The cannabis showbiz industry has a new star—the District of Columbia.
A local production company is currently shooting a pilot for a new 30-minute comedy-drama web series called East Coast Grow. The plot will be centered around what is happening in the first city (OK, district) to legalize cannabis on the East Coast.
The six-month-old Aboveboard Productions and its principals, Amy Tasillo and Matt Doherty, are working toward a deadline of April 20, 2016 (get it?) to release the self-funded pilot.
“For the pilot and series, we will have a lot of scenes set throughout the northeast part of the city,” Tasillo said. “That’s because this is the part of town that we really want to feature, and also where a lot of the cannabis cultivation centers are in D.C.”
Stories for the planned 10-episode series will explore issues related to employment in the industry, such as why someone with a misdemeanor offense would not be allowed to work in a dispensary, to more far-reaching topics related to the odd duality of the district. While politics and business are a huge part of the district’s identity, the show will explore the local culture as well.
The stories will draw heavily from Doherty’s anecdotal accounts of his work in building one of the area’s first dispensaries and consulting for others.
The company has built a fictional dispensary set in a makeshift studio in the northeast part of the district, complete with prop cannabis plants. “We found a provider for those prop plants based in Laredo, Texas on Etsy,” Doherty said. “I actually tried to locate the person who did the prop design for the show Weeds, but they are no longer in business.”
The cast of five includes D.C.-area residents Devin Nikki Thomas, who will play Tia, a woman who left her job in corporate communications to manage the cultivation center. David Johnson will play Darrin, who works at the cultivation center but also hopes changing cannabis policies will help his community, and Joe McCaughtry will play Cody, a cultivation center employee.
Rounding out the cast is Theo Copeland as Mike, a character struggling with his criminal past as he tries to build a legitimate business, and Greg Crowe as Aldo, the dispensary owner who also promotes the growth of the industry in the district.
The series will employ some necessary political messaging, Tasillo said. “We want to have a delicate balance of that. We are going to have a more dramatic comedy approach where we can have those serious moments and create some serious discussion.”
Copeland said that he thinks all entertainment and art should have a political and social side. “Otherwise it’s just empty and vapid,” he said, “and this project has that.”
Thomas says that her character is a “fixer” who tries to help her brother who is incarcerated because of drug offenses. Much of her character is based on her own life in the district. “I was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and I have seen how things have changed over the past ten years—even over the past five years,” she said, “and right outside the door of this studio, for me, and people that look like me, there’s a reality that I can walk out right now and have some kind of adverse event, whether right or wrong. That is just the reality I face. I can’t forget that when I am in here, and my character is aware of that,” she said. “It’s about what’s right and what’s wrong, and how do we move forward.”
Johnson said that Thomas was right. “It’s just knowing a lot of what is going on and being a part of it,” he said, “and being a victim of it from time to time. That’s what feeds my character.”
Shooting a cannabis show in the district has had its challenges, Doherty said. “Getting permits has not been easy. We eventually got our permits for certain locations from the D.C. film office. We actually wanted them to be here, be a part of this production, and we wanted to put up their logo for the end-of-show credits, but they made the decision that the content was too questionable for them to support.”
Tasillo added that they have the whole first season mapped out, with the first two episodes fully scripted. “We want people in the cannabis community here to feel like they are fairly represented and that their stories are being told in a way that they are happy about and that are beneficial to them in the work that they do.”
As with all productions of this size about an important topic, passion for the work runs high. There is a modest production budget that supports a cast of five and a crew of half a dozen professionals.
This is a show with multi-layered messages about understanding not only how to navigate the tricky local cannabis business, but also about how citizens work within what is essentially an experiment in law enforcement, civil rights, and the will of the people.
“We hope people really begin to understand that D.C. is more than just a place of Capitol Hill and staffers and argumentation and stuff,” Doherty said. “We want people to recognize D.C. as a real city with people that live here with a real cultural base.”