You can almost smell the joints littering the screen as “The Marijuana Conspiracy” shuffles aimlessly forward. Set in Canada in 1972, and dramatizing an actual experiment designed to test the effects of cannabis on young women, this agonizingly gauche movie feels like a missed opportunity for a searing ethical investigation.
Fearing that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is about to decriminalize weed, a disapproving politician (Derek McGrath) — hoping to prove that the drug inspires laziness and general moral turpitude — hires a laid-back sociologist (Gregory Calderone) to run the study. For 98 days, female volunteers will be confined and ruthlessly monitored while inhaling hefty doses of government-sanctioned grass. When not toking, they will be paid to weave macramé belts and wall hangings.
Wise viewers will not be expecting an action movie, but “The Marijuana Conspiracy” is worse than inert: It’s shallow and tone-deaf. Attempts to highlight the sexism and discrimination of the time are either embarrassingly awkward or troublingly facile. Focusing on five willing stoners, each with one personality trait and a specific financial goal apiece — wistful and homeless, perky and commune-bound — the writer and director, Craig Pryce, feeds them dialogue creaking with antique lingo and sticky sentiment. Sitcom-style music bridges bonding sessions and confessionals, the workmanlike cinematography underscoring the small-screen vibe.
The movie’s purpose, however, remains foggy. The word “conspiracy” is in the title — and the film’s coda indicates that some of the study’s real-life participants suffered long-term effects — yet Pryce seems incapable of shaping the conflict and moral outrage his story needs. But then, that would mean killing the buzz.