The drug in action: a lit joint (First Run Features)

The drug in action: a lit joint (First Run Features)

Produced & Directed by Riley Morton
Released by First Run Features
USA. 86 min. Not rated

Evergreen: The Road to Legalization is an in-depth film documenting all of the difficulties and nuances activists faced on the road to passing I-502, a piece of legislation in Washington State legalizing small amounts of marijuana. It is a no frills, serious look at both sides of the aisle, but the surprising thing is that the two sides aren’t pro-legalization vs. anti-legalization—we don’t see much in the way of predictable, blustery Reagan-era anti-drug conservatism.

The debate is between people who back I-502 because it’s the most likely initiative pass and those who think that it’s actually too strict and conservative. The main argument from the anti-502 coalition is based on the inclusion of draconian DUI laws.They feared that measuring cannabis intoxication in minute measurements of nanograms would send huge numbers of users to jail. The pro-502 forces argue that such a radical measure requires certain strict limitations and concessions to become law. Still, many believe that it would have been worth waiting to get a better bill.

This is not a film designed to entertain, and the filmmakers haven’t gone out of their way to capture quirky characters, unlike some documentaries. The film excels at showing each side of the debate, without forcing any conclusion or agenda on viewers. It’s still a very open question whether I-502 was the best legislation. The point comes across fairly clearly that small steps may be best when dealing with major paradigm shifts.

The bulk of the film is a retelling of the process of drafting legislation, gathering support and signatures, and spreading the word through public forums. The only thing that differentiates it from a documentary about, say, the intricacies of getting new bicycle laws passed are the few somewhat wild scenes of countercultural events like Hempfest, with all of the predictably smelly-looking cannabis enthusiasts. It is a lesson in policy, civics, and argument, with little focus on actual cannabis culture.

The fact that the entire debate centers on whether or not the bill goes far enough, rather than if the bill should exist at all, shows how much the cause of legalization has advanced. Of course, the real question is if and when the federal government will follow suit, but so far all that can be gleaned on that front is that the Obama administration announced that it will not challenge state legalization laws. Evergreen is a solidly unbiased historical document of how dedicated people took the awkward first steps toward introducing just a bit more reason into the law code.