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A year and a half later, as we wait for the first retail marijuana stores to open in Washington next month, it’s easy to forget our state’s place in history.
“People have the perception Colorado was the first state [to legalize marijuana],” said Jason Reid, who produced and edited “Evergreen: The Road to Legalization,” a new film about the journey to legalization. “They’ve forgotten about Washington.”
Shot over 18 months, “Evergreen” captures the fireworks behind the scenes as the battle over Initiative 502 and legal pot became increasingly heated.
Eager to dive into the nuances of I-502 (spoiler alert: voters approved it), “Evergreen” presents a balanced digest of how the political pot sausage was made.
“We thought we were making a film about pot,” said writer and producers Nils Cowan. “But we ended up with a film about American politics.”
More educational than a popcorn muncher, if you’re not interested in seeing civics on screen, the film could be a bit dull — it’s fair to a fault. “Evergreen” sacrifices emotional attachment for deep sourcing, and it doesn’t let its lens linger too long on its most compelling characters: the disarmingly charming pot proponent and travel personality Rick Steves, savvy ACLU lawyer Alison Holcomb or staunch and controversial I-502 opponent Steve Sarich.
Director Riley Morton said keeping a wide focus and presenting both sides of the argument was crucial to the filmmakers.
“Everyone in the film liked the film. As documentary filmmakers, that’s very difficult to achieve,” Morton said. He said the filmmakers didn’t draw any conclusions, deciding instead to challenge the audience to make its own decisions.
Despite the distance, there’s plenty of entertainment and much to learn from the tension at the heart of the 86-minute film: That many medical-marijuana users felt the initiative sold their interests out in favor of pandering for votes from conservative blocs.
“It wasn’t your typical yes versus no campaign,” Reid said. “Two pro-legalization sides were fighting about how it should be done.”
One of the most telling scenes takes place at Seattle’s Hempfest, where a blazer-wearing I-502 supporter working a booth spars with the co-owner of a medical-marijuana dispensary.
“Some of our weakest support,” begins the 502 proponent. “Like soccer moms and middle class people… ”
The dispensary owner cuts him off: “I feel like soccer moms are some of your biggest supporters, actually. I feel like you don’t have the support of the true cannabis community… ”
“The true cannabis community” the dispensary owner speaks of is the medical pot community that opposed the DUI provisions included in the initiative to help persuade voters on the fence. The community argued driving limits could be used to put harsher penalties on medical users.
That scene is one of several in the movie in which I-502 proponents are shouted over by passionate medical users distrusting of the lawyers, politicians and suit-wearers seemingly suddenly siding with legalizing weed. Everyone wants the same thing, but the “how” question divides the iconoclasts and dreamers, who first imagined a world of legal weed, from the realists, who shrewdly steer that dream.
The filmmakers, who said they constantly debated I-502 among themselves as they made the film, hope the lessons learned from that tension can cement our state’s legacy.
“Hopefully, our film provides a blueprint for the other 48 states — for better or worse,” Reid said.