LOS ANGELES - Oliver Stone has smoked great marijuana all over the world, from Vietnam and Thailand to Jamaica and South Sudan. But the filmmaker says the best weed is made in the USA and that pot could be a huge growth industry for taxpayers if it were legalized.
Stone, whose drug-war thriller "Savages" opens Friday, has been a regular toker since his days as an infantryman in Vietnam in the late 1960s and knows a good herb when he inhales one. He insisted in a recent interview that no one is producing better stuff now than U.S. growers.
"There's good weed everywhere in the world, but my God, these Americans are brilliant," said Stone, 65, who sees only benefits from legalizing marijuana. "It can be done. It can be done legally, safely, healthy, and it can be taxed and the government can pay for education and stuff like that. Also, you can save a fortune by not putting kids in jail."
Stone is known for mixing polemics and drama in films such as "JFK," "Born on the Fourth of July," "Wall Street" and "Nixon," his saga of the president who declared the war on drugs 40 years ago. Yet "Savages" may be closer to a pure thrill ride than anything he's done, the action coming without much in the way of preaching for legalization.
Still, the film offers a fictional portrait of violence among a Mexican drug cartel and California pot growers that makes legalizing marijuana seem like a sane option.
"That would be my personal solution, but as a politician, I would fight for decriminalization first, because that is the immediate by-product of this mess that we got ourselves into. It's very hard to pull out of a $40 billion-a-year industry, which is the prison industry. It's probably more than $40 billion. But they will fight you tooth and nail to keep these prisons as big as they are," Stone said.
"It's worse than slavery, per capita. In the black community, it is a form of slavery, this drug war, because it imprisons a huge portion of people, destroys their lives, coarsens our culture. And why? Marijuana is much less harmful than tobacco and prescription drugs in many cases and certainly alcohol. This puritanical strain got started with Nixon. It was a political issue for him, and it's gotten worse. It's like the Pentagon. You can't stop it."
"Savages" co-star Salma Hayek had some worries that the film could have become a sermon in favor of drug legalization. She was glad the film wound up sticking to a good story and generally keeping politics out of it, even though she agrees that legalization makes sense for marijuana, at least.
"Yeah, marijuana, if it's legalized and controlled," Hayek said. "Some of the other drugs that are on the market are really, really dangerous. The legal drugs. That your doctor can prescribe. And they can kill you with it slowly."
Hayek plays the merciless boss of a Mexican cartel aiming to seize control of a California pot operation whose leaders (Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch) grow the best marijuana on the planet. The film co-stars Benicio Del Toro as Hayek's brutal lieutenant, John Travolta as a corrupt Drug Enforcement Agency cop and Blake Lively as Johnson and Kitsch's shared lover, whose kidnapping puts the two sides at war.
Stone, who has two Academy Awards as best director for 1989's "Born on the Fourth of July" and 1986's "Platoon" (the latter also won best picture), has had a fitful career since the mid-1990s, with critical bombs such as "Alexander" and modest box-office results for "W.", "World Trade Center" and "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."
With gorgeous Southern California scenery, wicked humor and relentless action, "Savages" may have more commercial appeal than anything Stone has done in decades. While the film itself doesn't preach, it has given Stone a soapbox to play devil's advocate, even landing him on the cover of the marijuana magazine High Times, smoking a joint.
"He's Oliver Stone for a reason. There's no filter, and he is who he is, and I admire that," said "Savages" star Kitsch. "At the end of the day, who you're going to be facing is yourself. If you can stay true to that - and I tell you, this business tests every minute of it - I love that. I love to see someone that is like, `Look, this (expletive) movie is what I've done. Take it or leave it.' It's an admirable quality, especially in this business."
Stone considers his pot use part of a healthy regimen.
"It doesn't hurt me," he said. "As you can see, I'm still functioning at my age. My mind feels good. I may not be the brightest rocket in the room, but I certainly feel like I'm competent."