There may be more than a few documentaries floating around that are critical of the war on drugs in this country, but only a couple that feature scenic shots of Missoula and stories of Montanans. One is Rebecca Richman Cohen's 2012 Code of the West. The other is Kevin Booth's newest film, American Drug War 2: Cannabis Destiny. (The first, American Drug War: The Last White Hope originally aired on Showtime in 2007 and seems to take a more inclusive view.) American Drug War 2 focuses on marijuana: How it's distributed, the changing face of prohibition and conflicts between state and federal laws in this new era of state-by-state legalization practices.
It's a relevant topic here in Montana, where we experienced a brief heyday of legalized medical cannabis, until the federal government suddenly remembered they could do whatever they wanted, came in broad daylight and pillaged grow operations' equipment, product and livelihood.
Most Indy readers are likely familiar with the film's many arguments for the legalization of pot. Our prisons are overrun with non-violent drug offenders. The illegal drug trade makes for impoverished border towns, drug and gang violence and dirty money along the border. Think of all the revenue we can make in the taxes. Marijuana is less dangerous than heroin, crack, cocaine, alcohol, etc. The drug war is expensive and ineffective. Marijuana alleviates the symptoms of schizophrenia. Booth basically throws the kitchen sink at the audience, but the enemy is a many-headed monster with a lot of money; we need all the weaponry we can get.
There is some new information—at least new to me. I knew that pot had great medicinal value when it came to alleviating symptoms. It makes cancer patients less nauseous, it increases appetite, it alleviates pain. But I didn't know that people were using high concentrations of THC oil to actually try to cure the cancer, and it turns out I didn't know because Booth says the practice is an ancient, illegal secret. The film posits that our government and the pharmaceutical giants they work for have a vested interest in keeping cheap, effective, non-invasive, non-chemical drugs out of the hands of ordinary citizens.
At the emotional center of the film is the story of the late Cash Hyde and his Missoula family's battle with their son's aggressive brain tumors. When doctors told them there was nothing more that modern medicine could do for 4-year-old Cash, his parents started sneaking bootlegged doses of THC oil into his feeding tube, and their son's health improved. In one infuriating scene, Cash's parents go on the television talk show "Dr. Drew" to tell their story, and you watch a TV doctor lecture Cash's mom on interfering with hospital policy, as if she should have let her kid die so as not to disturb a protocol that favors the bottom line. I was livid and you should be, too.
American Drug War 2: Cannabis Destiny is essentially a call to action. Now that the country is coming around to a more enlightened point of view, we need new laws and regulations that reflect the people's will. If the film is a little overzealous in its claims of marijuana's unequivocal goodness, well, you've got to stay on message, I guess. I'm wary of anyone who comes along claiming a drug is the perfect panacea, but that's exactly why changing the system is so important. Pot is powerful and its age-old benefits deserve to be explored with all the tools that modern medicine has to offer—and without fear of prosecution, obviously.
Booth's film invites us to remember that marijuana reform isn't a given. We have to continually fight for it. I've never personally met a person in Montana who wasn't already of this opinion, but they're out there. Maybe one of them will stumble into the Wilma and learn something.
American Drug War 2: Cannabis Destiny screens at the Wilma Theatre Thu., July 25, at 7:30 PM, followed by a panel discussion. $7 at Rockin Rudy's and the Wilma box office. Proceeds go to the Cash Hyde Foundation.