Brookings debuts its first documentary-short on medical marijuana in DC

Brookings debuts its first documentary-short on medical marijuana in DC

For 100 years, Brookings has been known for its in-depth public policy research, primarily shared through reports, books, and events. This year, the Institution has added a new medium to its canon of work: narrative film.

On May 29, Brookings and Variety co-hosted the Washington, D.C. premiere of the Institution’s first documentary-short film, “The Life She Deserves.” The film is an intimate portrait of Virginia teenager Jennifer Collins and her family’s struggle to find a treatment to control her debilitating epilepsy and their fight to change medical marijuana laws. Following the screening of the film—a culmination of more than two years of work between Senior Fellow John Hudak and the Institution’s creative video team—John Hudak, Jennifer Collins, her mother and medical cannabis advocate Beth Collins, and George Burroughs, the film’s director, discussed the role of film in influencing policy and the current picture of state-level marijuana legalization and federal restrictions on the use and clinical research into medical cannabis. Ted Johnson, a senior editor at Variety, moderated the conversation.

Below are a few highlights from the discussion. Full event video and a transcript of the discussion at Brookings are available here.

Compelling personal stories can help drive policy change

In February 2018, Virginia’s General Assembly unanimously passed a bill to legalize cannabis oil for medical purposes. Beth Collins says that in this case the drumbeat of the stories of struggling families was key to passing the legislation. Collins thinks that if people are willing to listen, a personal narrative can help change minds.

Medical marijuana patients are facing obstacles in legal states

With high school graduation just a few weeks away, Jennifer Collins expands on a few of the challenges she is facing while looking to her future. She’s not only concerned about being arrested or failing a drug test; she’s concerned because she might not be able to have her medicine on campus at a university, even in a state where marijuana is legal.

Recreational use will not likely prevent passage of medical use laws

After “The Life She Deserves” was released on April 18 at a screening in Los Angeles, George Burroughs received several messages from former health care providers detailing how they, illegally, used medical marijuana to aid opioid-addicted patients. The stories made it clear to Burroughs that the drive to legalize recreational marijuana will unlikely obscure the medical benefits of cannabis.

Marijuana reform is driven by states but requires a federal government approach

John Hudak says marijuana reform is too complicated to be handled solely at the state level because it leaves a number of gaps and pitfalls, especially since interstate commerce is under the purview of the federal government. For example, state legislative proposals haven’t factored in patients’ choice of colleges or access for veterans at VA hospitals. Hudak thinks that because of the number of issues that would not be dealt with in the states, members of Congress are realizing that a federal solution is necessary.

“The Life She Deserves” is available to watch online at If you are interested in hosting a screening of the film in your area, please contact Tracy Viselli. Full event video and a transcript of the discussion at Brookings are available here.