Five years after the people of Colorado voted to legalize marijuana across the board, Jane Wells’ new documentary Pot Luck takes a road trip across the state to find out what the new normal looks like. Wells is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and the documentary is narrated by Robin Quivers. A colorful cast of locals including businessmen, budtenders, barbers, police officers, prosecutors, and farmers share their views on the still-evolving world of legal cannabis, in a briskly paced, slickly produced documentary that’s both entertaining and informative.
Colorado didn’t just pass a bill that legalized pot. They amended their state Constitution, which means that consumers and vendors alike now assert their “constitutional rights” with the same zeal as NRA members at a Trump rally. Initially, Wells introduces us to budtenders and farmers, who all seem like friendly folks performing a public service. The budtenders stress the purity of their product, and how they like to get know their customers on a personal level. Note that they don’t take plastic—it’s cash on the barrel head. The farmers stress the organic nature of their product, the lack of pesticides, how beautiful the plants are—and listening to these serious-minded, committed people talking against the glorious Colorado landscape, you’re likely to feel that you’re seeing the comeback of the family farm in America.
Some education is presented for those of us who might be inexperienced with the culture of cannabis. It’s been around a long time, and prior to The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, was on the cusp of being a legitimate cash crop. But cannabis was literally nipped in the bud by powerful competitors, robber barons protecting their own interests. Hemp has lots of uses that have nothing to do with getting high. You can make a paper substitute out of it, but newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst had massive timber interests—apparently he not only wanted to own the news but the stuff it got printed on as well—and Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon’s family had invested heavily in the DuPont family’s new synthetic fiber, nylon, which also competed with hemp. Other uses for hemp competed with the fossil industry. The deck was stacked.
Businessmen interviewed in the film talk about the mammoth opportunities legalized pot provided. This is straight-up capitalism to them, and the fact that they’re skirting the line with both federal regulations that still treat their product as contraband and banking regulations that don’t permit handling drug money makes their entrepreneurial spirit seem all the more quintessentially American. You read that right, by the way. The cash-only, but completely legal marijuana dispensaries, can’t open bank accounts. Legal businesses have to find ways to launder their money.
And there’s a lot of money.
There is one little issue, quietly alluded to—cash only businesses do tend to be unusually attractive to the armed robber type. But that’s their problem, right? The vendors present it as minor. But the argument that drug-related crime would be eliminated by legalizing pot has not panned out, and according to the police and prosecutors interviewed, the gangs and cartels have not entirely left the picture either. Public safety problems, including the odd hash oil/butane explosion, have come up. Legal marijuana dispensaries have skirted restrictions on locations near playgrounds and schools by exploiting cartographic boundaries—just past a town line can put the dispensary in unincorporated Boulder County and no one seems to have jurisdiction.
Colorado addiction counselors note the apparent absurdity of some products, such as vaginal suppositories (although one woman in the cannabis business heavily touts the efficacy of anal suppositories for increasing sensation during sex). CDB, the cannabinoid, or cannabis component, highly touted as a remedy for everything from acne to arthritis, has not been approved by the FDA, and none of the products marketed have been regulated by anyone. This is also not your grandfather’s joint. Smoked marijuana now is a genetically modified plant with a much, much higher percentage of THC, the cannabinoid that gets you high, than the stuff passed around at dorm parties in the seventies. The government’s statistics on addiction to marijuana are twenty years out of date, and don’t reflect the increased potency of the modern product.
Cannabis “edibles,” which often contain very high percentages of THC, are produced in candy form, such as gummies and chocolate bars, take longer to act than smoked marijuana, and the effects last longer. They are obviously attractive to children, for whom they can be very dangerous, and they have been known to result in life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias and even cardiac arrest in some people.
Other, conventional law enforcement problems present themselves. A constitutional right to use marijuana doesn’t give you the right to operate a vehicle under the influence. One longtime pot smoker interviewed in the documentary relates, in apparent seriousness, about how marijuana improves her focus and that she drives better under the influence. Seriously? Alcoholics often make the claim that they drive better when they’re drinking, right up to the time they wrap themselves around a tree. Unlike alcohol, however, marijuana remains in the bloodstream long after the user has past being actually intoxicated. There is no equivalent for a breathalyzer test that can instantly tell a police officer that someone who has been using marijuana is legally intoxicated.
Pot Luck is content to let the viewers draw their own conclusions. The interviews are interesting, and the production values are high. This is a well-made, balanced and intelligent documentary that doesn’t forget to be entertaining. Just in time for 4/20, Giant Pictures released Pot Luck on April 14, 2020 on all digital platforms including, Apple TV, Prime Video, Xbox / Microsoft Store, Vimeo On Demand, Google Play, Vudu, and Hoopla, plus DVD nationwide.