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Marijuana documentary sheds light on debate

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Rebecca Richman Cohen wanted to create a film that would create dialogue.

It seems like she did.

Richman Cohen was at the helm of “Code of the West,” a documentary that follows the Montana Legislature as it debates marijuana regulation and repeal of the medical marijuana initiative that Montana voters approved in 2004.

It follows key figures on each side of the debate, including drug policy reform activist Tom Daubert, and medical marijuana grower Chris Williams. Daubert and Williams were both indicted after Montana Cannabis, their former business, was raided by federal agents in 2011. Their stories made national headlines as people across the country expressed outrage that state legal medical marijuana growers were facing decades in federal prison. The film will screen at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, March 16, and Sunday, March 17, at the Guild Cinema, 3405 E. Central.

“Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, but the federal government doesn’t recognize any legitimate medical use,” says Richman Cohen. “The chance to explore the cultural and legal tensions at the heart of this divide drove me to make this film.”

Richman Cohen says there had been a number of documentaries about drug policy and marijuana, but she wanted to show the debate in serious and critical light.

“Montana is a small state, and it was very clear to see who was for and against it,” she explains. “I think generally folks were willing to talk even though there were nerves. But they felt it was important to share their stories.”

Crews filmed for longer than the actual Legislature schedule, which lasted a couple months.

“Our story began to change dramatically,” she says. “This gave an entirely new storyline to the documentary.”

Richman Cohen says there was a version released to South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, in 2011 but crews kept shooting.

“We were in the middle of shooting when Tom and Chris were indicted,” she says. “At that point, we were stuck in which direction to go into. The story just kept getting more compelling.”

Richman Cohen says there are usually Q&A sessions after the films when screened.

"Code of the West" director Rebecca Richman Cohen.

“Code of the West” director Rebecca Richman Cohen.

“We wanted to create a great conversation from both sides,” she says. “It’s been really great to see people participate in these discussions.”

Chris Hsu, president of the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patients Alliance, sees this event as an opportunity to raise awareness about cannabis education.

While Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against, is happy to involve LEAP as a partner “as governments across the country take the marijuana trade out of the hands of violent criminals and put it in the hands of local authorities, this compelling story of what happens when the federal government comes to blows with a state’s right to govern itself is a particularly timely look at the struggle toward more sensible drug laws.”

Guild Cinema co-owner Keif Henley decided to screen this film because of its “absolute relevance and topicality, particularly here in Albuquerque.”

At the Saturday, March 16, screening, Finn Selander, a retired DEA special agent and a member of LEAP, will be at the Q&A session.

On Sunday, March 17, Hsu and a staff member from the Drug Policy Alliance’s New Mexico Office will take part in the discussion.


“Code of the West”
WHEN: 1:30 p.m. Saturday, March 16, and Sunday, March 17
WHERE: Guild Cinema, 3405 E. Central
HOW MUCH: $7 at the door



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