The first images of “The Case for Pot” documentary “The Legend of 420” are a joke — World War II footage re-purposed as a narrator makes the case that Hitler lost the war in the haze of a a mellowing hashish addiction.
The second scene is a joke, too. We follow a “transporter” named Butterfly Jones as he hauls Hefty bags full of Humboldt County pot south to Los Angeles.
The rules of moving marijuana in a nation where not every state considers it legal?
“Have a buyer. Have a supplier. Don’t get popped.”
And how does one “not get popped?” “Don’t stand out,” he offers, donning a loud, striped poncho, fluffing his voluminous dreadlocks and hurtling down the highway in a late model Subaru with the “check engine” light glowing on the dash.
“Legend” may settle down into an assortment of “the thousands of uses” — medical and otherwise — of pot and hemp and tearful testimonials from users whose health medical marijuana has benefited (including rock star and cancer survivor Melissa Etheridge). But those serious notes are always followed by a laugh — stand-up comics doing “pot sets” at a San Francisco area club. And there’s humor even in its choice of (rare) contrary voices — comically shrill shills like Scott Chipman of something called “Citizens Against Legalization of Marijuana.”
Filmmaker/music biz insider Peter Spirer (the classic hip hop doc “Rhyme and Reason” was his) and his team interviewed everyone from Tommy Chong and Henry Rollins to NORML activists (National Organization for the Repeal of Marijuana Laws), High Times (a pot mag) employees and faculty at Oaksterdam U., the world’s first cannabis college — teaching how to grow it, how it may be used, etc., to a growing population of entrepreneurs breaking into the legal marijuana industry.
Cannabis-infused coffees and cannabis cuisine are explored, activists rattle off a few of the “400 maladies” pot usage can treat, a veterinarian marvels at how the active ingredient in hemp can be used in drugs to treat sick dogs (Canine cannabis!) without injurious side-effects, a Colorado legislator declares there’s no measurable downside to legalization and there’s brief discussion of America’s future as a Hemp Industrial Complex (it has many non medical or recreational uses, as a plant).
With rarely a discouraging word. The old straw man “gateway drug” is resurrected and swatted down, with ease. When several people say “Nobody ODs on pot,” or robs anyone to get that “next fix,” or sells his or her body on the street to afford an ounce or an eighth, it’s hard to argue that pot should be treated any differently than alcohol or cigarettes.
No, there are no real “experts” to talk about long-term use and its consequences — just jokes about users “forgetting to vote” when this comes up on the ballot in your state, or an un-ironic trip to a pot-friendly “art show” (think R. Crumb, only more pretentious).
Spirer & Co. may talk about “racist” drug laws and the ugly irony of a nation filled with people of color with police records relating to pot, while “the suits” (white folks with money) are the only ones getting finance to dive into the legal trade. The entire film is almost as white as the sheet one comic suggests pot-hating Attorney General Jeff Sessions wears in his off-duty hours.
Spirer must have lost the phone number of Pot’s Most Famous Musical Activist — Snoop Dogg.
And whitewashed or not, the entire affair is a piece of advocacy cinema, nothing more.
But that said, the documentary isn’t anything resembling an over-reach, trotting out stats, uses, compassionate arguments and “harmless” stances that have been around for decades, and never effectively refuted. It’s all as easy to swallow as a THC-infused brownie.
MPAA Rating: unrated, drug-use and profanity
Cast: Melissa Etheridge, Tommy Chong, Henry Rollins and Michael Des Barres
Credits: Directed by Peter Spirer, script by Andrews. An XLRator release.
Running Time: 1:27