Series premiere, Wed., Feb. 22 at 10 pm on the National Geographic Channel
You have to ask yourself if the National Geographic Channel and the makers of “American Weed” -- a new reality show about medical marijuana growers and dispensaries in Colorado -- are for or against legal pot for those with a prescription. If these are the most sympathetic proponents of medical marijuana they could find, then the issue might face a stiff battle. (Recent Colorado news suggests it will.)
The growers and sellers -- snow-board dudes (the five handsome Stanley brothers running the farm), a former topless model and her self-medicating, wispy-haired and bleary-eyed dirtbike-riding boyfriend (running one of the shops that sell medical grass) -- don’t exactly topple any stereotypes about pot heads or weed culture. And even some of the patients, though obviously suffering, seem to maybe get a little too giddy about taking their medicine. “This is some of the best medicine I’ve ever seen,” says one client. But who says you have to hate what cures your ills? (One man has chronic diabetes, nerve damage and walks with a cane, another has a prosthetic leg and back pain -- he also says he’s bipolar, which might not be helped by getting baked, but I’m no doctor.)
“Growing medical marijuana is very tough – these plants need constant care and attention,” says one of the Stanley brothers, whose efforts to keep their plants supplied with water and light and in spacious green houses, in addition to keeping track of the cloned plants of the most popular strains, requires a lot of work. And you can imagine how legalizing medical marijuana creates a ripple effect in the economy -- electricians get work wiring greenhouses, distributors and paraphernalia sellers do too. Doctors who approve patients for medical marijuana see a boost in business, too. (Colorado has over 80,000 patients approved for medical marijuana.) And the dispensary workers have to learn which strains (many of which have silly names like “Bubba Kush” and “Purple Haze”) help with pain, which help with sleep, which aid with appetite, which are better for maintaining speech functions, etc. All weed isn’t created equal.
In places like Connecticut, where the governor and the general assembly are indicating a move toward legalizing weed for those suffering from chronic ailments, the debate is just getting started again. The cops and community opposition to the Colorado dispensaries get equal screen time in “American Weed,” and they have many valid points that those cheer-leading medical marijuana should consider.
One incident involves middle-school kids who nab a stash of leaves from plants openly growing at the side of a house on their way to school. The homeowner may have a right to buy, grow and smoke pot, but he can’t have it out in the open like that. And if it’s medicine, as the cop on the scene points out, would you leave your prescribed oxycodone out on the table for any 12-year-old to take? Scoot Crandall is the leader of the community effort to ban dispensaries in Fort Collins, a college town north of Denver. (A proposed ordinance to close down the shops makes up the nugget of dramatic tension in this show -- if you want to know what happened, Google it. Fort Collins was in the news this week because of it.) Crandall tells a debate audience that he has compassion for those suffering from chronic pain. But he says it’s more complicated than that. “Let’s have compassion for those families who are caring for a young person who has been caught in the trap of addiction,” Crandall says to an enthusiastic debate crowd.
Judging from the first episode, which premieres Wednesday, Feb. 22, the makers of the show don’t seem to have been so interested in making a case for medical marijuana. There is a case to be made -- in terms of tax revenue and medical science. But the most compelling voice in the first episode is a nurse who pulls her car over to debate Crandall as he holds anti-medical-marijuana signs up in advance of the vote on the proposed ban. She tells him she’s seen the beneficial effects on cancer patients who are basically facing death. She suggests he do more research.
Both things can be true: medical marijuana can provide needed relief for those suffering from back pain, cancer and countless other conditions, and yet the programs can be abused, recreational pot can be bad for kids, etc. The tax revenues collected by towns and cities can provide help to recession-ravaged local economies, and yet there are other costs to weigh. And even on the recreational drug-use front, which the show largely leaves untouched, the demonizing of millions of mostly harmless pot smokers smacks of hypocrisy in a country besotted with booze and under-the-counter pain meds. “American Weed,” with its regrettable reggae-tinged soundtrack cropping up every time a patient is shown lighting up and its pot-porn close-ups of crystal-flaked buds, doesn’t exactly expand the debate in good faith. But simply showing a limited spectrum of the medical pot economy -- growers, sellers and patients -- it might inadvertently humanize them even as it snickers.
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