Even though New York City is still waiting for legal cannabis sales to become a reality, black market delivery services have been happily delivering quality bud for over fifty years. But even though every stoner living in the city surely knows the number of at least one delivery service today, only a few know the backstory of the city’s very first delivery service.
That’s all about to change this week. As part of its roundup of short films this year, the Tribeca Film Festival is premiering The Pope of Dope: The Story of NYC’s First Delivery Service. This new documentary, produced by newly-launched cannabis brand Foxy and modern-day weed delivery service Eaze, recounts the tale of Mickey Cesar, a gay Jewish man who dreamed up a whole new way to sell weed in 1970s New York.
“For our first documentary, it was important to recognize the man and the delivery service that paved the way for today’s cannabis industry,” said Nico Dios, co-founder of Foxy, in a statement. “As Eaze is the pioneer for compliant delivery service today, we can think of no better partner with whom to tell the story of the first delivery model.”
After spending a few years selling weed in Amsterdam, Mickey Cesar moved to NYC in 1979 and set up his own pot business in the East Village. But instead of having buyers come to him, Cesar decided to bring the weed to the people. All a customer needed to do was call “1-800-WANT-POT” and a bike courier would bring them as much weed as they could smoke. This business model is commonplace today, but at the time, it was completely unique.
In its heyday, Cesar’s business had as many as 6 dispatchers working around the clock and was selling $30,000 worth of weed every weekend. Cesar even went so far as to advertise his service on the Howard Stern show, but the spotlight drew the attention of the NYPD, who arrested Cesar and shut his business down.
Cesar wasn’t just in it for the money, though. Throughout the AIDS crisis, he donated free weed and rent-free living space to people who were struggling to survive. And even though he ended up getting shot 5 times by rival drug dealers and arrested for weed on countless occasions, he continued advocating for legalization until his death in 1995.
This documentary is the first installment of a larger series that will “give tribute to the untold stories of cannabis and culture,” said Foxy co-founder Ryan Littman in a press release. “While we pride ourselves on our hand-grown, premium indoor flower, we are also eager to create media projects which connect with our consumers and provide cannabis education.”
Despite the prevalence of cannabis in popular culture, The Pope of Dope is only the second cannabis-focused movie to appear at the Tribeca Film Festival in recent years. In 2019, the festival premiered Waldo on Weed, a documentary about a Pennsylvania couple who used medical cannabis to help their child cope with a traumatic chemotherapy treatment.
The Pope of Dope is one of 5 short films that has been nominated for the coveted Tribeca X Award this year. The documentary is now airing at the Tribeca Film Festival, but for those who are unable to make it to an in-person screening, the film is also available to watch online.