One wonders what to believe in the post-O.J. world. For you youngsters, O.J. Simpson is a famous football player accused and acquitted of killing his wife and a waiter over a pair of glasses. DNA evidence seemed to indicate that O.J. did it, but the glove didn't fit, and the concept of truth got a whole new spin - believe what you want. Pot smokers as well as those adamant in their opinions that pot is evil are in the same boat I think, so I wonder if The Union will turn any heads. This documentary about the business behind getting high posits a number of ideas, works to explode a number of myths, and ultimately concludes that pot is worth a lot more to a lot of people if kept illegal, regardless of the impact on society.
It would be a tough row to hoe, finding a more slickly assembled, synergistic documentary than this. Though a bit overlong (for those either high, or sober) at 105 minutes, The Union keeps fascinating stories, archival footage and talking head interviews coming at a fast and entertaining clip. From the obvious suspects: incognito growers, dealers and Tommy Chong to more unexpected sources such as ex-police chiefs and Joe Rogan, there are plenty willing to opine about cannabis and its what may seem like silly status as a criminalized drug. Their interviews, stats and narration are woven together with highly amusing or trenchant clips mimicking or underlining in clever ways what's being stated. Everything from ancient footage of farmers harvesting hemp, to clips from Reefer Madness - with stops for footage that only circumstantially relates, and is all the more funny for its tricky usage - all of this is put to work to ensure that whatever side of the fence you're on, you'll leave The Union with the satisfactory buzz that comes from excellent filmmaking.
Director Brett Harvey covers all the bases, maybe too well, for in fact we don't even begin to examine the 'business' of getting high until about 35 minutes into the movie. (The documentary is sold as an examination of the underground network that serves as British Columbia's pot enterprise.) Those 35 minutes are indeed quite informative though, laying the groundwork for Harvey's claims that hemp is an incredibly versatile and affordable commodity unfortunately made illegal by poor legislation aimed at eliminating the icky-sticky (the buds from hemp plants that get you high, for you squares out there). Further, Harvey insists that most, if not all evidence of pot being harmful is based on spurious research, some of which - the notion that pot kills brain cells - came from essentially suffocating monkeys with lengthy anaerobic doses of pure pot smoke. Harvey finds any number of credible sources to support his claims, and depending on your stance, much of what's said comes off as simple common sense.
How common, you ask? The effect of prohibition on alcohol consumption is noted, for example. During prohibition, boozing went way up, and organized crime exploded as a way to get the people what they wanted. More evidence, such as the number of people killed by alcohol or tobacco consumption per year, is compared to similar statistics about cannabis consumption. Booze and cigarettes kill hundreds of thousands, pot use hasn't been directly linked to a single fatality. But it's not my job to sway your opinion, that's Harvey's work, and for what it's worth he's crafted a thoroughly entertaining, measured and reasonable discussion of the issues surrounding Mary Jane. Whether you believe him, unfortunately, probably rests more with your particular party-line than anything Harvey presents, regardless of the fact that The Union: The Business Behind Getting High is undeniably worthwhile movie making.