Film Review: California 90420

Everything you ever wanted to know about marijuana, but were too buzzed, lethargic or just plain hungry to ask.

For fans of Waiting, that hilariously raunchy and wacked-out comedy about restaurant drones, it should come as no surprise that one of its producers has emerged with this loose, instructive and highly diverting documentary about the world of weed, in all of its joys and possibilities.

Waiting alum Dean Shull directed and co-wrote California 90420 with Steve C. Roberts and Colin Goldman, and it opens a pungent window on a colorful cast of real-life characters and institutions like the grass-fueled Oaksterdam University, located in Oakland, Calif., a promised land where students actually major in marijuana. The filmmakers focus on four twenty-somethings who have devoted their lives to the pipe, like Ix, a likeable pixie who turns out to be something of the star of the film. She uses pot to numb away the horror of bedbugs in her crib and practically bounces off the walls with joy when visiting a marijuana clinic and seeing its menu of grass-laden brownies and the like. The entrepreneurial spirit hits her when she decides to start a business selling hand-rolled joints, “as most people suck at rolling.” Another guy, who grows an impressively verdant crop of the stuff, speaks about his clinical depression and the beneficial effects the drug has had on his condition. And then there’s Amber, who is dealing with cancer.

These medical considerations, in particular, bring up legalization issues, and here to answer your questions is Oaksterdam University's kickboxing chancellor and Prop 19 spokeswoman, Dale Sky Jones. She describes the controversial Prop 19 as allowing “an adult, 21 years or over, to carry a small amount of marijuana, up to one ounce, and also allow them to grow it with a small cultivation space, five by five square feet. It doesn’t allow sales for adult use, so you can’t just go out and start selling bags.”

For all of its shaggy-dog, freewheeling spirit, the doc covers an impressive amount of ground, focusing as well on medical patients’ particular journeys, parental confrontations and large-scale agricultural projects. It really gives you a lot to reflect upon, and you might even find yourself taking the time to ponder the subject before you hit the fridge for some desperately needed Ben & Jerry’s.