Garish cover of How Weed Won the West DVD

This dayglo image aptly conveys the video’s intensity . . . which rarely works in its favor.

Whatever valid points Kevin Booth’s pot doc makes about the ongoing persecution of our most maligned weed are buried under easily the most disjointed direction and editing I’ve seen in a commercial DVD. The entire video seems to suffer from ADHD. Drenched in fundamentalist intensity, you won’t hear much from prohibition proponents. That bias make it difficult to buy the conspiracy theories How Weed Won The West passes off as the unassailable truth.

That intensity rears its head whenever guest star or co-narrator Alex Jones [his role is never defined] appears and delivers heavy-handed, sarcastic rants. Very little, if anything, is offered in the way of evidence to support claims like:

  • The CIA “owns major pot magazines” and “deals drugs on a regular basis.”
  • “Big banks” [unnamed] want marijuana to stay illegal because they profit handsomely from detaining marijuana prisoners in their “private prisons.” Or maybe that’s public prisons managed by private companies?
  • Big Pharma is against legalizing marijuana because it has obvious health benefits that it can’t control.
  • The government is trying to “outlaw nature”  . . . even as it seeks to “enslave us” in a “nightmare police state.”

Maybe some or all of these statements are true. Certainly the DVD proves none of them anywhere near “beyond a reasonable doubt.” For whatever reason, How Weed Won The West doesn’t feel it has to in order to be convincing. Think again.

Not many “slaves” are observed blasting their way down Emerald Triangle back roads in a Baja-ready four-wheel drive lugging around a film crew. And try telling any Czechoslavakian who survived Josef Stalin that Americans in 2011 are living in a “nightmare police state.”

Basically this pot doc reduces everything marijuana to black and white. The “medicine” is always good. The government is always bad. Prescription drugs are evil. They can and should be replaced by pot. Some of that righteous indignation might have a basis in reality; however, the odd voice in the wilderness can distinguish accusation from fact. How Weed Won the West is strong on the former and weak on the latter. On the rare occasions differing opinions are offered, they are squashed immediately by a narrator.

The video comes charging out of the gate getting its crucial revenue figures all wrong. Not even sixty seconds in, we “learn” that annual cannatax in the USA, in a fully legal and regulated landscape, would amount to “Five, ten billion dollars, maybe more . . . and about the same in savings” [from a cessation of pursuing, prosecuting, and incarcerating marijuana “criminals”]. Oh, boy. Instead of being somehow above the establishment, which is how How Weed Won The West presents itself throughout, it regurgitates bogus cannatax figures which come from economists beholden to a little establishment called the DEA. It doesn’t tell us where the quoted figures originated. [They come from Dr. Jeffrey Miron, Harvard PhD]

That’s exactly where traditional media comes up short when it tackles the revenue issue. Reporters just don’t know enough about economics to ask PhDs intelligent questions  — to our collective detriment..

The annual potential USA cannatax figure is more like $67 billion — for openers.

However, that’s still a figure no one can forecast with complete confidence, since metrics which count illicit commodities are always suspect. I’ll still bet on my guesstimate over that of an academic who can’t tell a rolling paper from a Post-It note. But any economist worth his salt can count government statistics kept in the public domain, where statistics that track what’s spent on investigating, prosecuting, and imprisoning leaf lovers reside.

According to Dr. Miron, that comes in at around $45 billion annually.

Booth’s video tells us that combined there’s somewhere around $20 billion to be gained from repealing prohibition and collecting cannatax. The real figure is at least five times that amount [or around $110 billion conservatively]. C’mon Mr. Booth — I know you’ve got your card, and it’s hard to resist the wacky weed’s mind-altering properties — but at least get in the ballpark!

How Weed Won The West suggests that the State of California could really benefit from cannatax, but doesn’t turn to an economist or a poteconomist for clarification about how the numbers would work. Or tell us which vital services could be retained if cannatax was collected and why.

Dr. Michael Morris

Dr. Michael Morris appears five different times saying the exact same thing about how inspiring it is to get people off prescription drugs. Where’s the response from a pharmacist?

Writer/director Booth’s aforementioned intensity works for him in one respect: he compulsively collected a vast amount of footage that might have made for a winning documentary in the hands of a good editor.

Unfortunately, some welcome footage of outdoor plantations in the Emerald Triangle [Humboldt and Sonoma counties, northern Cannafornia, USA] is juxtaposed, seemingly randomly, against events which barely relate to whatever the narration is trying to sell us at the moment.

The film’s producer really should have insisted upon a timeline.

Even the title doesn’t get it right.

Not only hasn’t weed won the west, it hasn’t even won California.

Five percent of the jobs, cannatax, and contribution to Gross Domestic Product which could be contributed — hogtied by restrictive medical marijuana initiatives — is a Pyrrhic victory at best. Martin Luther King never would have accepted gaining civil rights for the terminally ill alone as any kind of “win” for his movement.

Jeff Jones upset the feds raided his dispensary a second time

We’re supposed to be outraged that the feds raided Jeff Jones’ dispensary even though he reopened it a year later in the exact same location it was previously busted— without the blessing of city or state authorities.

