Films about or relating to cannabis have been around for almost a century now, and it’s no wonder since the subject of cannabis and its legality have been at the forefront of contentious political and social debates for decades. The ebb and flow of cannabis as a topic and it’s hotly argued controversies can be traced, almost ethnographically, through film. From the days where the horrors of reefer were played out in propaganda films like Reefer Madness (1936) to more contemporary movies like Dazed and Confused (1993), the subject of cannabis has provided a platform for comedy, politics, social commentary and entertainment in film.
Cannabis in film has led to a plethora of genres relating to and revolving around the drug. Stoner films, slacker films and psychedelic films are all notorious for having cannabis as a central theme, and this has itself led to many cult classics like Cheech and Chong - Up in Smoke (1978), Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Friday (1995) and The Big Lebowski (1998). While the stoner film canon is full of these classic titles that we all know and love, there exists a wide variety of films that don’t necessarily fit into the stoner genre per se, but still revolve around cannabis and its uses for recreation, medicine, currency and popularity. Classics will always be classics, but if you feel like expanding your cannabis film repertoire, light up and lean back as you enjoy these alternative marijuana movies.
For true stoner film aficionados, Bongwater will be a film that many might already know. That being said, it’s still very much under the radar. Bongwater is a film best watched when you don’t want too many plot complications and when you just want to shut your brain off and vegetate in front of a screen. Based in Oregon, Bongwater’s protagonist is David (Luke Wilson), a casual artist and occasional drug dealer who revels in his somnambulistic slacker lifestyle. He spends his days with stoner pals Tony (Andy Dick) and Robert (Jeremy Sisto) with nothing but the mild concern of when the next cannabis crop will come in to bug him out. When social hitchhiker Serena (Alicia Witt) stumbles into his life, however, all of a sudden his life starts getting a whole lot more complicated.
Saving Grace (2000)
If British comedy has taught us anything, it’s that setting a film in a quiet little village with eccentric characters is a sure fire way to induce a lot of laughs. Saving Grace does just that, with a good old dose of weed thrown in for good measure. When recently widowed Grace (Brenda Blethyn) discovers that her late husband not only cheated on her throughout her marriage but also ran through all their savings, Grace faces a mountain of unpaid debts and a foreclosure on her home. Not having any money herself, and too old to find employment through legal means, Grace, a talented horticulturist, decides to team up with her pot-smoking gardner (Craig Ferguson) and start their own successful grow operation in her greenhouse to save her house.
Hansel and Gretel Get Baked (2013)
With potentially one of the best cannabis film titles ever, this horror-comedy can almost be forgiven for its half-baked plotline. Taking the story of Hansel and Gretel into the 21st Century, this dark fairytale hits some real high notes in its absurd yet intoxicatingly entertaining story. After enjoying a sample of a new blend of cannabis that’s recently hit the scene in Pasadena, California, Gretel (Molly Quinn) and her boyfriend Ashton (Andrew James) decide to put in a bigger purchase from the kindly senior citizen (Lara Flynn Boyle) who is unassumingly growing this magic grass in her basement. When Ashton doesn’t return from his pick-up at the old lady’s house, Gretel grows concerned, and enlists the help of her uptight brother Hansel (Michael Welch) to help retrieve her missing stoner. They soon discover that the old lady is in fact a witch who turns unsuspecting “customers” into zombies as she feeds off their youthful souls. Fighting witchcraft, the living dead and cannibalism, Hansel and Gretel take on a more than they can chew in this bizarre fairytale retelling.
Growing Op (2008)
Major kudos to this film for being highly original and thoroughly enjoyable. With a mostly unknown cast, this coming-of-age film manages to not only give a well-worn genre a fresh, new angle, but it also does so in a deeply dark and funny way. Quinn (Steven Yaffee) is a suburban teen living in a not-so-suburban household. Sheltered his whole life and home schooled by his loving, neo-hippy parents (Rosanna Arquette, Wallace Langham), Quinn desperately wants to experience the normalcy of a regular American suburban teenager. When Crystal (Rachel Blanchard) and her family move in across the street, Quinn instantly falls for this blonde dreamgirl, and he begins to rebel against his parents’ alternative values. As Quinn draws away from his parents’ green utopia, he swiftly discovers that the real jungle isn’t in his living room but in the twisted morals and ideologies of the suburban status quo. Truths come out, cultures collide and everyone ends up getting stoned one way or another.
Rolling Kansas (2003)
Inoffensive, light-hearted and as whimsical as a film focusing on stoners can be, Rolling Kansas tells the story of a group of brothers, the Murphy boys, whose hippie parents were sent to prison when they were little. Now, having grown into problematic adults with dead-end jobs, they decide to take a road trip and use the map marking a secret government cannabis field that their felon parents left them so they could find their destinies. Thus, Dick (James Roday), Dave (Jay Paulson) and their paraplegic brother Dinkadoo (Sam Huntington) set off on a road trip to find this mysterious, legendary pot, which they hope will be the answer to all their problems.
