'The Marijuana Conspiracy' Gets Bogged Down in Stoner Clichés Directed by Craig Pryce
Starring Tymika Tafari, Julia Sarah Stone, Morgan Kohan, Brittany Bristow, Kyla Avril Young
Published Apr 20, 2021Since its legalization in 2018, cannabis has slowly become more welcomed and tolerated by Canadians as a recreational drug. Though the drug itself has become more prevalent, the culture surrounding weed has not been as easy to accept. Weed culture has been evolving for decades, but aspects of it have always been a bit embarrassing and juvenile, something Pineapple Express effectively mocked and identified in a very meta way. The countless synonyms for the drug itself, and the cartoonish names created for new strains are one thing, but most media tied to the culture over the last few decades (Harold & Kumar, Sublime, Phish, Cheech & Chong) have really pigeonholed how people perceive cannabis users. Unfortunately, with Craig Pryce's The Marijuana Conspiracy, those same clichés permeate and distract from a bigger story.
The film tells the true story of an experiment conducted in a Toronto hospital in 1972, which was composed of 20 young women and lasted 98 days. Half of these women were tasked with smoking weed twice a night, with a team of nurses running rigorous tests daily to study the effects of the cannabis. The study was funded by the Addictions Research Foundation, and conducted with the hopes that the results would be negative enough to dissuade the government from legalizing the drug, which they were considering at the time.
At first glance, the film appears to be about the controversial debate surrounding the pros and cons of the drug, but ends up trying to focus on the conditions these young women had to endure as part of the study. The women who participated in the trial, all vulnerable in various ways and in need of money, were subjected to an environment unfit to accurately analyze their productivity. The women were only allowed to communicate with friends and family by writing letters (phone calls were not allowed), were not permitted to leave the building, and were subjected to increasingly potent strains of pot a as the study progressed.
The main issue with the film is that the focus is too scattered. The Toronto Star article that inspired the film does an effective job at detailing the isolation and unethical treatment of the women involved in the study; the film, however, does not. With an ensemble cast, Pryce tries to give the audience a brief glimpse into each character's background to give a sense of how their living conditions in the study actually worsened their personal situations outside of the hospital. But those scenes are bookended by montages of the women getting high, looking at their fingers, sitting around in a circle playing acoustic guitar and getting the munchies, among other stoner cliches. Pryce could spend more time establishing the backstories of these women, who were taken advantage of in the name of a study and whose results never saw the light of day. Instead, he opts for a number of groovy scenes where the characters sit around losing track of conversations and laughing hysterically as they throw popcorn at observing nurses.
Playing into stereotypical weed behaviour not only impacts the film negatively as a whole, but also makes the performance of the actors harder to gauge, because the depiction of consuming weed is so contrived. Because there are so many 'toke time' scenes, there are fewer opportunities for the cast to convey the struggles of these women, which would be far more interesting than countless scenes of the women puffing away. There's even a scene where they're watching Reefer Madness and laughing at how much of a caricature the performances are, which really hammers home the film's lack of self-awareness.
There isn't much to find in the film that warrants sitting down for two hours and experiencing it start to finish. The ideas worth exploring — like the unethical treatment of the women involved, their struggle for basic human rights as women in the '70s, and the bond they formed as a result of the study — are only identified and never flushed out. Instead, The Marijuana Conspiracy plods along, never finding a rhythm because of the film's inability to focus. Weed can certainly have that effect on consumers, but we should expect better of this film. (Samuel Goldwyn Films)