Film Review: ‘How Weed Won The West’


Graphic: How Weed Won The West

​Is How Weed Won The West an entertaining film? Yes, absolutely. You won’t get bored watching it.

The film takes a compelling look at California’s Emerald Triangle, one of the major marijuana production areas in the world, and looks at the scene in dispensary-heavy Los Angeles, where things are in flux just before what looks to be a major crackdown on the horizon.
Additionally, the jack-booted tactics of San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis are rightly called to task.
Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, certainly one of the most intelligent and articulate spokesman for drug reform policy in the United States, thankfully gets plenty of screen time, along with Don Duncan of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and cultivation legend and multiple Cannabis Cup winner Bret Bogue.
And yeah, to be honest it was a thrill to see one of my SF Weekly “Chronic City” articles during the film, sharing the screen with Alex Jones.

But is it, on balance, a valuable film for the movement? That depends.

​Director Kevin Booth’s just-released documentary, which follows up his earlier American Drug War, serves to highlight the tensions that exist between the medical and recreational communities — unfortunately, by exacerbating them.
“This is the story of the people who probably wouldn’t die if you took their weed away,” Booth says in the film. In other words, it’s mostly about recreational users — and there’s nothing in the world wrong with that.
There is, however, something wrong with making moronic and unsupportable statements, especially when you make them as if you are speaking for the marijuana community as a whole.
Near the end of the film, Booth says “Most critics would say that everyone is simply medicating for recreational use, and anyone being honest would have to agree.”
That’s a really, really dumb thing to say, damn near inexcusable, especially coming from someone who apparently fibbed his own way into a medical marijuana card — not so hard to do in California — and then, hubristically extrapolates that to everyone else with a medical authorization.
It sounds particularly hollow and cruel to medical patients who genuinely need cannabis to help them deal with terminal and debilitating illnesses like cancer, AIDs, and multiple sclerosis, of which there are plenty, even in California.
It sounds even worse when you live in, say, Washington or Oregon, where patients have struggled for years against exactly the kind of uninformed, my-experience-applies-to-everyone snap judgments of the kind unfortunately made by Booth. (By the way, despite its title, make no mistake about it: this film is really about How Weed Won California; it really has nothing at all to say about Oregon or Washington).
At any rate, to work for years to establish the legitimacy of medical marijuana, and the genuine needs of seriously ill patients, then to see that hard work damaged by some guy talking out his ass and getting it completely wrong, is very frustrating — especially when this kind of nonsense happens in a film that purports to be pro-marijuana.

One doesn’t have to deny the legitimacy of medical marijuana patients in order to support the right of everyone else to use cannabis. It is counterproductive, misinformed, and downright cruel to do so.
It also doesn’t help that How Weed Won The West seems to focus — most likely for entertainment purposes — upon some of the, well, most embarrassing figures in the movement.
I mean,  come on — guys like conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and media-loving pot clown Craig X Rubin and the cartoonish Ed “Weed Man” Forchion, bless their hearts, are certainly very entertaining, probably mean well, and are in all likelihood completely decent guys.
But let’s face it, they are never going to bring additional “legitimacy” to the marijuana cause, and in fact may have just the opposite effect. They are going to provide ammunition for the other side in this debate.
Another troubling thing about HWWTW is that an uninitiated person might easily conclude that the libertarian wing comprises almost the entire marijuana movement. While libertarians are an important and valued part of the marijuana coalition, it is important to remember that there are lots of pro-pot people who don’t think Ron Paul is the cat’s pajamas, who aren’t interested in fomenting a rebellion against the federal government, who wouldn’t touch the Tea Party with a 10-foot pole, and who could give a rat’s ass about such crypto-conservative agendas.
Their views, that is to say the views of the liberal — as contrasted to the libertarian — wing of the movement are sorely under-represented here, which is a real shame considering that much of the progress of the movement thus far wouldn’t have happened without them. (Let’s just take a moment here to unambiguously acknowledge that none of the legislative triumphs the marijuana movement has enjoyed so far would have happened without liberal Democrats. Thank you.)
So is How Weed Won The West worth your time? Yes, it definitely is.
Just be prepared to do a lot of wincing.