Order the summer edition here

THE RIGHT TO BE HIGH: Colorado's cannabis experiment

Pot Luck: The Altered State of Colorado
Regissør: Jane Wells

LEGALIZATION / Has the legalization of marijuana led to idyllic freedom for users, or has another market for cynical profit hunters emerged?


When Colorado residents voted to change the law and legalize the use of marijuana "for recreational use," many thought this would give the regular cannabis user, who grows a plant or two in the garden, the freedom to relax on couch with a joint and enjoy themselves in peace and quiet. However, they did not take into account the aggressive commercial forces: After the law came into force in 2014, cannabis was quickly turned into a mass-produced and marketed product, and unscrupulous profit hunters have since cynically exploited poor neighborhoods, where the colored population is in the majority.

At least this is the documentary Pot Luck: The Altered State of Colorado claims. British filmmaker Jane Wells focuses on the negative aspects of legalizing cannabis, and the film largely serves as a warning. US marijuana laws vary from state to state, and Colorado was one of the first states (among eleven in total) to legalize the drug. Wells investigates the consequences of legalization through interviews with a wide range of experts, rabbit enthusiasts, police and commercial players.


The opening sequence takes us into the International Church of Cannabis in Denver. The church community is housed in a century-old (former Lutheran) church – with a startling interior: neon psychedelic art on all walls and ceilings, painted by an artist from Madrid. Lee Molloy, who appears to be the cliché of a freakish hash smoker, is one of the founders of the church. He shows us around the building, explains when the church community was established and how the organization works. The members call themselves "elevationists," and cannabis is the sacrament of the church. The sequence probably calls for laughter rather than casting a cast on someone.

Pot Luck focuses on the negative aspects of legalizing cannabis.

The director seems to be devoid of any illusions that cannabis is about to cause as much social problems in today's United States as it does opioids (like heroin, morphine and opium). Still, it is clear that she is not the type who fires a joint when she wants to be inspired or increase her productivity: A little further out in the film we meet a hashish smoker of the old kind, dressed in a T-shirt with the caption "What Day Is It ». The documentary does as best he can to confirm the stereotype of the dumb hash user.

The amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the hashish plants varies, and the lack of state control of this is mentioned as problematic. But the biggest damage to the law change has caused Colorado to believe Pot luck, is not necessarily related to the health of its citizens, but to the societal inequalities it has caused: The majority of cannabis sales are in poor neighborhoods – with a high proportion of colored residents – and run by whites who are initially privileged in the bureaucratic process and required background checks. one must go through to start a business. In other words, the legalization of marijuana has brought yet another cash flow to the privileged, while residents of the marginalized communities are imprisoned as a result of the "war on drugs". In addition, the new "recreation market" has forced itself into the medical market, in the sense that health professionals are now selling marijuana prescriptions for a hundred dollars apiece. Easy money, according to a health worker.

Constitutional right

And as if this was not enough: Violence crime has increased – not decreased, as it was argued – after legalization. Tens of thousands of marijuana-related crimes in Colorado are still unresolved. Institutional frameworks, for example in banking, have failed to keep up with the explosive development of the cannabis industry – giving the industry "an increasingly criminal undertone," according to the film. Banks' opposition to offering basic customer service outlets is because marijuana is still classified as a narcotic. Thus, they risk being accused of money laundering if they take in approved marijuana sellers as bank customers. Thus, the sales are sitting with large amounts of cash in the cash register, not unlike the illegal drug cartels. Retired military personnel were used for a period as guards in cannabis sales – as it was not uncommon for seven to eight armed robberies a week.

The flurry of crime is thus held by the legalized cannabis industry, despite the change in law. And the moral attitude of ordinary residents has not changed either – an addiction treatment specialist mentions the legalization of cannabis as "taking lipstick on a pig" since "drug trafficking is drug trafficking".

Pot Luck: The Altered State of Colorado
Director Jane Wells

Pot luck could possibly convince the viewer that legalizing cannabis has done more harm than good in Colorado. But the decision is hardly reversed, says the chief of police, since it has now been legislated, and cities that have legalized marijuana are quick to emphasize that not only is it permissible to possess marijuana, it is also a "constitutional right." Taking that right back will thus challenge their fundamental freedom as Americans if they follow the logic of rhetoric.

Several Denver residents are protesting against the many cannabis advertising posters now hanging all over the city. But one woman we meet is left with a sense of loss after legalization: "When cannabis smoking became legal, it wasn't as fun," she says, nostalgically, recalling how exciting it was to light an illegal joint.

That a change in law is unlikely to satisfy everyone's needs and desires is perhaps the most important lesson we have left after watching Pot luck.

Translated by Vibeke Harper

Carmen Gray
Carmen Gray
Gray is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.

You may also like