With adult-use cannabis now legal in 22 states and Washington, DC, it’s hard to remember a time when federal agencies raided dispensaries in California to stop medical marijuana patients from accessing their medicine. But back in 2010, the threat was all too real.
“American Pot Story: Oaksterdam” chronicles the journey undertaken by trailblazing cannabis advocates and concerned citizens at the heart of Oaksterdam University (OU). Award-winning filmmakers Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus spent a decade with OU Founder Richard Lee and Executive Chancellor Dale Sky Jones during their campaign efforts to get California’s Prop 19—a measure to legalize cannabis—on the ballot in California.
After becoming paraplegic and discovering cannabis provides him better relief than some traditional medications, in 2007 visionary businessman Lee founded OU, the country’s first cannabis school. His goal for the university was to provide students with a high-quality curriculum, with subjects ranging from cultivation to advocacy to business management. To this day, OU remains the most trusted and recognizable name in cannabis education.
Katzir and Markus were inspired to make the documentary one morning in early 2010 when it seemed the herb was on its way to being legalized. The film’s producer, Markus, says that she was initially reluctant about the topic, but her partner Katzir was determined to capture the revolution. He started researching cannabis and legalization, which led them to discover that drug policy fed the prison industrial complex.
“I realized the people in our film were fighting the good fight and that it was worthy of documenting,” Markus says.
The film shows the gritty reality of civil resistance and the lengths the feds would go to punish Oaksterdam University, its founder and its faculty. To quote former Attorney General Eric Holder from the film, “Even if voters legalize pot, the feds will ignore Prop 19.”
Despite heavy-handed fearmongering from federal agents, a deep passion for the plant united OU supporters and empowered them to rise up in the face of oppression to bring about a nationwide change in cannabis legalization. For Katzir, the most important thing for audiences to take away from the film is that change is possible, no matter how long it takes or the compromises you must make in the name of progress.
“Tiny progress opens the door to more progress,” Katzir says. “Especially at a time when it feels like in some areas we’re going backwards, it’s crucial to remember that when people come together, wonderful things can happen.”
“American Pot Story: Oaksterdam” debuted at Oaksterdam University’s 15th-anniversary celebration at Fox Theatre, Oakland, on September 24, 2022. Katzir and Markus went on to win the “Outstanding Film That Best Depicts The Spirit of Oakland” award at the sneak preview screening at the Oakland International Film Festival that same year. The film will have its world premiere at the prestigious Slamdance Film Festival in Utah in January 2023. Learn more at AmericanPotStory.com and social media channels @AmericanPotStory.
This story was originally published in issue 47 of the print edition of Cannabis Now.