‘NOVA’ looks at cannabis; Telemundo launches ‘Malverde’

Rick's Reviews

Pedro Fernandez stars in the Telemundo production “Malverde: El Santo Patron.” (Photo courtesy of Telemundo)

Questions surrounding cannabis have been growing like weeds since states have started to legalize it. “NOVA: The Cannabis Question,” scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Sept. 29 on Valley PBS, looks at the pros and cons as voters push for legalization in more and more states.

The examination addresses issues from two very different angels.

Sarah Holt – the writer/producer/director of the film – says, “You can’t talk about cannabis and not talk about racism. It’s amazing to me with the patchwork of laws that we have that someone can legally buy medical cannabis in one state and end up spending time in prison for having the same cannabis in another state.

“So it was a challenging film to weave together the science stories and some of the social issues, but I think it makes a much richer film.”

Cannabis is growing into a multi-billion-dollar industry as it moves out of the shadow of the illicit market and into newly legalized mainstream commerce. Increasingly eaten, dabbed, vaped, and smoked, cannabis is on the rise and our nation is at a crossroads. Nearly 55 million Americans say they currently use it and yet there’s been little scientific investigation of the plant in the U.S.

“The Cannabis Question” uncovers what scientists have discovered about the plant’s effects on the body and brain, including its potential risks and medicinal benefits, and the demonization and criminalization that has disproportionately harmed communities of color over several decades.

Dr. Yasmin Hurd is a neuroscientist and addiction expert based at Mount Sinai. She has seen how exposure to especially high concentrations of THC during development does impact on the trajectory of the normal developing brain.

 “In certain groups it exacerbates it to the point where it can induce really profound psychiatric disorders and even enhance their addiction vulnerability later in life,” Hurd adds. “So we still haven’t figured out why the developing brain is more sensitive to, for example, THC than the adult brain.

“But, the aberrant mechanisms that are induced by certain drugs, that’s one of the things that’s important for us to understand.”

In addition to examining the potential health benefits and risks posed by cannabis use, “NOVA” traces the history of the criminalization of cannabis – a massive public health disaster causing irreparable harm – starting in 1937 when the drug became illegal in the U.S. At the time, government officials tapped into the prejudice towards Mexican immigrants, demonizing the Mexican Spanish word for cannabis—“marijuana”—and claiming it caused violent and deviant sexual acts.

Kassandra Frederique, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, stresses the need for programs such as the one “NOVA” is doing.

“I think that cannabis regulation gives us a great reason and more motivation to really think about the way that we want to deal with complex human behavior,” Frederique says. “And something that I think PBS should continue to look at and NOVA should look at is the science associated with criminalization and policing, because this kind of targeted enforcement is having biological impacts on the communities that are being targeted.

“That is my pitch for us to really start looking at the health impacts of criminalization, because regardless of what we do, we could end the drug war tomorrow, we could legalize all drugs tomorrow, but policing will remain the same.”

“Malverde: El Santo Patrón,” 10 p.m. Sept. 28, Telemundo

The production, based on real events, centers around Jesus Malverde (Pedro Fernandez). one of the most controversial characters in Mexico over the past 150 years. The outlaw became a legendary figure and religious icon.

Much of the production deals with the real story but Karen Barroeta, Executive Producer/Executive Vice President, Telemundo Global Studios, admits there were some liberties taken.

“We did a lot of research into what Malverde meant for people and how his story is recorded in books and in the media. Obviously, we did bring a lot of fiction to it to make sure we had a story to tell,” Barroeta says. “But it was based on what he meant for people and how he lost his parents and how he became a legend.

“We did take a lot from what it was recorded in history, but we did give it a bit of fiction in terms of the people that were around him and how he fought for justice. In TV, we like to make magic and we brought some additional resources, elements and characters to make it more entertaining.”

Work on the project has gone on for six years. The fact the production is set in the early 1900s is a major move for the Spanish-language channel. This is the first period piece the network has ever produced.

 Telemundo can be seen in Bakersfield on KKEY, Channel 13.

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