The ‘Bud Empire’ strikes back

The ‘Bud Empire’ strikes back

Canada made history this week when it became the first G7 nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

But the British Columbia weed industry has been thriving in the shadows for decades, notes Trish Dolman, producer and director of Bud Empire, a seven-part documentary series that premiered on HISTORY earlier this month.

“Marijuana has been an industry in BC for a long time, and if you speak to people in the Kootenays or the Okanagan, people put their kids through college with illegal pot,” says Dolman.

Bud Empire takes viewers behind the scenes of a BC pot shop as the industry prepares to move “out of the shadows of prohibition and into the light of legalization,” says Dolman.

The series follows pioneering pot shop owner Bob Kay as he sells weed to all manner of customers through Be Kind, Kelowna's original medical marijuana dispensary. “Bob gave us an all-access-pass, so that’s what you’re going to see in the series: a never-seen-before, behind-the-scenes, all-access look at the Canadian marijuana industry,” notes Dolman, who earlier this year won a Canadian Screen Award for Canada In A Day.

Bud Empire is not solely for cannabis connoisseurs, according to Dolman. “This is a new frontier, a new world, and you’re literally watching people make history as Canada becomes the first G7 nation to legalize marijuana,” says Dolman. “It’s historic.”

This ilk of historic documentary is par for the course for Dolman. “A lot of the documentary work that I have done over the span of my 25-year career focuses on characters who are living and working on the edge of legality,” says Dolman. Her many credits include Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson, about the controversial environmental activist.

In Kay, Dolman and Bud Empire executive producer Henry Less found “this extraordinarily colourful, intriguing, dynamic character who’s not afraid to live on that edge [of legality] because he’s very committed to the cannabis industry,” says Dolman. “He’s very committed to the patients he has at his dispensary and compassion club, but he’s also a very interesting family man.”

 Pioneering Kelowna pot shop owner Bob Kay. Contributed photo

Pioneering Kelowna pot shop owner Bob Kay. Contributed photo

Over the months she filmed at Be Kind in 2017, Dolman says she saw “a lot of pot coming in there. I’ve never been around that much pot in my life.”

She also observed the potential for rapid and massive growth, as attitudes change and businesses like Kay’s catapult into the mainstream.

“Cannabis is heavily stigmatized, but one hundred years ago, we had prohibition on alcohol in the United States,” says Dolman. “People change. Their attitudes change. Some of the wealthiest Canadian families made their money smuggling alcohol into the US. “

“I think this is a huge growth industry,” she adds. “I think people are going to make a lot of money. I think we’re going to have tourism that’s going to come in, and I think things will develop. I meet people all the time now who are getting hired by cannabis companies: accountants, graphic designers. It’s a growth industry. I can’t see it slowing down. I think the future is green.”

Bud Empire is produced by Screen Siren Pictures Inc. and HLP + Partners in association with Corus Entertainment’s HISTORY. Executive producers on the series are Trish Dolman and Henry Less. The series is written by Peter Waal, directed by Waal, Dolman, and Leia Hutchings, and narrated by Will Sasso (MADtv)

Bud Empire airs Tuesdays at 10pm on HISTORY. Watch past episodes online at http://www.history.ca/bud-empire/.

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