“A compelling, provocative and enlightening glimpse into the complex and sometimes contrary world of cannabis legalization in the United States. All of the controversy, infighting and emotion that is inherent in democracy is included in this fast moving example of what it takes to exact reform under the iron fist of pot prohibition. Any serious reformer, cannabis enthusiast or student of history will want to take the time to view this historic time capsule of a film.” – Vivian McPeak, Seattle Hempfest
Seattle’s annual Hempfest is this weekend, August 14 thru 16. It’s an exciting time for Hempfest as history continues to be made on the road to one day fully bringing to an end the prohibition of cannabis in the United States. With that in mind, there’s a great documentary on the initiative that made recreational marijuana legal in Washington state.
EVERGREEN: THE ROAD TO LEGALIZATION is an essential documentary on the tangled road to legalized recreational marijuana in Washington state. We follow the key players and get an in depth look at the campaign for, and against, Washington Initiative 502 (I-502) “on marijuana reform,” an initiative to the Washington State Legislature, which appeared on the November 2012 general ballot.
Keep in mind that medical marijuana is a different issue. There are 23 states in the U.S. that have legalized it starting with California in 1996. Washington state legalized it in 1998. The distinction is all the more significant given that the push to legalize recreational marijuana would end up threatening the position of medical marijuana. This is where the conflict arises among folks who would seem to be on the same side. A great focus for the opposition to I-502 was its nearly zero tolerance provision regarding driving under the influence of marijuana. This placed medical marijuana users in a no-win situation no matter how well they might argue against it.
This is a lesson in politics as much as marijuana. In order to make this initiative palatable to the average voter, the creators of I-502 believed that sacrifices and compromises had to be offered up. What the documentary makes clear in various segments is that the I-502 machine was geared to be the best possible chance to pass reform. This means victories by increments. And it also means making a case that will appeal to the widest audience.
Now with the stage set, there are three main figures that keep this political drama interestng. On the I-502 side, we have two charismatic leaders: Alison Holcomb who represents the legal work behind crafting the intiative; and Rick Steves who helps the campaign by taking from his capital as a well-known travel expert and allows himself to be the face of I-502. If the opposition had a face, it was definitely that of John McKay, a longtime advocate of medical marijuana.
We find Mckay is a somewhat disagreeable personality but consistent and quite reasonable. What he has is an authentic connection to the subject. Both Holcomb and Steves make no bones about not being cannabis users. Only in a documentary like this do you have the luxury of being able to scrutinize that disconnect. In one segment, we see Steves playing to a conservative crowd in Eastern Washington. He caters to their prejudices by saying in a mocking way, “Hey, if I want to hit my bong and stare at the fireplace for the next three hours, that’s my right.” This gets hearty applause. The damage continues to be done in regards to any real education on marijuana. However, a number of vital votes may have been won that night.
We see Holcomb in another segment in a similar mocking way suggesting she should create a marijuana leaf design on the top of her latte. If she knew anything about marijuana, she would have been able to speak to marijuana’s sativa strain being a great alternative to caffeine. No, instead, the lattes she regularly consumes are quad shots with considerably jittery results as opposed to the clean and non-jittery high of cannabis.
And so it goes, we find that the I-502 supporters are not there to fully embrace weed. But that is, oddly enough, perhaps all for the best to get things done. The motivation for change is simple and compelling: the tragic number of people in jail for simply possessing small amounts of marijuana. And these numbers are significantly African-American. I-502 would prove to be a less than perfect solution. But, after it won voter approval, it immediately helped in changing how we make criminals, and ruin the lives, of many people. Prior to the effective date for the new referendum, 220 marijuana cases were dismissed in King and Pierce counties. No one can argue with that kind of progress. However, the imperfections and compromises of I-502 will lead to the end of medical marijuana dispensaries by 2016. Not a small price to pay for the sake of progress.
How do you stand on the issue of marijuana? This documentary will help in getting a better sense of the legal fight still ahead. For now, we can take some solace on progress being made. I will provide you with coverage of this year’s Seattle Hempfest. So, come back for that and a whole lot more. After viewing this documentary, it adds to the enthusiasm to witness and be part of the social change all around us here in Seattle.
EVERGREEN: THE ROAD TO LEGALIZATION is available now on DVD with plenty of bonus material including a resource guide for helping support the fight for marijuana’s legitimacy. Go to the official website right here.