DVD review: High: The True Tale of American Marijuana

Should we legalize marijuana? Could there be a positive economic impact from doing so, as some in California’s legislature suggest? Has marijuana prohibition worked, and have the gains made validated the costs involved? These are some of the questions posed in the documentary High: The True Tale of American Marijuana, directed by John Holowach, who will join me on The Ed Morrissey Show today to discuss it.

The film includes this interview of Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron discussing the economic benefits of ending the overall drug war:

High does not disguise its pro-legalization agenda. Holowach makes an argument explicitly for legalization, and not just marijuana. While the film focuses on cannabis, it often drifts towards a complete end to all drug prohibitions. To some extent, that weakens the argument for marijuana, as part of the documentary argues that the weed provides no more harm than alcohol or tobacco — an argument that clearly won’t apply to cocaine, heroin, PCP, crystal meth, and most of the other prohibited substances.

It also occasionally argues dishonestly, as it does on comparative marijuana strength over the last 20 years. Anti-cannabis advocates say that dosage strength has doubled in that time, thanks to intensive breeding of the plant. High notes that THC levels increased on average from 2.8% to 4.7% from 1985 to 2001 (the last year for that data), but then says that it’s only increased “two percent”. It’s not quite doubled, but comparatively, the strength has increased 68%. It’s a transparently deliberate misreading of the opponent’s argument.

With all of that said, Holowach’s film proves enlightening, both anecdotally and statistically — or should I say, the lack of statistics. The government blocks research into medical uses of marijuana, which means we can’t tell what that 68% increase in THC means, if it means anything at all. Do people use less to get the same high? Do people use the same and get more high? Can smoke-based THC be used more effectively than its synthetic liquid form to provide pain and nausea relief, as many of the users of both claim? We won’t know until studies are done, but at least in the US, that won’t happen while we continue to treat marijuana the same as cocaine and heroin — and we use heroin’s cousins, morphine and other opiates, as actual therapeutic treatments.

High is most effective when it focuses on the costs of fighting cannabis, which grows naturally in the US, both in terms of economics and in more personal terms of lost jobs, prosecutions, and civil liberties. Conservatives may find those arguments more compelling than others made in this film, but Holowach gives viewers the entire spectrum of arguments from which to choose. For someone who has never smoked marijuana in his life — I really am that square — High provides a broader perspective on the issue of marijuana prohibition. Even if you oppose it, the film is worth watching, as it is entertaining, informative, and provocative.