are all about access and he gave us unprecedented access to everything he was doing. I have never seen that much marijuana in my life. Sometimes when they would be sorting it, the office would just be full of so much pot. Bob is dumping duffel bags of marijuana out.

I found it a fascinating educational journey for myself to see how people are using cannabis. Sometimes the results are really extraordinary. I think it’s really good for [an audience] to see everyday people coming in off the street, sometimes with trepidation, into Bob’s Be Kind dispensary.

Often they are at the end of the road in their medical treatment. They’ve tried prescription drugs and conventional medicine. Maybe they are on a prescription of opiate-based painkillers and they can’t stand it. They don’t like the side effects, they don’t like that they’re addictive. You saw in episode one there was an elderly couple that came in. She had been in chronic pain for years. She was really afraid. She didn’t want to get stoned. People have ideas and concerns about that and fear about losing control. She was really at the end of her rope. She called them back the next day and said for the first time in three years she slept until four in the morning. Did they think that she could take just a little bit more and see if she could sleep through the night? They’re like, yeah!

One of the challenges with cannabis is there have been so few studies, right? So what you find is a lot of people go to their doctors and hear, I can’t recommend it, there’s no study. But then you hear all this anecdotal evidence of people having huge success with insomnia, pain, depression, anxiety, neurological disorders, cancer.

People end up turning to it often as a last resort. That is something that I hope will change with legalization. Education and scientific studies will be extended so that maybe it’s not a last resort. Maybe they don’t have to get addicted to opiate-based pain medication if they can start with cannabis instead.

Currently I don’t use marijuana myself. I have in my life. But I found at a certain age it wasn’t right for me. But I am a passionate advocate for freedom of expression and for plant-based medicine. I think we are at a stage in our society where we are looking at whether the criminalization of drugs is serving us as a society. Certainly people do not need to do time in prison for cannabis. We allow alcohol and people riot. You don’t have pot riots. We have all these 420 events and the biggest complaint people have is over the grass [getting disturbed].

I have encountered people who have felt like they rely on [marijuana] too much. Everyone has their own journey. But I think alcohol has a way higher cost to society. As I age, I see way more people struggling with alcoholism and no one complaining about a pot addiction. I just think the time has come. We need to keep evolving as human beings and our society needs to keep evolving. The future’s green.

Bud Empire airs Tuesdays at 10 pm ET/7 pm PT History Canada.