Comedy 'Canadian Strain' Offers a Harsh Toke About the Other Side of Legalization
The first feature film to explore legalization in Canada illuminates the perspective of the ones who were left behind: the dealers
Published Mar 18, 2020Anne Banting is so much more than a weed dealer. She's a healer, a gardener, a friend and a businesswoman. She boasts a menagerie of loyal clientele whom she's helped through pain, anxiety, depression, life — you name it — by getting to know them and connecting them with the perfect strain.
She may be fictional, but Banting, played by 2018 TIFF Rising Star Jess Salgueiro (Workin' Moms, The Boys, Letterkenny), faces some very real obstacles when her business is taken over by the biggest gangsters in town: the government.
Written and directed by Geordie Sabbagh and produced by Ashleigh Rains, Canadian Strain follows Banting's struggle to adapt to a burgeoning industry buried in pounds of red tape. Sabbagh wanted the film to be told through the eyes of the ones left behind, so Banting represents a diverse community of advocates and entrepreneurs who fought tooth and nail for legalization, only to be left out in the cold when they succeeded.
One of the things that drew Salgueiro to the role of Anne Banting was her humanity. "Sometimes, as an actor, you read something in a character and you just think, 'I know this person,'" she says. "She has a certain reverence for the plant, and all she wants to do is help people." The film shines a light on the people who have been fighting for cannabis for so long, building relationships and community and respecting the plant for its sacred qualities.
And that's a universal story of loss, identity and hard work that anyone can relate to. "Legalization is really disorienting for [Anne]," Salgueiro says. "She loses the aspect of her job that is most rewarding to her — the connection with her clientele. As soon as it becomes commodified, those ties are severed and she's left wondering what comes next."
Even if the film doesn't exactly reflect life post-legalization — after all, filming happened in the summer of 2018, when the newly-elected Ford government scrapped the existing legalization plan, so cast and crew adapted — it still draws attention to the fact that important voices were left out of the conversation around legalization. Voices that have represented the illegal world for so long they're now ignored or forced underground.
"Regardless of whether the details match up, the film tells the story of the underdog," Salgueiro says.
One of her favourite scenes is when Anne visits City Hall asking for help, claiming the government stole her livelihood. The city employee responds, incredulously, with, "You want the government to help you transition from the illegal world to the legal one?" and tells her if she's not on probation, she's out of luck.
"That interaction is important, because there are a lot of people benefiting from cannabis who never took the risks with their life, safety and livelihood that people like Anne did." It represents an aspect of legalization that has largely been ignored, to the dismay of many long-time advocates.
Still, Salgueiro is excited for what this film means for cannabis content in Canadian entertainment. "These stories are all being lived as we speak, and people are still trying to figure out how to navigate this new post-prohibition world." She hopes that Canadian Strain paves the way for more people to tell stories about cannabis, whether through film, music, television, anything at all.
"Right now, a lot of Canadian actors, writers and filmmakers are trying to put more of a fingerprint on our work. I think this film is a beautiful way to do it that's also fun, interesting, and a little 'fuck the system.'" How appropriate.
Canadian Strain is available now on digital and on demand via Pacific Northwest Pictures.
(Pacific Northwest Pictures)