Just weeks before the state of Oregon legalized cannabis for recreational use, the documentary filmmaker Francesco Bussalai visited Eugene for the first time. His previous work as a labor economist for nearly two decades in the Italian public sector led to the exploration of documentary work, and the unique approach local businesses were taking in regard to cannabis prompted him to begin filming here.
“In Italy, when they talk about legalization it is very corporate driven,” Bussalai says in a phone call. “In Eugene it was small businesses with interests more than just money.”
Relegalized: A journey into the re-legalization of cannabis opens with a brief history of cannabis on a global scale, highlighting cultures of Asia and Africa which exhibit thousands of years of regular, legal use. The prohibitive state, and thus the drug-incarceral state, began only 80 years ago.
Plenty of archival material ala Nixon, the Shafer Commission and the declaration of a drug war yields the response of several members of the Eugene cannabis industry. In the film, Morgan Glenn, co-owner of Flowr of Life dispensary downtown, calls the War on Drugs “a vehicle to take people’s rights away … It’s a war on people.”
Although Bussalai was initially interested in the economics of legal cannabis, his case-study of Eugene quickly yielded much more than he imagined as people began talking to him about every aspect of a legitimate industry — but one that is forced to self-regulate, because cannabis is still illegal in most states and federal regulations do not not exist.
In Eugene Bussalai interviewed the owners and operators of businesses dedicated to more than just small-business politics — ones that represented every step along the way in the process of getting some good medicine or some delicious organic pot in your hands.
One interview with OG Analytical in Eugene showed the process of testing pot for chemical and pesticide levels, a legal requirement — though without any set of consistent guidelines — that impacts both consumers and the environment.
Through these interviews, and also those of California activists and an Italian neuroscientist and professor of pharmacology, Bussalai shows the work being done to counter the impact of the modern pharmaceutical industry. He also discusses the impact of racist laws and policies that contribute to the rise in prison populations worldwide, but particularly in the United States.
This should all be familiar territory for Eugene residents, but sometimes it takes some outsider Visine to clear up the old eyes.
Relegalized was filmed in late 2015 and early 2016, just as many of these businesses were getting started on the legitimate side of operation. The film was released last year and screened throughout Italy, including a special viewing for the Parliament, and April 20, 2018 marked the U.S. debut at the Palm Springs Cannabis Film Festival.
(Relegalized: A journey into the re-legalization of cannabis screens one night only, with a filmmaker Q&A, 7pm Monday, May 14, at Bijou Art Cinemas; info at bijou-cinemas.com)