California, specifically Northern California, is a sacred place in cannabis history. In the Emerald Triangle, generations of cannabis farmers risked severe legal consequences to grow and tend to the plant. And down in the Bay Area, activists risked the same to ensure AIDs patients had the comfort of cannabis medicine during the crisis of the 1980s-90s. Lady Buds is a documentary written and directed by Chris Russo alongside co-writer Tamara Maloney. The narrative follows six women with ties to those histories as they take on the challenge of bringing their legacy cannabis experience into the fold of the regulated cannabis industry.
The documentary shines a light on some of the history and struggle that led to cannabis legalization in California, both through a brief telling of that history and the current stories of some of the people who lived through it. As the film progresses, each optimistic thread begins to slowly unravel, showing the reality of what operating a regulated cannabis business looks like while the news reports on “The Green Rush.” After I streamed the documentary, I was left feeling forlorn and compassionate for the strong women who worked so hard to keep the spirit of the plant alive as it transitioned into a regulated substance in 2016.
I’m tangentially familiar with the world presented in Lady Buds after years of reporting on the industry and even more years of being steeped in budtender culture starting in Prop 215 San Francisco. When I was budtending in San Francisco, I’d love meeting farmers when they dropped off their turkey bags of new or beloved signature flavors to process and get on the shelves. They were mysterious by nature, and that’s one of the forms of survival that was adopted while growing during full prohibition. There is pushback from some legacy farmers and pillars in the Mendocino community because they know the negatives that follow with coming out of the shadows. But if they don’t try, their legacies will remain hidden as new players enter the space. As someone who has spent over a decade in the cannabis space, Lady Buds told stories that I expected, and in some cases that I’ve heard before. But I did feel reinvigorated to continue fighting for craft growers and small business owners in the space.
The film tells the stories of cannabis activist Felicia Carbajal, second-generation farmer Chiah Rodriques, Catholic school principal turned dispensary owner Sue Taylor, NYC restauranteur turned Humboldt farmer Karyn Wagner, and Bud Sisters Pearl Moon and Dr. Joyce Centofanti, who are pillars in their local cannabis community. Each woman is on a journey to preserve the cultural legacy within the industry, and challenges are presented from every turn. In one scene, Karyn Wagner is speaking to some OGs and patiently listening as they bastardize regulation and turn down the opportunity to brand and market their products. Meanwhile, Chiah Rodriques is helping other farmers reach wider audiences with Mendocino Generations. Viewers follow along with the Bud Sisters, Karyn Wagner, and Sue Taylor as they deal separately with time-wasting bureaucracy that keeps them out of operation for months upon years.
The way that the scenes of Mendocino and San Francisco played against poignant, sometimes heart-wrenching interviews is riveting. I loved each section of the documentary and the film is worthwhile for cannabis veterans, new cannabis entrepreneurs, and even people with no connection to the plant. It is a great telling of a modern-day tragedy, but luckily it isn’t the end for these activists, entrepreneurs, and farmers. The documentary is now streaming on Starz after taking home five awards while touring film festivals throughout North America.
Ganjapreneur recently interviewed Rodriques on a collective e-commerce offering from Mendocino growers which is bringing more legacy farmers into the regulated fold.
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