‘Rolling Papers’: Pot becomes legal, and newspaper rolls with it

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A little more than two years ago, Colorado officially became the epicenter of legalized marijuana.

This went far beyond the sometimes wink-wink nature of medicinal marijuana use, where everything from Acute Gastritis to Eczema to Insomnia to Motion Sickness to Restless Leg Syndrome might qualify one for legal marijuana consumption. (Not to downplay the thousands of patients dealing with much more serious conditions who claim benefits from marijuana consumption.)

In January of 2014, Colorado was the first state in America to make legal the recreational use of pot for adults 21 and over. The Denver Post, an excellent newspaper with a long track record of award-winning journalism, responded to this historic development with a magazine and website called the Cannabist, complete with a full-time Marijuana Editor, an investigative reporter assigned to the marijuana beat and even a couple of pot critics, who write up reviews analyzing the bouquet, the taste and the type of high produced when one consumes Pineapple Express or Ghost Train or Death Panda or some other strain.

Director Mitch Dickman takes a mostly lighthearted approach to the topic, using lots of peppy and bouncy music while following the daily routines of Marijuana Editor Ricardo Baca, who comes across as a solid journalist who runs the site with the same efficiency an editor would bring to a site dedicated to business or politics; reporter Eric Gorski, a central casting, determined nerd type who talks about how he loves “the hunt” for a good story, and Ry Prichard, a photographer identified as a “weed genius” who is hired as a pot critic.

“Rolling Papers” does a nice job of outlining some of the more complex issues still swirling around this issue. It’s legal to consume pot in Colorado — but it’s still illegal at the federal level. The marijuana industry is rapidly approaching the $1 billion a year mark—but the Federal Reserve won’t accept pot proceeds in the country’s banking system.

Vendors complain about one large supplier with allegedly inaccurate labeling that passed off incredibly weak product as something much better. Parents worry because Child Protective Services in Colorado still has the right to take away your kids if you smoke pot.

In fact, one of the Cannabist’s pot critics is the mother of a 2-year-old. After she and her husband put the toddler to bed, they fire up some “Tahoe O.G.” — and they get baked.

“I’m feeling a little forgetfulness, I have to write that down,” says Mom, who adds that her husband “has a perma-smile.” It’s not a great advertisement for pot and parenting.

Cut to the newsroom, where a reporter who covers child abuse tells her pot-beat colleagues the Post wouldn’t feature a column where someone talks about downing a six-pack after putting the kids to bed.

“I hate the stony Mom,” she says. “It makes me cringe.”

At times, “Rolling Papers” is its own worst enemy. Nearly every time a strain of marijuana is referenced, director Dickman cuts to a shot of the bud on a pedestal — actually on a small, rotating pedestal, with cheesy music blasting away. It’s a goofy, irritating technique.

On balance, “Rolling Papers” is more about marijuana journalism than the big picture, and as such it’s a worthwhile endeavor. The legalization of pot in the great state of Colorado is a relatively new and still developing story, and will no doubt be the subject of deeper and more serious films down the road.

[s3r star=3/4]

Alchemy presents a documentary directed by Mitch Dickman. Running time: 79 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at Facets Cinematheque and on iTunes.

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