Despite what the anti-marijuana crowd will tell you, Reefer Madness – the late 1930s film about a group of high school kids who smoke pot then dive into a life of hit and runs, manslaughter, rape and, as the title suggests, complete and utter madness – isn’t a documentary on cannabis. Rather, it’s a production of propaganda financed by a group of people trying to save the children of that era from the alleged and inflated dangers of marijuana: “Remember Johnny, don’t smoke pot. Now, eat your lard and then go move that giant pile of asbestos.”
In the 1970s, Reefer Madness experienced a bit of a rebirth, but not in the spirit of its original intentions. Instead, is it was used by pot proponents in a satirical sense given its overt ridiculousness and diversion from reality. It appeared to gain more steam in the pro-marijuana movement than it did in the movement for prohibition.
While it’s a fairly well-known movie about pot, it’s – as mentioned above – not a documentary and offers very little in terms of the science behind cannabis (and by “very little” I really mean “basically nothing”).
So, if you’re jonesing for something rooted in truth, try a documentary (a potumentary?). There’s several about marijuana offering detailed accounts on the history of weed; the science behind cannabis; and the impact pot’s illegality has had on society.
To start, try one of the following:
The title leaves no question as to what this film is about – Weed is directed by Sanjay Gupta M.D. (of CNN fame).
Not always a believer, Gupta actually opposed marijuana once upon a time
Then he began to research it and changed his mind (if only everyone else would do the same!).
Weed showcases the reasons and ways marijuana became prohibited in America during the 1930s (it wasn’t always illegal). Before this time, cannabis was widely used medicinally, believed to help and treat many ailments. But then Harry Anslinger rallied the anti-cannabis troops and effectively changed the societal perception. After that was altered, the laws around marijuana changed too.
Gupta’s touches on the “War on the Drugs,” the futile campaign that has done little more than put nonviolent offenders in jail for extended periods of time, looks at Colorado (after legalization), and explores the science behind weed as well as the politics running interference.
Super High Me (2008)
While some documentaries make you think, this one is designed more for entertainment purposes. It’s a parody of Super-Size Me, the documentary where Morgan Spurlock’s health declined after a month-long binge on McDonald’s food (coupled by a sedentary lifestyle). This documentary is similar, but weed replaces the Big Macs.
It stars Doug Benson, a comedian who goes weed-free for a month before starting 30 days of ganja. It’s not overly scientific, but it does explore the cannabis culture and the questions surrounding its legalization.
Clearing the Smoke: The Science of Cannabis (2011)
If you’re truly interested in the medical impact of cannabis, this documentary is worth the view. It’s a very in-depth look into the health benefits associated with marijuana. It looks into cannabis as it relates to glaucoma, epilepsy, cancer, chronic pain, and nausea (as well as a few other things).
The Culture High (2015)
The Culture High, the sequel to The Union: The Business of Getting High, won Best Documentary at the 2015 AMPIA Awards. It looks at marijuana prohibition and the debate over its legality.
It relies on celebrities, like Snoop Dog, but also interviews undercover agents, professors, and scholars who provide testimony for the reasons they are either for or against cannabis
Most interestingly, it focuses on the government’s involvement and control over who can grow it, sell it, and, of course, profit from it. If you live in a legal state and think that Big Brother isn’t involved in your blunts, think again.
420 – The Documentary (2013)
Aptly named, this documentary looks closely at the hypocrisy regarding marijuana prohibitionists. It reflects on the history of cannabis too, from its legal status in the 1930s to modern day.
Much of this documentary explores the propaganda surrounding cannabis (ahem, Reefer Madness) and studies how political agendas instilled a fear of weed into the public. You may walk away thinking the only thing more ridiculous than the propaganda surrounding pot is the fact that so many people bought it.
In a move of poignancy, the film includes stories of retired law enforcement discussing polices they put into effect and now regret.
The Future of Weed: High Country (2013)
As we all know, the future of weed does indeed look bright – this documentary explores the changing horizon by looking at places like Colorado. It also focuses on cannabis’s classification as a Schedule I drug, something that leaves most people confused (if not infuriated).
By showcasing pot’s healthy benefits, this documentary further implores the DEA to rethink their classification
Cannabis isn’t equitable to heroin, no matter how badly they want it to be.
A NORML Life (2011)
Cleverly titled, a NORML Life looks at the efforts of NORML, the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. For decades, NORML has been at the forefront of marijuana legalization; not only fighting for its value in health and wellness; but the decriminalization of those who grow it and use it.
Documentaries are a wonderful opportunity to learn more in the event you’re on the fence with how you feel. Many of the above are well-balanced, offering more than one perspective. They’re eye-opening for some and validating for others: a giant “told you so” right before the credits roll.
About Anthony Martinelli
Anthony, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheJointBlog, has worked closely with numerous elected officials who support cannabis law reform, including as the former Campaign Manager for Washington State Representative Dave Upthegrove. He has also been published by multiple media outlets, including the Seattle Times. He can be reached at TheJointBlog@TheJointBlog.com.