Christian Borys documents the last days of prohibition in Canada in “The Cannabis Complex”
Mayor Shawn Pankow of Smith Falls welcomed the Tweed marijuana factory as he would any pharmaceutical company.
“If Pfizer or Abbot or some pharmaceutical company wanted to come into town and open up something, of course, we would be totally supportive of that,” he tells Christian Borys in episode two of the compelling documentary “The Cannabis Complex.” Borys has put together a historical, first-draft document detailing the rise of the legal cannabis industry in Canada.
“It’s given us a global spotlight on our community,” Pankow continues, telling Borys how the Canopy Growth subsidiary became the centerpiece of Smith Falls’ revitalization.
The cannabis-industrial-complex is a cross-section of stock quotes and political battles, with the occasional fight for social justice thrown into the mix. But as Borys reminds viewers with his riveting documentary, whole swaths of Canadians have a part to play in this story as well as a dog in this fight.
Smith Falls grew up around a Hershey Chocolate plant, and, as many such towns do, when the plant closed, despair and desperation set upon the residents.
“This whole new industry comes in and just says we're going to set up shop here,” Borys told PotNetwork News recently, speaking over the phone. “We're going to infuse a whole bunch of cash. We're going to create jobs and everything and like from what I understand and what I saw it brought life back [to the] place.”
For American readers, Borys compared what’s happening in Canda to President Trump’s continued promises to bring back the coal industry in the U.S. — except in Canada the cannabis industry is delivering on its promises.
What that means, more than a growing cannabis industry is a stabilized sense of community. As Borys told PotNetwork News, residents of Smith Falls and towns like it are no longer forced to find refuge in cities like Toronto. There’s no need to move on to search for work, as cannabis has become the New Deal for The Great Recession.
“If you were on a really deep downward trajectory or just been downtrodden for a while and the cannabis companies are coming in and basically, like — maybe bringing it back to life is a little too dramatic. But like they're giving people a chance,” Borys said.
“China owns half the world patents on cannabis...”
Borys started his career at Shopify before becoming a world-class journalist in his own right, traveling across the globe to cover stories in Ukraine, Venezuela, Poland, and more. His work has been featured on the BBC, CBC, The Guardian, Washington Post, and Al Jazeera, to name a few. At one point, he was the Executive Producer of an English program at a Ukrainian media startup that ended up becoming its own national channel called Hromadske.
Now, he owns his own press company, where he does commercials, branded documentaries, and the like.
When it comes to weed his story is rather typical in many ways. A smoker at 16 years old, his Eastern European parents caught him one time and, in his own words, it was like the end of the world.
“It was akin to being their kid, like shooting heroin thinking that it was like the worst thing imaginable for them,” he told PotNetwork News.
But legal cannabis really caught Borys’ eye, and it became the impetus for “The Cannabis Complex,” a small idea now which he’s hoping to turn into a pitch for something more substantial, something in which Netflix or Amazon may find some interest.
“China owns half the world patents on cannabis,” said Borys. “I’d like dive into what that means for a 20 or 40-minute episode [that] would be incredible.”
“The Cannabis Complex” is more than just random stories and facts about the industry, however. It’s an opportunity for Borys to document the rise of the legal cannabis space, or, as he put it, the end of prohibition. A connoisseur of the medium, he immediately talked up the Ken Burns documentary “Prohibition,” the tale of America’s misguided attempt to force its citizens to become teetotalers.
Burns, of course, is the gold standard when it comes to documentary filmmaking. But for Borys, telling the story of the final days of cannabis prohibition has the added bonus of immediacy. Whereas Burns film came 100 years after-the-fact, Borys documentary can be filmed as it happens.
“That's kind of the whole point of that is just to put out content that helps people understand how legalization is growing around the world,” he said. “I think that there's a lot of people doing interesting things around the world.”
“...that it’s illegal is just ridiculous.”
About halfway through episode one of “The Cannabis Complex,” Christian Borys' failed attempts to secure medical marijuana through legal channels sends him to a black market shop in Canada. Without a proper script from a Licensed Producer in the country, he still manages to secure himself some product quickly.
“Although black market businesses are popular because they offer the easiest access point for cannabis, they’re frustrating for entrepreneurs who’ve invested to become part of the legal industry,” he narrates at the midway point of episode one.
According to Borys though, now that recreational cannabis is legal in Canada, he’s confident that things will change for the better. After all, this is an experiment, and it’s early days. As he told PotNetwork News, Canada has government-regulated alcohol, but consumers would be hard-pressed to find underground moonshine stores across the provinces.
“I'm sure that the black market will always exist to an extent, but I think that as more options or more good options become available to consumers, they'll go to government-run or government-regulated stores and websites, and that's where they're going to get their product from,” he stated. “But it's just like, the infrastructure still being developed.”
“It's going to take some time,” he continued.
But make no mistake about it, Borys said, the dominoes are falling. And the documentary-maker in him noted that the reason those dominoes began to fall so fast was that both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the people of Canada realized one simple thing — that cannabis wasn’t going anywhere.
As the conversation turned to Canada specifically, and the country’s quick rise to the top of the cannabis food chain, Borys concluded that legalization became possible the citizenry smartly realized that cannabis was going nowhere — rather than fight the drug, it was time to embrace it.
“Trudeau made the decision and Canadians made the decision that [cannabis] existed,” Borys said, continuing the conversation over the phone. “We’re fine with having cannabis on the streets, being a legal thing like alcohol and cigarettes.”
He paused. “But it existed completely underground, and the government had no part in it, right? They obviously have no tax revenue coming in for that.”
And this is the story that “The Cannabis Complex” aims to tell, a first-hand account of when Canada chose to say cannabis exists and if the penalties for fighting against it aren't keeping anybody from doing it then just legalize it. Because those stories are so much more than the daily fluctuations in the share price of a given Licensed Producer or the next fight over a piece of legislation.
“It already exists in the black market, people can already get it,” Borys said, reflecting on the old way of thinking. “They always have been able to get it, that it’s illegal is just ridiculous.”
He continued: “I think that Canada making that move and saying hey we're going to build an actual commercial industry that meant that money just flooded into the market and that's why you have massive companies like super well-capitalized companies that are able to do incredible things… Canadian companies are everywhere now, and it's amazing how companies like Canopy and Aurora are opening places like Poland, which is where my parents are from, is now selling medical marijuana, and I never in my lifetime doubt that that was going to be possible because it's the future of this country.”
Borys paused for a moment again. “But people are opening their eyes and seeing that, hey there is therapeutic value to this.”