Across the Northwestern United States - in states like Oregon, Colorado and Washington - the sale and use of marijuana has now been legalized for a number of years. These states serve as case studies for the remainder of the nation, and additional countries which are currently considering widespread legalization.
Do the benefits of increased government funding and relief from burdensome drug convictions outweigh the potential risks? The documentary Northwest Trees travels to these regions in search of the answer.
The filmmakers find a thriving "culture of weed" where the drug is readily available and underage use is rampant. Surprisingly, this was precisely the same reality prior to the drug's legalized status. Long before the ban was lifted, kids as young as six years of age were experimenting with marijuana, and it continues to play an equally dominant role in their daily lives post-legalization. But the abundance of drug use in music videos and other popular media is likely more influential to young people than relaxed drug laws.
Interviews with school officials and teenagers reveal another epidemic of abuse with far more sinister consequences. The recreational use of prescription narcotics is on the rise among youth, and their addictive potency and crippling side effects are more severe than any posed by marijuana. The argument over whether or not marijuana serves as a gateway to these powerful drugs continues to remain open for debate, and seems to differ on a case-by-case basis. To be certain, though, narcotics abuse is climbing in many states and countries where bans on cannabis are still in place.
When it comes to the long and short-term risks associated with marijuana use, it can be a challenge to separate the propaganda from the hard scientific evidence. Truth is often the first casualty of any overly politicized issue, and the marijuana debate is no exception. Northwest Trees attempts to assemble an honest and unflinching account of each side of this debate.
In the end, it's going to take more time before definitive answers can be reached, and there's still much we have to learn, but the questions raised by the film pose an admirable start.