Toke It or Leave It

Weed is a documentary chronicle of the "8th Annual Cannabis Cup & Hemp Expo," a competition among the marijuana coffee houses in that fabled civil-libertarian utopia known as Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Thousands of potheads from all around the world--but mostly Americans--pay a small fee for the privilege of sampling the contestants' wares and voting for the winner.

The film is a rapid-cut collage of interviews with the weed faithful, and scenes of the event's public celebrations--in one, a fetchingly body-painted nude "Princess Cannabis" distributes bud to the joyous multitudes. Intercut with the princess is a pair of black-clad feminists expressing their doubts about the purity of this particular bit of goddess worship.

Director Doug Wolens shot this footage on video, edited it on his PC, and blew it up to 35mm. The result is basically a briskly paced (64 minutes) home movie. That's not meant as a put-down, only a suggestion that, like all home movies, Weed is aimed at its own narrow audience. Its repetitiveness, its lack of suspense or narrative drive or even much music is likely to leave outsiders fidgeting a bit after a while. In the end, it's like watching participants at a baseball-card, comic-book or Star Trek convention. And about as harmless.

There are, for instance, long, loving shots of the competition's various contending bud, intended, says Wolens, as "mouth-watering weed-porn." Square that I am, I confess it didn't have much effect on me--Princess Cannabis had far higher impact.

The hemp-product activists get their say--though the subject already has been covered much more extensively in both The Hemp Revolution and Sex, Drugs and Democracy. And there is similarly parochial talk pondering which coffee houses may be trying to "buy" the contest. It would probably make a riveting letters page in High Times.

Still, there are passages where Wolens' interview material becomes impassioned and eloquent, as the pot pilgrims talk about what grass means to them, and about the double standard under which their lifestyle exists in the United States. One young man zealously holds forth: "I think most Americans who don't smoke marijuana have no idea that it's not some superficial habit we have, like smoking cigarettes. It's a very deep, spiritual, passionate thing. . . . When you share doobies together, you might think a lot of different things, but there's a lot of levels where you think the same."

My favorite moment in Weed, however, is a flash of throwaway wit. Asked how she and her companion have found the week's experience, a young woman quips approvingly, "We've been Amsterdamaged."

Directed by Doug Wolens.


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