Writer/director Craig Pryce’s film The Marijuana Conspiracy proves that a fascinating, little-known, and rather dark chapter in Canadian history does not necessarily make for a fascinating movie. The basis for the film is a story largely buried in time. In the late 60s and early 70s, the then-prime minister of Canada Pierre Elliott Trudeau was considering the legalization of marijuana, but government officials wanted to see if recreational use of the drug would prove destructive to the economy. To answer that question, in 1972, 20 women took part in an experiment that lasted 98 days, where they were confined to a hospital in downtown Toronto. For this project, the researchers used government-grown pot that was 3 times stronger than that attainable on the street. Ten women were in the control group, and the other ten were given 2 daily doses of increasingly more potent marijuana. Their organs, urine, and behavior were then analyzed. Both the control group and those smoking were charged with weaving colorful belts every day to judge the productivity of those smoking against those who were not. The results have never been published, leaving the women involved frustrated, especially as some say the experience resulted in their need for years of therapy, or felt like being in jail or being tortured.
The narrative film based on this wacky but true bit of history may suffer from having too little data or too little imagination, but it never seems to go anywhere, or delve into the experience from the perspective of the women involved. That is a missed opportunity. Since a fair amount of screen time involves watching the girls cough through their nightly doses and getting stoned, it feels like The Marijuana Conspiracy might be better appreciated by folks who take a toke before they sit down to watch it.
The movie is ever teetering on the precipice where quirky indie drama careens downward into ABC Afterschool Special. It’s enjoyable enough to pass the time, especially watching the standout performances of Julia Sarah Stone and Tymika Tafari, who play Mary and Mourinda, two of the ten human guinea pigs. Too bad much of the dialogue and storytelling centers on clichéd characters straight from 70s-era Central Casting. Will the runaway find a family she can trust, teaching her ‘sisters in weed are friends indeed’? What does the girl having secret hookups with one of the researchers have to hide? Will the overachiever who misses her mom crack under the pressure? Pryce throws in all the personal complications you’d see in Sarah: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic, and then some. There’s even got a plot thread about a lesbian researcher and aversion therapy. Pryce and his producers also did themselves no favors with a movie title that sounds like a documentary, or at the very least a flick with some action or conflict in need of resolution.
The Marijuana Conspiracy does offer actors Stone and Tafari some good content for their demo reels, and will teach those who encounter the film about a historic and completely inappropriate test of female endurance, one that led to Canada introducing its first official guidelines for the ethical treatment of humans for the purpose of research in 1978. Watch it when multitasking, like when you’re doing your taxes, or you’re baking your next batch of special pandemic brownies.
2 1/2 out of 5 stars.