How Washington Was Won

The Road To Legalization
A film by Riley Morton
85 minutes
First Run Features

Riley Morton’s 2013 documentary is a riveting account of how Washington state legalized recreational marijuana.

Voters in November 2012 approved legal weed by a decisive double-digit margin — 56 percent for to 44 percent against — only two years after legalization failed in California.

Ballot measure Initiative 502 — subtitled, simply, “on marijuana reform” — came from an unlikely coalition of lawmakers, attorneys, and police who concluded that the “war on drugs” was a complete failure.

You know the basics: Countless lives had been ruined by giving nonviolent offenders criminal records, while cannabis consumption remained unaffected. Billions of dollars had been spent filling up jails with people who hadn’t done anything wrong aside from break a law outlawing a plant.

Many from the African-American community pointed out how disproportionately their people were being targeted. African Americans made up 19 percent of the Washington prison population, but less than 10 percent of the state’s population. Most of these incarcerations were for low-level pot offenses.

The film’s speakers point out that once that conviction is on a person’s record, they could be denied access to schools and jobs. Many who appear in the film question the rationale of in literally ruining people’s lives.

The authors of the initiative tried to find a balance between the views of the state’s existing medical marijuana community, its faithful die-hard pot smokers seen every summer at Seattle HempFest, and the state’s more conservative residents.

Keeping the latter group happy was the key. Initiative 502 included a provision that would make driving while high a DUI. Medical cannabis users were outraged.

One medical pot user in the film points out that it would be a lot safer for her to drive while high rather than while nauseous. Another pointed out that she could not drive, work, or function without the medical cannabis which alleviates her pain.

Morton lets both sides be heard and doesn’t show bias. The importance of listening may be the film’s most important message. The filmmaker visits a heated public event in Olympia, Washington’s state capital, which degenerated into a shouting match: No one was heard as the police dragged screaming protesters out of the building.

Both sides get heard loud and clear as Morton’s film unfolds. His camera follows supporters of the measure on a tour of the state. He interviews lawmakers, elected officials, people who run medical cannabis clinics, patients, and people who just want to light a joint. It’s a balanced look at at a controversial issue that perhaps needn’t be such a hot topic.

When victory came, the joy in the faces of Seattle pot users was uplifting and infectious.

Evergreen: The Road to Legalization is now available on DVD. More info can be found at the film’s official website: