Most of the time, issue documentaries take a stance on one side or the other of a hot button issue, with very little, if any, information given to the opposing viewpoint. However, there are very few documentaries that have the interest in giving us two different viewpoints, with almost equal screen time and support.
And even fewer that find those two viewpoints on the same side of the aisle with regards to the respective issue.
That’s exactly what director Riley Morton and writer Nils Cowan have done with their newest film, Evergreen: The Road To Legalization.
Back in 2012, an initiative was up for a vote during elections in Washington state, that would have ultimately made the state, along with Colorado, the first to legalize and decriminalize the use of marijuana here in the Union. Known as Initiative 502, the legislation came to be thanks to the power of the ACLU’s Alison Holcomb and travel scribe Rick Steves, and various other high ranking supporters. However, it also had its detractors on the pro-legalization side. With anti-initiative groups pointing out various arbitrary and possibly dangerous reforms involving the DUI status of the drug, the civic impact of legislation on youth and how this could ruin things for medical marijuana users, the film tells the story of a battle to not only end a truly damning chapter in this nation’s failed war on drugs, but a battle for the heart of a movement torn between taking a baby step to legalization and trying to swing for the fences.
The topic of legalizing marijuana or the idea of looking at how the war on drugs has failed just about every citizen not involved in the profiting of the growth of our prison system, is one that’s seen its day in the court of public opinion and cinematic discussion. With over half of the US supporting the legalization of marijuana and, as is rightly pointed out in the film, marijuana having a foothold in just about every community in this beautiful country, it’s a topic that isn’t really all that up for debate with regards to if its something that should be done. So, thankfully, the film ditches the notion of debating that from the opening sequence. And thankfully, the film becomes all the more important for it.
At it’s very best, this is an important look at an issue that isn’t as easy as saying you support people being free to smoke marijuana. It’s not as black and white as saying you think the world will become a post-apocalyptic hellscape of stoners if it is legalized. The main focus of the film surrounds the legislation’s impact on medical marijuana users, particularly with the current state of dispensaries in the state, and a pending DUI charge that would be levied for users caught behind the wheel with roughly half the recommended therapeutic dose in their system.
Both sides are given equal time, truly giving the film a sense of urgency that this type of issue truly deserves. Everyone seen here in this film believes wholeheartedly in their stance, and the idea of this either being a baby step in the right direction or a nail in the coffin of this movement is a thrilling, stakes-raising bit of storytelling from everyone involved here.
The initiative itself is perfect to tell this story. A bit of legislation that would not only keep home-growing a crime but make it nearly impossible for medical users to ever be able to get behind the wheel of a vehicle, the I-502 would make a few steps forward, as supporters would and will tell you here, but detractors, like the vocal Steve Sarich, a local grower, will have you know that this is only damning users further. A deeply vital piece of political discussion, this film may not be all that dense a piece with regards to looking at the nation’s war on drugs, but it is a really thrilling look at where the real discussion behind this movement lies.
Overall, Evergreen is a relatively standard bit of talking head issue documentary filmmaking, elevated by an incomprehensible ability to get at the root of where this issue really lies. With passionate debate at the film’s core, anyone with an interest in the issue will find a lot to take from this picture, and while it may be a topic that has been beaten to near death, we’ve rarely seen the issue of marijuana legalization discussed this viscerally. Really great bit of documentary filmmaking.