Director’s Statement | CODE OF THE WEST

In the eye of the THC storm

Strange times we’re living in. The battles that are being fought today, from gay marriage to the decriminalization–wait, legalization–of cannabis are far removed from me, and, I suspect, from a lot of other people. And yet the first one presents a vital issue for men and women everywhere and the second has been causing much head a-scratching. Smoking weed is a repugnant habit best shedded as quickly as possible in life, but prudent legalization (small amounts for personal use) is probably the best course of action in light of the demand and the awesome tax revenue cannabis represents. Beside, do we really want to continue paying billions of dollars to keep potheads in prison? The only people who deem those individuals a threat to society are the dimwitted congressmen who roam the halls of the Capitol Building in their Johnston & Murphies and sing lullabies to themselves before their afternoon naps.

One filmmaker, Rebecca Richman Cohen (photo) got into the sticky business of making a documentary about cannabis laws, which are ever-changing at the state level. Her documentary is called “Code of the West” and focuses primarily on the Montana legislature’s efforts to stop allowing medical marijuana altogether.  We grabbed her director’s statement from the movie’s press notes to illuminate how difficult a topic this can be for a movie maker:

“My team and I have tried to capture the human story behind the legislative process of state-level marijuana policy reform — a messy, tangled affair that has implications for policy reform in other states and for the democratic process in the nation at large. Though the federal government considers marijuana a Schedule I Narcotic (with no accepted medical use), an increasing number of states disagree. Today eighteen states and Washington DC have legalized medical marijuana use for people suffering from debilitating medical conditions including cancer, epilepsy, severe nausea, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. But the way in which we regulate a drug that is also widely used by adults and teenagers who don’t suffer from these conditions — and that has become a powerful symbol in a much wider debate about cultural values — raises the hard questions that drove me to make this film.

As we followed the trajectory of three medical marijuana bills in Montana, we couldn’t help but notice another debate taking place in the Montana Capitol. Halfway through the legislative session, the President of the Senate proposed a bill that would memorialize an archetypal, cowboy-era “Code of the West” as the official Montana state code of ethics. But despite the pleasing nostalgia of the idea, the marijuana debate we chronicled revealed to us that a single code of ethics can’t begin to reflect the deep divisions at work in Montana’s society. And it forced us to wonder, “Who is more true to Montana’s pioneering spirit?” Is it those seeking to guard their communities against marijuana billboards that mar the view of the Rockies? Or is it the drug policy reformers seeking to keep medical marijuana legal?

The question, of course, is not whether Montanans — or any of us — should live by a common code, but rather which code, or whose code, we should adopt. The code of the pious? The libertarian? The entrepreneur? The local government? The regional tradition? The national law?

If Montana’s medical marijuana debate tells us anything, it is this: There are many codes of the West. And the way in which they are reconciled — or not — has profound implications for the way we live.”

“Code of the West” will premiere in Brooklyn at reRun on March 29th, 2013.

VISIT the site for “Code of the West” here