Canadian Strain Highlights the Dealer's Dilemma in the Legalization Age

By David Silverberg on January 9, 2019

What was the last film you saw that accurately portrayed the cannabis culture and didn’t veer into the easy stoner stereotypes Hollywood adores so deeply?

Does nothing come to mind?

Enter Canadian Strain, an upcoming indie film taking place in Toronto, where a dealer named Anne (Jess Salgueiro) navigates the heavy regulatory landscape of legalized recreational cannabis in Canada. Taking place post-legalization, Anne fights against policies that upend her entire business model.

“This is a story about an entrepreneur put out of her job by the competition—the government,” says the film’s writer-director, Geordie Sabbagh, in an interview alongside Salgueiro at a Toronto café. “Anne loves what she does, and she has to figure out how she’s still going to do it.

Canadian Strain will be the first film to probe how Canada’s Cannabis Act pits the feds against dealers who have been entrenched in the business for years. Fighting police raids is only one angle to showcase as cannabis customers are also turning away from the black market (albeit slowly) to get their buds and oils from stores or online.

“I think there is this incredible irony that people who fought for years to legalize marijuana are now watching as the government takes it all away from them,” says Sabbagh. 

Add to that challenge the struggle to be a female dealer in a male-dominated industry, and you get another layer of pressure. Playing that role was a liberating and educational experience for Salgueiro. She says she spoke to several dealers to learn about the added risks they take being part of a black market where “the likelihood of them getting ripped off is higher than if they were guys,” she adds. 

The writer and actor both wanted to steer clear of the usual cannabis movie clichés popularized by the film industry for decades.

“I love a show like High Maintenance,” Salgueiro shares, “where the main character is a dealer, sure, but the focus is on the people he interacts with who happen to smoke weed. It’s not their motivating characteristic, though.”

When Sabbagh screened segments of the film for some friends, “They were looking for those Cheech and Chong jokes, for that stoner comedy, but the themes in Canadian Strain are wider than just inside pot jokes. Anyone who has run a business and gone up against ‘the powers that be’ can relate to what Anne goes through.”

Shot in only nine days in August, Canadian Strain doesn’t yet have a theatrical release date, but it’s poised to screen at festivals in 2019, with a Canadian release at some point next year. For global viewers, the film will be available on platforms such as iTunes. 

Also starring in the film is Canadian comedy star Colin Mochrie, best known for his many years hamming it up on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

“He’s such a down-to-earth guy, so professional, too,” Salgueiro gushes, “and he really played up some of the Canadian stereotypes and humor we threw into the film.”

What she would like viewers to be left with once the credits roll is “an open mindedness on how our society and legal system determine who gets to operate in the business world.”

Sabbagh says he wants viewers to recognize how a film can show a “normalized view of cannabis consumers and how it can shed light on the opposite side of the legalization space few people are talking about. Everyone might be excited about legal weed, but it comes at a cost for those who helped make the industry what it is today.”

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