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There’s arguably no other festival in North America quite like Austin’s South by Southwest. Packing in live music showcases, film premieres, panels, and lectures — plus all the barbeque your stomach can fit — this multi-week hybrid event manages to deliver plenty of buzz about must-see movies and breakout bands each spring.

SXSW’s curated series of conversations and TED-style talks can serve a similar purpose. Tackling topics ranging from climate change to virtual reality, the 2022 edition of the festival also included a notable amount of programming devoted to the subject of cannabis. To a certain extent, it’s simply due diligence to offer cannabis content in a day and age when other festivals, like San Francisco’s Outside Lands, have already begun to offer on-site cannabis sales and consumption.

But to state the obvious: Texas is not California. Thus, the mere existence of substantial cannabis-related panels and talks in a place that remains one of only 13 states with “no effective medical cannabis law” and one of only 19 that “still impose jail time for simple possession of cannabis” is significant in and of itself. But even more exciting are the specifics of just what SXSW chose to pack into its proverbial pipe during its most recent edition.

Here are a few of the cannabis-related highlights and headlines from this year’s SXSW.

New Cannabis Doc from Cresco Labs Debuts at SXSW

The longest-serving non-violent offender in Michigan history, Michael Thompson was finally released from prison via a pardon from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in January 2021. By that point, he’d served 26 years of a 40- to 60-year sentence resulting from his arrest for selling cannabis to a close friend who turned out to actually be a confidential informant. A tragedy of justice and a stark reminder that issues of non-violent drug incarceration remain an urgent present-day issue, Thompson’s story is also the focus of a new documentary that premiered at the SXSW Film Festival this year.

Directed by Kyle Thrash and Haley Elizabeth Anderson, “The Sentence of Michael Thompson” now holds the distinction of being “the first social justice film financed by a cannabis brand to be included in the influential festival,” per Ad Week. Backed by multi-state operator Cresco Labs, the documentary spotlights Thompson’s long fight to earn his freedom while also painting a broader picture of the systemic issues plaguing our criminal justice system. Following three screenings at the SXSW Film Festival, future release plans and details on how the public can access the documentary are yet to be announced.

Beto O’Rourke Shares Cannabis ‘Secret’ During SXSW Panel

With his campaign for the presidency now firmly in the dust, Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke has turned his attention to his own backyard. Though the Austin American-Statesman notes that O’Rourke faces an “uphill battle” in his quest to unseat two-term Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, it appears O’Rourke sees the value of cannabis in turning out voters. Speaking with journalist Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune, O’Rourke shared some choice quotes at SXSW about the future of legal weed in the Lone Star State.

“I’ll let you in on a secret: Republicans like to get high just as much as Democrats,” O’Rourke quipped after sharing that, if elected governor of Texas, he would work to get cannabis legalized at the state level. It’s likely not a bluff either, given O’Rourke’s position on this topic has deep roots, including a book he co-authored in 2011 which argued for ending the federal prohibition on marijuana as a means of reducing drug-related violence. Though O’Rourke’s path to getting elected will be mighty tricky, Texans can expect to hear plenty more on the issue of cannabis legalization as November draws nearer.