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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Legalize it, Don’t Criticize it

Safe, sensible, and well-regulated selling of marijuana shouldnt be met with unnecessary opposition
Safe, sensible, and well-regulated selling of marijuana shouldn’t be met with unnecessary opposition

On November 29th, Director Rebecca Richman Cohen brought “Code of the West” to UMass Boston for the final screening of the university’s Film Series event. The film was of particular interest to the Boston audience; on November 6th, voters in Massachusetts approved their own medical marijuana bill, which was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Cohen, who graduated from Harvard Law School and received two Emmy nominations for her first documentary, “War Don Don,” made no bones about her view of marijuana. “I didn’t come into the film without a perspective,” she said, and added, “I think it should be taken completely off the list of federally controlled substances.”

Cohen’s opinion contrasts greatly with those who oppose medical marijuana in Montana. At one point during the film, Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives Mike Milburn, stood up in front of his colleagues to say that “children are prostituting their own selves” in order to get their hands on the drug. Other activists in the movie claimed that use of marijuana among teenagers has quadrupled in Montana since the I-148 was passed.

Opposing Safe Communities, Safe Kids and representative Milburn was a parade of chronically ill, disabled and dying marijuana patients. In a particularly devastating scene, a young woman in a wheelchair cried in front of a room full of Montana representatives. She told them that if they took away her medicine, they took away her “hopes and dreams for the future.”

During the question and answer session following the movie, an audience member asked how Cohen managed to film people like Milburn and Safe Communities, Safe Kids organizer Cherie Brady without getting angry. “They were using blatantly false information. How do you not just have an outburst?”

“I can empathize with Cherie Brady. I can tell that she feels this real fear, even if it’s deeply misguided,” said Cohen. “And I can honestly say I like Mike Milburn. I went to his ranch. We spent a lot of time together.”

Cohen also advocates on behalf of characters in her film who were charged with federal drug-trafficking crimes after she left Montana. A rough cut of her film was shown to the federal judge in charge of sentencing one of her subjects, former grower Tom Daubert, as evidence of Daubert’s good character. Cohen has worked actively to keep not just Daubert, but her other subject Chris Williams out of federal custody. Williams, who Cohen describes as “deeply principled man” and a “tragic figure,” currently faces a mandatory minimum of 80 years in prison.

“I worked in a public defender’s office, so I came into the story thinking there are far too many Americans in prison,” she said.

Although Montana eventually repealed its medical marijuana law, Cohen does not believe that Massachusetts will do so. She believes that the safe, sensible, and well-regulated selling of marijuana simply wouldn’t meet with much opposition.

“Montana’s law was very vaguely written,” she explained. Anti-drug activists became angry because of the number of people with medical marijuana cards who weren’t sick and the proliferation of dispensaries where teenagers were known to congregate. “There’s a cap on the number of dispensaries here. You won’t see them kitty-corner with junior high schools.”

The UMass Boston Film Series is a joint project of Chico Colvert, a UMass Boston alum and documentary filmmaker, and a group of Honors Program students taking his class in film curation. The class invites a different documentary director to visit UMass Boston for a free screening and discussion every other Thursday during the semester.

The series, which is open to the public, will continue in Spring 2013. For more information, please visit umb.edu/filmseries, or facebook.com/UmbFilmSeries.