Lady Buds Review: Cannabis, Meet Capitalism

Lady Buds rides the high of cannabis legalization by telling the stories of five women looking to make it in the bud biz.

5 mins read

The tagline on the poster for Lady Buds notes, “It’s always been about the female.” If you’re not acquainted with the anatomy of a marijuana plant (and to ruin the joke), it’s a nod to the fact that only female marijuana plants produce buds. While the doc clearly speaks to those in the know, it’s also a helpful introduction to the wild world of weed for a general audience.

The business of marijuana has been a blazing hot topic as legalization spreads across the continent. Lady Buds rides this high, documenting the hurdles of post-decriminalization weed-farming in the state of California. Lady Buds follows the women leading the way in this new era of cannabis cultivation as they jump through new government hoops to be verified to sell. Will they be able to cash in on the state’s weed-volution, or will their businesses go up in smoke?

Director Chris J. Russo’s debut film is an upbeat doc that introduces five women who have been sticking it to the man for years. Most of the ‘Lady Buds’ in the film were growing and selling weed long before decriminalization, but now they have to navigate a challenging system to be approved by the state. Big businesses crop up out of nowhere, threatening to eclipse small farmers before they’ve even gotten a fair shot.

The women featured in the film come from a variety of backgrounds, representing different communities and their historical ties to the cannabis industry. Sue Taylor is a retired school principal and Black businesswoman who believes in the healing power of cannabis. Felicia Carbajal is a Latinx queer activist who advocates for its medicinal qualities as well, mentioning how it was used to stimulate peoples’ appetites during the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s.

The other women – Chiah Rodriquez, Karyn Wagner, and The ‘Bud Sisters’ – also have personal stories and deep ties to this business. While these women are at the doc’s core, there are plenty of other faces from their cannabis-growing community. If anything, the film is less about the experience of growing cannabis as a woman and more a portrait of a tight-knit California community of growers going up against big companies.

A hit of Lady Buds might leave you hungry for more stories about women forging their own paths. While the doc shows women fighting to get their rightful claim to a booming industry, it has a bit of a girlboss aftertaste. When it comes down to it, it’s about the power of the money to be made off of a booming industry. To its credit, it has the power to transform the lives of the women in the film.

One of the most interesting storylines is Taylor’s journey to opening a dispensary in Berkeley at age 72. It is evident that her business is near and dear to her heart, as she is passionate about advocating for the use of cannabis for pain relief for the elderly. It is also heartening to see an older Black woman taking up space in the weed industry, after a history of Black communities being overrepresented in prisons on marijuana charges.

Lady Buds will satisfy those interested in keeping up with the cannabis industry as it evolves in America and across the globe. It’s a straightforward doc with an educational look inside the realities of surviving as a small weed business in California right now. While I wish there was a little more “Lady” and a little less “Bud,” it’s an insightful doc worth catching at Hot Docs 2021.

Lady Buds premiered at Hot Docs 2021.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.

Madeline Lines is a Montreal-based journalist and former editorial assistant at POV. Her work has been featured in Xtra Magazine, Cult MTL, The Toronto Star, and more.

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