×

Film Review: ‘Evergreen: The Road to Legalization’

Riley Morton's resonant documentary examines two opposing fronts in the battle to decriminalize recreational marijuana use.

With:
Alison Holcomb, Rick Steves, Pete Holmes, John McKay, Steve Sarich, Doug Hiatt.

At first glance, “Evergreen: The Road to Legalization,” a documentary about the passage of a Washington state initiative decriminalizing recreational marijuana use, differs little from countless docus tracing the fates of public referendums on controversial issues like gay marriage (one of which passed on the same ballot). But here the two factions duking it out are both pro-legalization, yet bitterly divided over the compromises that I-502’s supporters felt necessary to include to ensure approval. This dual focus on the need to end the ineffective, destructive “war on drugs” and broader questions of political compromise gives director Riley Morton’s film particular resonance.

Except for a token, not-especially-convincing anti-legalization police officer, the film’s interviewees come down squarely on the side of condemning the war on drugs as inefficient (not having made a dent in trafficking and use), counter-productive (causing the U.S. to boast the world’s highest documented incarceration rate) and racist (blacks having been imprisoned for simple possession in far greater numbers, and with greater severity, than whites). Just about everyone in the film seems to agree on that.

But I-502 replaces possession penalties with more draconian DUI restrictions and sets a limit for blood levels far below normal medicinal dosage, thus seriously impacting medical marijuana users who depend on the drug to function normally, and who comprise a vocal segment of the opposition. And since decriminalization extends only to those over 21, law enforcement’s racist policies could simply switch over to minority teens. Proponents of I-502 applaud it as a big step in the right direction, arguing that adjustments will be made down the road to address inequities.

One of the initiative’s main public selling points lauds the major money-making, tax revenue-producing potential of marijuana in the fiscally strapped state. Morton and writer Nils Cowan interview a couple of suits who are already laying the groundwork for a big-business takeover of the state’s medical marijuana cottage industry, as the proposed measures also outlaw home growing. Medical marijuana users and suppliers strenuously resist the transformation of a friendly local-community venture into an impersonal profit-gouging industry.

The filmmakers trail key supporters and opponents as they collect signatures or stump around the state, either touting or loudly condemning the measure. Advocates, spearheaded by Washington’s ACLU drug-policy director Alison Holcomb and personable travel writer Rick Steves, corral several high-level law-enforcement types to endorse the initiative, and these straight-arrows, along with more laid-back, long-haired reporters and college professors, appear throughout the film in interviews and at rallies. Naysayers, many of whom pioneered pot-legalization efforts in the past, are led by pipe-smoking photog Steve Sarich and impassioned defense attorney Doug Hiatt. Often denied an official voice at gatherings, they try to shout down the well-organized, generously financed I-502 pushers, only to be expelled by police.

Morton and Cowan elucidate the situation from the ground up with considerable clarity, aided by the well-paced editing of Darren Lund and Jason Reid. Lensing by helmer Morton fully exploits the photogenic qualities of both the state and the weed.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Evergreen: The Road to Legalization'

Reviewed on DVD, New York, June 11, 2014. Running time: 86 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A First Run Features release of a Hemlock Prods., Overland Pictures production in association with 2R Prods., Lucid Visual Media, Roped In Prods. Produced by Jason Reid, Nils Cowan, Riley Morton. Executive producer, Andy McDonough. Co-producer, Colin Baxter. Co-executive producer, Adam Brown.

Crew: Directed by Riley Morton. Written by Nils Cowan. Camera (color, HD), Morton; editors, Jason Reid, Darren Lund; music, John E. Low; music supervisor, Adam Brown; sound editor, Reid.

With: Alison Holcomb, Rick Steves, Pete Holmes, John McKay, Steve Sarich, Doug Hiatt.

More Film

  • Jason Lei Howden, Samara Weaving and

    Daniel Radcliffe On Acting With Weapons Nailed To Your Hands

    How did “Guns Akimbo” director and writer Jason Lei Howden convince Daniel Radcliffe to play a character with guns nailed to his hands? Easy, he sent him the script. Radcliffe joined Howden and “Ready or Not’s” breakout star Samara Weaving in the Variety’s Toronto Film Festival studio, presented by AT&T to talk the limits of [...]

  • Box Office: It Chapter Two Maintains

    Box Office: 'It: Chapter Two' Continues International Reign With $47 Million

    Pennywise’s reign of terror hasn’t wavered: Warner Bros.’ “It Chapter Two” maintained first place on box office charts, led by another strong showing overseas. The sequel, based on Stephen King’s horror novel, generated another $47 million at the international box office for a foreign tally of $169 million. After two weeks of release, “It Chapter [...]

  • First still from the set of

    Taika Waititi’s 'Jojo Rabbit' Wins Top Prize at Toronto Film Festival Awards

    Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” has won the coveted People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The honor positions the film for a potential Oscar run and bolsters its awards chances. That’s good news for Fox Searchlight, which must have been disappointed by the lackluster critical reception for the movie, a dark comedy [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Racks Up Solid $33 Million Debut, 'Goldfinch' Bombs

    “Hustlers” rolled in the Benjamins this weekend, collecting $33.2 million when it debuted in 3,250 North American theaters. Boosted by rave reviews and stellar word of mouth, “Hustlers” beat expectations and now ranks as the best start for an STX film, along with the biggest live-action opening weekend for stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. [...]

  • German Cinema Is Diverse, But Is

    German Cinema Is Varied, But Is It Too Risk Averse?

    One of the strengths of German cinema is its diversity, says Simone Baumann, managing director of the national film promotion agency German Films. As well as the three films at Toronto directed by female German helmers, there was also German filmmaker Thomas Heise’s documentary film essay “Heimat Is a Space in Time.” Then there were [...]

  • Female Filmmakers in Germany Make Progress

    Female Filmmakers Surge Forward in Germany, But Still Face Obstacles

    Four feature films by German filmmakers screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and three of them were directed by women – Angela Schanelec’s “I Was at Home, But…,” winner of the Berlinale’s best director prize, Ina Weisse’s “The Audition,” and Katrin Gebbe’s “Pelican Blood,” the latter two both starring Nina Hoss. Germany’s Oscar entry this [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content