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Patrick Gower's weed documentary left me craving more

“Do I like the effects? Yes, I do! … Woah, is that a hawk?”

Greater love hath no Newshub newshound than to get comprehensively off his face for our enlightenment. And – we’re talking the irrepressible Paddy Gower here – for our entertainment. Even the promo for Three’s aptly named Patrick Gower: On Weed, with Gower happily wreathed in marijuana smoke, made you smile like you’d just inhaled a possibly soon-to-be-legal high.

Gower’s two-part documentary has been long in the making. “Nobody in New Zealand knows more about weed than I do,” he asserted a little wildly on Stuff in the lead-up to On Weed’s screening. “If you love weed, you love weed … When you get close to Kiwis who love weed, you find that they really love their weed,” he declared, with the unarguable authority of one who had possibly spent too long hanging out with people who love weed.

The first episode presented a case in point: a grower called Gandalf, somewhere on the East Coast. “Oh my word, that is a lovely smell,” Gandalf raved. “God, I love growing this stuff.” There’s a clip of Prime Minister and DJ Jacinda Ardern answering the “Did you inhale?” question. “I used to be a Mormon, then I wasn’t,” she beamed. “So I leave that to people’s imagination.”

Gower was ever at pains to maintain some journalistic distance. “Yeah, I don’t really want to …,” he says evasively, when discussing, with his dad, Gordon, whether he’d experienced the drug. Nevertheless, here things got personal. The first episode looks at the medicinal use of marijuana. Since a law change last December, doctors can prescribe medicinal cannabis and people with a terminal illness can use cannabis for medicinal purposes. Gower’s mother, Joan, died of lung cancer. He wonders whether cannabis might have eased her suffering. “You’re helpless,” said Gower’s dad. “When the real pain set in there was f--- all you could do.” The two men wept and it would have taken a hardened hack not to shed a tear with them. This is what places Gower, for all his fondness for high-rev hyperbole, among our most naturally gifted broadcasters. Like Paul Holmes, Marcus Lush, John Campbell, Hilary Barry and even, god help us, Paul Henry, he puts it all out there. His feeling that he’d failed his mother by not pursuing the option of marijuana, then illegal, argued eloquently for last year’s change of law. In Los Angeles, Spartacus actress Erin Cummings, a breast cancer survivor and medical marijuana user, told Gower, “You didn’t let your mum down. The Government let your mum down.”

In the second episode, our intrepid reporter will try some medical marijuana for stress, on medical advice, as he is at pains to emphasise when the doctor in question advises him to take another hit: “Medically, you would like me to take one more?” Not to give too much away, he gets stoned. “Do I like the effects? Yes, I do! … Woah, is that a hawk?” This episode looks at the more fraught end of the debate – the legalisation of recreational use. In a referendum to be held at next year’s general election, New Zealanders will vote on whether we should legalise personal use. In places in North America where recreational use is legal, it’s certainly all on. See Gower experience ganja yoga and a very genteel cannabis tea party in California, a “bud crawl” in Vancouver …

On Weed trawls through the evidence when it comes to potential harm, particularly for young people. Did I feel more informed by the end? Yes. Anyone not on board with the medical marijuana law change might think again after this. But that’s the easy part. There could have been more on how a recreational, regulated market might look in this country. Maybe there could have been a part three. There’s plenty of time, and good reason, for a follow-up.

PATRICK GOWER: ON WEED, Three, Wednesday, September 11, 8.30pm.

This article was first published in the September 21, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.