Film Review: Rolling Papers

The first instances of legal purchases of marijuana in this country are seen through a journalistic lens in this very likeable, if a bit too superficial, documentary.
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The title Rolling Papers is a pun, referring of course to the wrapping necessary in the rolling of a joint, but it also pertains to a publication which focused on the Colorado legalization of marijuana in 2012, the biggest newspaper in the state, The Denver Post. This zeitgeist-conscious outfit made the bold step of appointing its well-liked music writer, Ricardo Baca, as the very first U.S. marijuana editor for a major news organization.

Baca and his merry band of pothead journos created a website called The Cannabist, still operating, which had its baby steps forever documented by filmmaker Mitch Dickman, who covers its debut year, 2014. His camera largely bases itself in the bustling newsroom as various cannabis-related stories break and are further ferreted out by Baca & Co. The news items range from an investigation into the inaccuracies of the amounts of THC printed on the packaging of certain edibles, to a college suicide that occurred while the student was under the influence, to the impact of pesticides used in marijuana cultivation and also what exact effect the legalization of pot might have on children.

Dickman was certainly lucky in the fact that Baca, himself a confessed non-smoker (although like some friends of mine, he will eat a baked good or two), is an affable, ingratiating if slightly schlumpy screen presence, whose admirable aim is to present informative, wide-ranging, diverting–but always strictly objective–journalism. Whoopi Goldberg, who often appears half-baked and with a definite case of the mad munchies on her TV show “The View,” was an early contributor, and amusing indeed is the website’s review section covering the various strains of weed any Coloradan now can acquire in their Rocky Mountain home.

Rolling Papersis also permeated with a certain wistfulness, in light of the dying state of print media and newspapers. However, with the $300 million increase in marijuana sales, both medical and recreational, last year, Baca’s plans for major expansion of The Cannabist as other states hopefully follow Colorado’s suit–especially California–do not seem unreasonably optimistic, and are indeed a boon for the ever-struggling mass of ink-stained wretches with deferred dreams, currently stuck on couches and, yes, smoking their days away.

The doc is a smoothly made, amiable ride, but does suffer from a certain ADD as it hops around from topic to topic, some far weightier and deserving of more focus than others. Again, California is the really big future development here and, as Baca has said, they have “the biggest weed economy in the world…and it’s one of the most culturally rich cannabis heritage sites in the world. I think as soon as California legalizes recreationally, whether it’s this year or in 2020, immediately it will become the single biggest story in cannabis and one of the biggest stories in business in general.”

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