How Weed Won the West spins its wheels in an attempt to gain sympathy for dispensary owners in LA and San Diego who were shut down by the DEA. Let’s probe a little deeper. Jeff Jones, from LA’s Organica, who shows up about seven different times as the video bounces around like a kangaroo, was well aware before he opened his collective that local laws and state of California laws were in direct conflict with federal prohibition. I’m confident his lawyer pointed the legal gray areas out to him. Yet we’re supposed to be outraged the feds raided his operation, even though federal law empowers the DEA to do exactly that. Dude, if you want 100% certainty you won’t be raided by the DEA, open an ice cream parlor .

Then, after Organica was initially shut down, Jones reopens it a year later in the exact same location — without the city’s blessing. We’re supposed to buy his indignation that the feds came back for a “smash and grab” mission? Sorry. Aint gonna happen.

wrestler chick from How Weed Won the West

This wrestler chick also appears multiple times telling us how much better she feels taking a natural medication instead of a pharmaceutical cocktail. She’s not prompted by the filmmakers for quotes about how her unnatural silicon implants prop up her self-image.

The DVD constantly goes after the government, overlooking how medical marijuana initiatives voted for by the people act like cannabis commerce’s ball and chain. Activists who convinced their organizations to settle for crippled medical marijuana legislation instead of repealing prohibition altogether are also above criticism.

The organizational ineptitude of herbal rights organizations in comparison to, say, the model efficiency of civil rights activists — in an era without advantages like the internet and cell phones — is given a free pass, as well. Instead, we’re shown “protests” by maybe a dozen people, with four of them carrying signs, as if that pitiful turnout represents a groundswell of anti-DEA sentiment.

Your opinion may differ, but I’d consider a couple hundred thousand people camped outside the White House to be the bare minimum for a paradigm-shifting protest.

I did appreciate the introduction to Bret Bogue, a grower, educator, and activist I was previously unfamiliar with. Here at last was someone who could put on a dress shirt and tie and speak eloquently about all things marijuana. I can see how Bogue could appear on the national radar screen as a potential Martin Luther King type leader of the herbal rights movement. That said, by smoking like a steam engine all day long, he’s sure to be viewed as antichrist by gateway-drug theorists. So the search is still on for a marijuana messiah. Nonetheless, it was heartening that someone looked the part . . . even for a few fleeting moments.

The concept that cannabis can cure cancer, AIDs, and just about anything else wrong with the human body and mind is not only suggested, it’s put out there as if it’s an undisputed fact throughout the DVD.

Has there really been a huge body of research performed on humans which has confirmed cannabis’ cancer and AIDS-curing properties beyond a shadow of a doubt?

Why, no, there hasn’t.

Promising preliminary research does not qualify as irrefutable proof. Research into cannabinoids is restricted; Schedule One drugs are not just handed out to any lab which wants to experiment with them. That’s another one of medical marijuana’s dirty little secrets; ironically, passing medical marijuana initiatives indicates tacit acceptance of pot as a Schedule One drug — which can then only be prescribed by the few for the few, excluding the rest of us.

Characters fire up in How Weed Won the West

Then this fake-technician, fake-priest, fake-healer guy on the left literally throws himself on a female patient who came in for a consultation about how to break her heroin and oxycontin habits. Unfunny shenanigans like that are just not going to convert anyone from the family values set.

A consistent lack of proof for its big boasts makes How Weed Won The West untrustworthy. A factoid like, “In the 80’s, Philip Morris [huge American tobacco company] bought 50,000 acres of land in Humboldt County” is news to me. Where’s the photocopy of the deed from the Humboldt County Assessor’s office? Where’s anyone who’s ever worked for Big Pharma, telling us how the industry actually wants to keep marijuana illegal, instead of profiting from it themselves?

This DVD is just too hysterical for its own good. Fundamentalism is fine for preaching to the choir. But it’s unlikely to persuade many fence-sitters open-minded enough to actually care about opposing points of view.

Despite its faults, How Weed Won The West should still be required viewing for anyone who’s considering putting dollar one into opening a MMC (medical marijuana carecenters, including dispensaries, clubs, co-operatives, collectives). Hello, once you agree to play by the rules of medical marijuana, law enforcement on the local, state, and national levels can do whatever they want to you anytime they want to do it. Or for anyone who wants to see medical marijuana’s dark side with their own eyes. Folks, this is what you get when you approve crippled medical marijuana legislation, when just a little more effort could repeal prohibition at the federal level and protect industry players from capricious acts.

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[Update 12/20/2012: I was critical of Alex Jones’ appearances in this documentary. And I’m sticking to it. However … in his own documentaries, like EndGame, and in his teaming with Jesse Ventura on Conspiracy Theory, Jones has worked overtime to expose what could be apocalyptic maneuvering by consortiums of the world’s power elite. I’m glad somebody had the gumption to bring that information to light. Melodramatic and made-for-TV or not, this is yeomen work Jones deserves a  lot of credit for. EndGame in particular is well written, well-edited, lucid, coherent and more revealing than any of us bargained for. —LK]