Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Union: The Business Behind Getting High

British Columbia’s marijuana business is a $7 billion a year industry, despite the fact that the sale of the plant is illegal, eh. Director Brett Harvey’s fascinating documentary asks how this is possible, why marijuana is outlawed, and just whose interests are being protected by banning the plant.

The Union, hosted by Executive Producer Adam Scorgie, begins with an exploration of the famed “BC Bud” – the popular marijuana grown in British Columbia. While the general consensus is that most of American pot comes from Canadian soil, Scorgie argues that this isn’t necessarily the case. Though 75% of BC Bud ends up in America, this particular product only accounts for 5% of the marijuana used in the United States.

But The Union just uses BC Bud as a springboard to discuss the larger issues surrounding the plant, namely legislation. Scorgie asks why marijuana is illegal, yet tobacco and alcohol, two much more dangerous drugs, are not. For example, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that alcohol-related deaths are the third leading cause of mortality in the US, while tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death. However, there have been no cases of someone dying directly from marijuana use. It just makes playing Halo a little bit more fun.

More than half of the Canadian population has smoked pot at some point in their lives (compared to the US government’s estimate that 25% of Americans have tried marijuana at least once). Does this mean that the Canadian population is more open to the idea of marijuana, or are there just a lot of Canadians using the plant to cure their “migraines?” To answer this question, The Union explores the propaganda that has surrounded the drug for decades. Some of the best moments in the film come from 50s and 60s educational filmstrips that demonize pot. However, Scorgie and Harvey follow reefer madness all the way up to the present day, citing multiple US presidents who have either ignored or suppressed scientific studies that fail to link marijuana to serious health problems.

Harvey’s film argues that the biggest loser in the marijuana debacle may be the hemp plant. Like marijuana, hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, but hemp cannot be used to get high. Unfortunately, its close association with marijuana has resulted in many governments outlawing hemp cultivation. However, hemp has long since been put to good use both in the States and abroad. Did you know that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp – and that Jefferson wrote two drafts of the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper? Most interesting is that the first law regarding hemp was actually a mandate requiring American colonies to grow the crop.

Scorgie is the perfect host for this documentary. He’s not condescending or abrasive or unlikable. He’s always one step ahead of the audience, ready to answer “why?” before we even have time to formulate the question. The logic here is clear, focused, and laboriously researched, and supported by interviews from leaders in health care, science, the justice system, and Joe Rogan. Yes, the former host of Fear Factor, who used to laugh perversely as he goaded contestants into drinking blended tarantulas on camera, is considered an expert source alongside journalists, biochemists, and a former Harvard Medical School professor. I don’t know who decided that the Joe Rogan is an expert on anything, but he seems to know a lot about smoking pot.

Will marijuana or the hemp plant ever be legalized in the States or Canada? The Union seems hopeful, but cautiously optimistic. Make no mistake, though. Harvey’s film is not just a rallying cry from potheads around the globe who dream of being able to get high in public. Rather, the only thing that he truly advocates and endorses is logic.

The Union is one of many incredible feature-length documentaries at this year’s festival. It has been accepted to 29 International Film Festivals, and is the winner of numerous awards. It’s funny, informative, and fair, and it may make you like Joe Rogan. And that’s the highest praise I can give any movie.
The Union: The Business Behind Getting High is playing on Tuesday, April 22nd at 8:00 p.m. at The Screening Room.

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1 comment:

Mia said...

Watching The Union is a great way to celebrate AIFF's KXCI Day!!!