By Colin Flynn
Being the most widely used illicit drug, for both medicinal and recreational applications, controversy surrounding the flora known as marijuana is only to be expected. Waiting to Inhale, a documentary directed by independent filmmaker Jed Riffe, who produced and directed the Emmy-nominated Ishi, the Last Yahi, examines this controversy. Riffe focuses on the ongoing battle regarding the use of medicinal marijuana. Various advocates, opponents, parent groups and Drug Enforcement Agency agents are consulted to share their views on the subject. While portraying the substance as neither medically necessary nor morally impermissible, Riffe instead allows viewers to make informed decisions, something which can be a painful process to many.
It is not simply users of marijuana who put forward their ideas and experiences, all facets of the debate are considered as every imaginable type of individual or group affected by the drug’s presence is given an opportunity to voice their opinions. The debate is whittled down to the cannabis plant’s effectiveness as a legitimate form of medicine. Focusing on the United States, the country’s history with marijuana is deeply exam- ined. From its aforementioned use as a researched and somewhat dignified remedy up until it being outlawed and hunted due to the social construct of it being viewed as something ‘evil.’
Waiting to Inhale is informative, providing a history explaining the harsh criminal treatment growers and users of medical marijuana are subject to. The herb was classified by the U.S. Congress as being a Schedule I substance, meaning it is highly addictive with an extreme chance of abuse associated with it. Other substances falling under the heading of Schedule I are heroin and PCP. Substances determined to be less detrimental to one’s health, by being less addictive and with a lower potential for abuse, are given the banner of Schedule II and include drugs like cocaine and methadone.
In the film, patients who seek the use of medical marijuana are extensively focused upon as they share stories of how they came to use the drug, whether it was by accident or on the recommendation of a doctor. They see the government authorities’ actions as being nothing more than “taking away their medicine.” There are currently eight people in the U.S. who have a federal approval to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, the only approval which cannot be disallowed. The legal battle establishing the precedent for medical marijuana is also explored as the key participants are included in the film and their struggles shown. Also elaborated upon are the patients who instead of seeking government approval, decide to grow their own relief. People suffering from a range of diseases, including glaucoma and AIDS, band together in one instance to produce enough marijuana collectively to supply 300 patients for a year, though the DEA eventually shut down the operation.
The film does not simply ask the viewer to take the stoners’ word for it regarding the drug’s medical benefit. Research teams at the University of California as well as McGill University communicate their findings on the uses of cannabinoids, the chemicals received by the nervous system. The ability of the plant’s effective ingredient, Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, to bond with specific neuro-receptors in order to alleviate certain types of pain is explained by various physicians working in the field.
Illuminating, informative, and at some times disturbing, Waiting to Inhale dives deep into the fight over the legislation at the core of medical marijuana being prohibited in the United States. Many opinions are discussed and examined, with counterpoints being shown consecutively. Riffe has succeeded in showing the problems damning a potentially harmful substance with possible beneficial uses can cause. The film clearly shows there are victims in the war on drugs other than drug dealers.