bitters WEED Examines Taiwan’s Cannabis Decriminalization Movement

by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Film Still

BITTERS WEED (麻罪犯), a documentary focusing on the issue of cannabis criminalization in Taiwan, is an effective look at the issue.

Produced as part of a documentary series focusing on a number of biographical subjects, bitters WEED focuses instead on cannabis itself. However, in this, bitters WEED spotlights cannabis decriminalization advocates ranging from human rights lawyer and Green Party chair Zoe Lee to medical experts as well as social media influencer and medical expert Dr. Kiang.

Green Party chair Zoe Lee in a film still

The documentary starts off with footage of a recent 420 rally in Taiwan, then transitions into spotlighting the advocacy work of its protagonists, with a focus on Lee specifically. This is done with a stylized, even metafictional approach, which acknowledges the staged nature of some of the proceedings–Lee is shown reading from a script, for example, rather than commenting contemporaneously on one occasion.

Interviews with advocates and experts are interspersed with broader historical commentary, which is done through the use of animation. This is integrated well into the footage. Ultimately, the documentary provides a historical narrative that argues for the long-term medicinal use of cannabis and highlights its criminalization as a recent historical phenomenon that occurred due to a racist backlash against cannabis use among black Americans. America then exported its drug laws abroad. The irony of that America–which propagated anti-drug laws worldwide, has now legalized the medical use of cannabis in over half of its states–but this is still blocked in Taiwan is focused in on.

Film poster

To this extent, personal stories highlighted by the documentary emphasize that cannabis usage can help treat the symptoms of cancer and other painful diseases, without resorting to morphine or other stronger drugs. It is suggested in the documentary that it is arbitrary as to why one can receive some treatments in the US or other places that have legalized medical cannabis, but this is still illegal in Taiwan. This is used to argue for medical cannabis’ place in Taiwan today, even politicians continue to tout drug crackdowns, and as cannabis is positioned alongside harder drugs.

bitters WEED is not exactly subtle about its message, but it proves a useful examination of issues around cannabis legalization in Taiwan. The movie, which will soon be available online, is worth a look.