Evergreen: The Road to Legalization (First Run Features, NR)

film evergreen_75It is well done and well worth seeing if you have any interest in either pot or the political process.


film evergreen_500

Certain subjects just seem to push the irrationality button in Americans. Things that offer pleasure—like sex and drugs—are high on this list, particularly when the drugs in question are not commonly used by Congressmen and other “respectable” people. So tobacco and alcohol are legal, but the arguably much less dangerous marijuana remains prohibited. The result is that we spend a fortune and ruin countless people’s lives because, as adults, they choose to use, grow, or sell that particular substance, with the penalties falling disproportionately on black and brown people. In some states, even those dying of cancer are not allowed to seek legal relief by using marijuana, because God forbid that their days should be eased by a substance previously identified with “disreputable” groups such as Mexicans and jazz musicians.

Thanks to financial pressures (it costs a lot of money to arrest, try, and lock people up) and perhaps a rare bust of common sense, as well, a number of states have decriminalized marijuana possession, generally meaning that possession of a small amount is considered a misdemeanor and is subject only to a fine. Only two states, Colorado and Washington, have made marijuana use legal for the general public (i.e., for recreational rather than medical use).

Evergreen: The Road to Legalization, directed by Riley Morton, is the story of the Washington state campaign to legalize marijuana, achieved by the passage of I-502 (Washington Initiative 502) in November 2012. To be more specific, I-502 was approved by popular vote (by a whopping 56 percent for to 44 percent against) and allows adults age 21 and over to possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use without penalty. A tax was also imposed on marijuana, with the proceeds earmarked for healthcare, and prevention and treatment of drug abuse.

There’s nothing splashy or innovative about Evergreen: it’s a conventional and straightforward documentary, with the usual reliance on talking heads and archival footage of political events, but it is well done and well worth seeing if you have any interest in either pot or the political process. Excellent cinematography (four people are credited, with Morton listed as Director of Photography) and music (credited to John E. Low) keep it interesting without detracting from the essentially didactic thrust of the film, while liberal use of chyrons and title cards help viewers keep straight the chronology and the players.

I certainly learned a few things from watching this film. For one, travel writer Rick Steves was an early spokesperson for the campaign. For another, some of the opposition to I-502 was based on it not going far enough; for instance, it does not allow individuals to grow their own, and imposes DUI penalties for what some users (including medical marijuana patients) feel is an exceeding low blood level. In response, backers of the bill speak of sticking with legislation that will pass, rather than a law that would please everyone (a common conversation on other issues, as well, from healthcare reform to gay marriage). | Sarah Boslaugh

Evergreen: The Road to Legalization will be screened as part of the Webster University Film Series, July 25 through 27 at 7:30 p.m. in the Winifred Moore Auditorium (470 E. Lockwood, St. Louis, Mo. 63119). Tickets are $6 for the general public; $5 for seniors, Webster alumni, and students from other schools; $4 for Webster staff and faculty; and free for Webster students with proper I.D. Tickets are available from the cashier before each screening; to learn about other options, contact the Film Series office 314-246-7525. The Film Series can only accept cash or checks.

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