A Popular Plant Is Quietly Spreading Across TV Screens

By chillinwill · Sep 15, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    Tips for cultivating marijuana. Testimonials by patients about its medical benefits. Cannabis cooking lessons. Even citations for award-winning strains of pot. Viewers here can now watch, every week, what amounts to a pro-weed news program.

    Booted off one skittish TV station but quickly picked up by another, the low-budget “Cannabis Planet” show is televised evidence of how entrenched marijuana has become in California’s cultural firmament and a potent example of the way the pot subculture has been edging into the national mainstream.

    “We’re trying to show the legitimacy of this plant,” said Brad Lane, the executive producer of the half-hour program.

    Mr. Lane pays for the twice-weekly air time on the independent station KJLA — Thursday and Saturday nights at 11:30, sandwiched between “Bikini Beach” and “Jewelry Central” — and says he is now breaking even, almost two months after the show’s premiere. “Cannabis Planet” focuses on medical, agricultural and industrial uses of the hemp plant, purposely ignoring marijuana’s recreational aspects. Viewers, for instance, see very little actual smoking, even though the hosts and producers are known to inhale between takes. “We’re walking on eggshells here, to be honest,” Mr. Lane said.

    Still, “Cannabis Planet” remains on the air — with not a single complaint from viewers, according to the station.

    Marijuana use has been depicted in the media for decades, though its presence has waxed and waned over the decades, from Cheech & Chong’s comedy albums and films in the late 1970s and early ’80s through more recent pot-centric efforts like Dave Chappelle’s “Half-Baked” and Seth Rogen’s “Pineapple Express.” On television, though, it has rarely risen above the level of a plot device or punch line — until recently.

    Medical marijuana is now legal in 14 states, and the lobbying organization Norml says efforts to legalize it are under way in 15 other states. Marijuana use remains illegal under federal law, but in a break from prior policies, the Obama administration said in February that federal officials would stop raiding dispensaries of medical marijuana authorized under state law.

    Since then the number of dispensaries in California has surged in what some call a “green rush.”

    “It’s really blown up,” said Jay Peterson, a production executive at Original Productions, which is working with Blue Dream Media to create a reality show set at a pot collective, or distribution center, in Hollywood. The show, “Top Bud,” is envisioned as a cross between “LA Ink,” the TLC show produced by Original about a lively tattoo parlor, and “Weeds,” the Showtime hit drama about a dope-dealing mother of two.

    “While the drug is illegal in most states, the idea is to show that there’s a world somewhere where it’s legal, and where people are doing this,” Mr. Peterson said.

    The producers are now trying to sell “Top Bud” to networks. Mr. Peterson acknowledged there was some hesitancy at first but said his company already had “solid interest.”

    There are similar stirrings in the scripted TV world. On “Glee,” Fox’s new high school musical, one of the characters is a medical marijuana dealer. At the New York Television Festival next week one of the competing pilot projects seeking a TV network home will be “Rx,” a drama set in the medical marijuana world.

    A rash of recent news reports have documented the mainstreaming of pot, citing among other examples frequent drug references in the media and endorsements by a growing list of celebrities. This month Fortune magazine’s cover asks: “Is Pot Already Legal?” CNBC repeats its eight-month-old documentary about the pot business, “Marijuana Inc.,” at least once a week; it continues to be rated one of the channel’s most popular documentaries.

    Mr. Lane’s inspiration for “Cannabis Planet” came from a more practical place: he noticed an increasing number of ads in local newspapers for medical cannabis. “It was the only market segment that I saw growing,” he said during dinner at a faded Chinese restaurant on Pico Boulevard.

    Mr. Lane has produced on-demand TV shows about snowboarding and surfing for several years. Tired of what he called “the demonization of the cannabis plant,” he wanted to highlight pot’s uses as “fuel, fiber, food and medicine,” as he and his co-hosts often say. He first bought air time on KDOC, an independent station in Orange County, Calif., but in late July station officials apparently grew antsy about the subject matter. He recalled one employee telling him, “We’re a little concerned that the topic is too controversial,” and he was instructed to pull the advertising he had bought for the show. KDOC declined to comment.

    Mr. Lane promptly moved “Cannabis Planet” to KJLA, another independent station that reaches an estimated five million households in Southern California, which said it was happy to run the show, with a disclaimer about the content.

    A native Californian prone to statements like, "Did you know the War of 1812 was over hemp?," Mr. Lane said he had smoked pot since his sophomore year of college. He is now a medical marijuana user, he said, relying on the drug to curb attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

    “Cannabis Planet” is beginning to turn a profit, Mr. Lane said, because of a growing list of advertisers, including companies that sell nutritional supplements for growers and recommend doctors. Now he wants to syndicate the series, he said, and is in talks with stations in San Diego and Denver.

    Mr. Lane’s show joins “Cannabis Common Sense,” a weekly cable program in Oregon that started in the late 1990s and is produced by a hemp advocacy group.

    Calvina Fay, the executive director of Drug Free America Foundation, said a weekly TV show extolling marijuana as harmless contributes to inappropriate public perceptions of the drug. “They are putting people’s lives in danger as they promote a toxic, harmful weed to sick people and intentionally ignore the harms of it," she said, adding that the drug had been “linked to a plethora of health problems."

    Mr. Lane, strenuously disagreeing with the antidrug groups, says his show exists to spread facts about cannabis. That is why he will not present information about recreational uses of marijuana for now.

