Law Enforcement Against Prohibition held a benefit Wednesday evening to provide a screening of Legalize It, a documentary about California's Proposition 19 — the failed 2010 effort to legalize and regulate marijuana — and to honor the leaders behind it.
The gathering brought together a number of anti-drug war activists familiar to anybody following the movement closely here at Reason. Gretchen Burns Bergman from Moms United was in attendance, as was Belen Ascencion of the Caravan for Peace, which crossed the nation this summer to draw attention to the failures of the drug war and its deadly impact on both American and Mexican citizens. Judge Jim Gray, Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate and member of LEAP, was on hand as well. The benefit and screening took place, interestingly enough, in Long Beach, where law enforcement officers recently shut down several pot dispensaries, enforcing a city prohibition that likely violates state law.
Attention now is on Washington State and Colorado, where similar initiatives are showing close numbers in the polls. Legalization is also up for consideration in Oregon, but the poll numbers there aren't as positive.
"What we're doing today in Colorado is standing on the shoulders of Prop. 19," Gray said when asked how Proposition 19's efforts have influenced these new attempts.
"If those two pass it's historic," said Diane Goldstein of LEAP. "We don't believe we would have made it to this moment. We would never have had this effort," without the experiences from fighting for Proposition 19.
For Richard Lee, president of Oaksterdam University, Prop. 19 sponsor, and central figure in the Legalize It documentary, the battle within the marijuana community to try and drum up support as medical growers turned protectionist and opposed legalization is still a point of frustration for him.
"Cutthroat politics from our own side," Lee said. "I didn't expect it." In Washington State, legalization supporters are now also dealing with opposition from medical marijuana providers.
But how was the actual documentary?
Filmed by Dan Katzir with Ravit Markus and Lati Grobman as producers, the small crew focuses almost entirely on Oaksterdam's Lee, Jeff Jones, and Dale Sky (who will become Dale Sky Jones during the course of the documentary) and their struggles to push the proposition forward. The small crew keeps much of the filming in Oakland, even as the movement grows. While this works when the push is still young, toward the end I was hoping for a broader view showing more of California somehow. Katzir does the best he can here by showing us clips of Prop. 19 showing up in pop culture (on Real Time with Bill Maher, for example) and showing journalists coming to Oaksterdam to interview them.
As somebody who tends to follow issues as matters of policy rather than personality, I actually appreciated the interactions between people rather than any discussions about the drug war for the benefit of the audience. For me, the documentary really came alive not just as more people become involved (Lee's conservative extremely Texan mother is a highlight) but as the opposition among medical marijuana providers develops. The Oaksterdam crew are clearly thrown by it and struggle to respond. They're practically drowned out by opposition at a hemp expo. It's remarkable, but sadly unsurprising, to see opponents callously argue in favor of keeping the drug war going in order to protect their own business.
Legalize It is being screened at churches in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado in the run up to the Nov. 6 election. Learn more about the movie here.
Below, Reason.tv interviewed the founders of Oaksterdam University in 2010:
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