Spike Jonze’s Artful Short Film for MedMen Spotlights the ‘Unjust Criminalization’ of Cannabis

Jesse Williams stars in the 2-minute spot

MedMen shows George Washington's hemp farm in new short film starring Jesse Williams. MedMen
Headshot of Kristina Monllos

MedMen chronicles the history of cannabis—from George Washington’s hemp farm to stop-and-frisk to today’s growing marijuana market—in a new two-minute short film directed by Spike Jonze.

The company is aiming to “change the dialogue” and spur the “normalization for cannabis” with the film, which it views as a “statement” rather than an advertisement, explained MedMen CMO David Dancer.

“We had a desire to create a commercial with a profound message,” said Dancer. “Our core value is around ensuring that people can lead safe, happy, healthy lives with cannabis being a part of it. … Here we wanted to not only destigmatize and normalize but really, as you’ll see in the spot, highlight what has been unjust about the treatment of cannabis whether it is stop-and-frisk and unjust criminalization, whether it is this propaganda in Reefer Madness, quite frankly leading to the Schedule One classification of cannabis as a federally illegal substance sitting next to heroin.”

Jesse Williams, who co-wrote the film with Jonze, stars in the spot, which the company’s in-house creative team and creative shop Mekanism crafted. Dancer said it’s been in the works for roughly four months, adding that the company worked to make sure everyone involved with the spot had a tie to cannabis.

“The highly selective criminalization of one plant, with flagrantly harsher punishments for one community, must be acknowledged and left behind for something more reasonable, realistic and fair,” said Williams in a statement. “It’s pretty clear that Americans are ready to exist beyond a few inherited hypocrisies. We deserve the opportunity to make this right. We can do, and feel, better.”

The spot will air digitally and via “connected TV networks (including Bravo, CBS Sports Network, Oxygen, MSNBC, Lifetime and Food Network),” per a statement. There will also be more than “80 out-of-home assets and print ads (including national ad placements in Rolling Stone and US Weekly) Sirius XM, native integrations with Complex, podcasts and terrestrial radio, digital, pre-roll and programmatic ads.”

The spot will also air in movie theaters in California, Michigan and Nevada.

“When I read the premise about telling the story of the history of cannabis and our country, there was something that moved me about it,” said Jonze in a statement. “I apologize for using such a 2010’s word, but it felt healing to me. I didn’t know much about the specifics of the history, but as I learned about it, I felt like it was a story of a very dysfunctional couple. The relationship started in such a healthy place, with even our Founding Fathers having hemp farms, but it got so tragically messed up in the 80 years of prohibition that we couldn’t see straight.”

Jonze continued: “It was shocking to just sit in all the stories of so many people and so many lives that were unfairly hurt by the prohibition and the fear that was stoked by it, especially people of color. And it wasn’t just their lives, it was their families, too. And now we are starting to come out of it. …  I’ve never been into pot much or a huge advocate for legalization, but I’ve always supported it because it seemed absurd for the reasons we all know. And it always felt inevitable.”

With the film, MedMen is aiming to “make sure consumers know the truth of the history of the plant and the benefits of the plant” while also telling a story that reflects what it is seeing with consumers today.

“We’re seeing, with transactional behavior and data from our customers [that buying cannabis] is a part of their normal errand-running routine,” said Dancer. “They’re going to Whole Foods, getting groceries and then they’re stopping by MedMen.”

Bradford Young, who was the cinematographer for films like Arrival and Solo: A Star Wars Story, served as the director of photography.

As part of the campaign, Williams and Jonze will appear on the cover of MedMen’s magazine Ember.

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@KristinaMonllos kristina.monllos@adweek.com Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.