    “Unfortunately, it is still perceived as offensive by too many people,” he said.

    September 14, 2009
    NY Times

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  1. RoboCodeine7610
    I thought "Cannabis Planet" was not getting publicity or something like that and they shut it down...Is it back on air or what?
  2. chillinwill
    'Cannabis Planet' promotes all uses of pot

    Anyone who doubts the mainstreaming of the cannabis industry might want to skip "Letterman" and check out "Cannabis Planet." The weekly program, premiering in the Bay Area at midnight Friday on KOFY-TV, intends to promote the benefits of marijuana, but viewers shouldn't tune in expecting "KOFY and Bong Hits."

    "It's that stoner mentality we're trying to get away from," says creator and executive producer Brad Lane. "We're pro-recreational use, but we're not rubbing people's faces in it."

    The show is structured around a pair of cannabis news anchors (yes, one of them has dreadlocks) and a mashup of educational segments, such as cooking demonstrations for hemp smoothies and medicated chicken stir-fry, and cannabis cultivation tips with marijuana guru Ed Rosenthal.

    Lane pays KOFY to put "Cannabis Planet" on the air, like an infomercial, and generates revenue by running ads during the show for companies that produce grow lights, plant food and other products geared toward the cannabis industry. His operational philosophy is "Fuel, food, fiber, medicine," and he's bent on showing the public that medical marijuana isn't just for those with serious illnesses. He claims cannabis can alleviate everything from menstrual cramps to sleep disorders, and personally uses marijuana to curb attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, from which he's suffered since his days in Montessori school.

    "When other children laid down to take naps, I was instructed to go outside and run laps," he says. "But I'm lucky I have this energy because I work 18 hours a day producing this show. Wherever it says that cannabis is a motivation killer, I think I'm living proof that that's not true."
    Second season

    KJLA-TV, which reaches most of Southern California, first aired the Los Angeles-based show in July of last year and is now presenting season two to roughly 40,000 viewers each week. KOFY picked up "Cannabis Planet" after contacting KJLA-TV, whose executives vouched for Lane and said he hadn't brought them any trouble from the FCC. KOFY reviews all the show's content and reserves the right to pull it off the air in its entirety, but does not make edits or changes. The station is in for 26 episodes and will run a disclaimer each week, but Craig Coane, KOFY's president and general manager, isn't wringing his hands over the content.

    "We support 'Cannabis Planet's' right to educate and inform the public about medical marijuana," Coane says. The station will run promo ads for the show, but Coane won't predict how many people will tune in. "We don't know what to expect because it's unlike any other program I've seen."

    "Cannabis Planet" hits the Bay Area at a time when local medical marijuana advocates are divided over how best to push the agenda of full, statewide legalization. Richard Lee, founder of the pioneering cannabis college Oaksterdam University in Oakland is sponsoring an initiative to tax and regulate marijuana across the state. He recently turned in more than 700,000 signatures backing the measure to county voter registries, making its place on the forthcoming November ballot all but certain. Rallying political support for legalization during an election year, however, could be difficult, and some legalization advocates believe the new ballot measure is too restrictive.

    "It's going backwards," says Dennis Peron, who co-authored Prop 215 in 1996, legalizing medical marijuana in California. "If you're 18 to 21, you can't smoke. It's continuing prohibition passing itself off as legalization."

    Lee says that he would like a less restrictive measure but that right now it's "not politically feasible."

    Peron, who recently taped an interview for a forthcoming episode of "Cannabis Planet," calls marijuana the most important medicine in the world, "right up there with penicillin," and says more people need to start looking at it that way.

    "We've had 50 years of propaganda against marijuana," he says, "so it's good that there's a show."
    Fuels medical debate

    If viewers indeed tune in, "Cannabis Planet" will probably add fuel to the debate over the legitimacy of marijuana as medicine. Anti-drug activists like Calvina Fay, director of the Drug Free America Foundation in Florida, say the science behind medical marijuana is agenda-driven and based on anecdotal evidence.

    "When people are truly sick and dying, they deserve the best medicine, and marijuana has not shown to be that," she says.

    Fay, who is aware of the show but says she hasn't seen it, has criticized the promotion of medical marijuana on TV as dangerous and irresponsible. "If they're going to extol the virtues of marijuana as medicine, they have an obligation to show the harm of marijuana. It's been linked to schizophrenia and other problems. It's more cancer-causing than cigarettes."

    Peron dismisses such statements as "prohibitionist reefer madness," and Lee wonders why anti-drug groups aren't complaining about beer commercials that target young people during sports programming.

    Lane says Fay is welcome to appear on "Cannabis Planet" for an open debate, but she dismisses the invitation.

    "The foundation would not participate in it," she says. "I don't see it as a legitimate show, so it would be a waste of our time."

    Legitimacy, though, is exactly what Lane is striving for. Next month, "Cannabis Planet" is sponsoring a vehicle in NASCAR's K&N Series, where the first medical-cannabis car will race alongside cars sponsored by alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies.

    Key to Lane's goal of developing mainstream partnerships is making sure that every aspect of his show's production complies with state and local marijuana laws.

    "I don't have any legal concerns because I'm not doing anything illegal," he says. "But I'm sure law enforcement is looking at this show with some intrigue."

    Trey Bundy
    February 17, 2010
    San Francisco Chronicle
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