Outside Providence (1999)
This 1999 coming-of-age film is based on an early novel by Peter Farrelly who wrote and directed classic comedies like Dumb and Dumber (1994), King Pin (1996), and There’s Something About Mary (1998). Set in the 1970s in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Outside Providence focuses on Timothy Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy), a working-class high school burn-out with a knack for getting into trouble. After one too many run-ins with the law, Timothy’s strict father (Alec Baldwin) knows that if his son doesn’t shape up quickly, he’ll end up in jail like most of the other young, jobless men in town. So, after pulling a few strings, Dunphy’s father ships him off to a private prep school to give him an education and some discipline. Timothy soon finds a group of friends at the new school that love smoking, drinking and getting into mischief as much as he does, and the teen discovers that school can be a lot more educational than he once thought possible.
Free Jimmy (2006)
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is one for the kids. This dark computer-animated comedy is definitely not for younger audiences. Jimmy is a drug-addled performing elephant in a Russian circus led by ringmaster Stromowski (voice of Jim Broadbent). Jimmy’s keeper is sleazy American Roy Arnie (voice of Woody Harrelson) who keeps his animal pacified by doping him up and also uses Jimmy to hide drugs under his layers of skin. Roy, however, has decided he wants to leave his circus career behind and thus enlists his three stoner buddies Odd (voice of Simon Pegg), Gaz (voice of Phil Daniels) and Flea (voice of Jim Simpson) to help him sell his stash of dope and put Jimmy out of his misery once and for all. But, Roy happens to be in a lot of debt to a group of gangsters who also happen to know about Roy’s stash of drugs under Jimmy’s skin, and these bad guys plan to snatch the elephant before Roy and his pals can save him. As it turns out, though, both groups are beaten to the punch by a group of not-so-bright animal rights activists who don't realize they’re liberating an elephant who’s just gone cold turkey into the wild.
Idle Hands (1999)
All Anton (Devon Sawa) wants to do is go about his daily routine of smoking cannabis, watching TV and dreaming about the girl across the street. There’s just one problem: He’s got a demon-possessed right hand that seems hell-bent on killing anyone it gets near. After getting rid of his parents and best friends, Anton’s demonic hand starts to seek out Molly (Jessica Alba), the punk princess across the street with whom he’s fallen in love. Luckily, Pnub and Mick (Elden Henson, Seth Green), his two recently deceased pals, come back from beyond the grave to help keep him from murdering the girl he loves. They’re up against the clock though—if Anton somehow gets his fingers on Molly before midnight on prom night, her soul will be sent straight to hell.
The Stöned Age (1994)
Argued by many to be the lesser known but superior alternative to Dazed and Confused, The Stöned Age is a nearly forgotten gem that takes place in Torrance, California in the 1970s. Joe (Michael Koeplow) and Hubbs (Bradford Tatum) are two high school burnouts looking for something else to do one night besides cruise around town. Armed with a bag of skunk weed and a giant bottle of Schnapps, these two friends set off on a quest to find some hot “chicks” and have an epic night. Along the way, they meet Tack (Clifton Collins Jr.), an acne-ridden deadbeat who’s gotten wind of a secret location where all the radical foreign “chicks” have gathered, and lets Joe and Hubbs in on this highly desirable information. Against Joe’s protests, Hubbs worms Tack out of the deal and the pair of pals go on a ride to Frankie Avalon’s house where the chicks and their destiny await them.
A Bug and a Bag of Weed (2006)
This 2006 comedy revolves around 33-year-old Peter Jordan (Chris Cuthbertson) who’s stuck in a dead-end retail job at Super Duper Computers. What’s worse is the fact that he’s managed to rack up more than $35,000 in debt from student loans, credit card bills and that big screen TV he just had to get. Just when things seem to have hit rock bottom, Peter’s old high school buddy Frehley (Sebastian Spence) unexpectedly shows up in town. Exercising his bad influence on Peter, Frehley convinces his friend to take out large cash advances and go out on the town every night partying. He also convinces him to finally buy his dream car, a classic ʼ72 Volkswagen Bug. Frehley’s influence soon spreads to Peter’s co-workers too, and in no time, his work pals Stan (Drew Hagen) and Willie (Nico Lorenzutti) are partying and spending cash like there’s no tomorrow. When Frehley has to skip town suddenly due to “complications,” the three retail buddies are left with Frehley’s hockey bag full of pot and no explanations…
High Society: A Pot Boiler (2009)
Much like the hazy cloud of smoke that constantly surrounds the characters in this film, High Society: A Pot Boiler is a shapeshifting movie that seamlessly weaves witty, rapid-fire dialogue, stoner references and character exposition at a jarring pace. Comedically brilliant and crafted in the rich tradition of classic stoner films, High Society takes place over the course of one long night and revolves around three housemates and their hapless guests, two ladies and an intruder. Over the course of the evening, we witness fierce one-upmanship, profane poetry, impassioned debates and frequent hits from the bong. Dignity is a struggle to keep hold of, secrets come seeping out and hilarity ensues in this comedy starring Erik Davies, Jeremiah Bitsui and Peter Alton.
Leaves of Grass (2010)
With big name actors like Ed Norton, Susan Sarandon and Richard Dreyfuss, it’s a wonder why this movie isn’t better known. When Ivy League professor Bill Kincaid (Norton) is told his estranged identical twin brother Brady has been murdered in an unfortunate pot-dealing incident, Bill leaves his safe, secure world of academia and heads back to his home state of Oklahoma. When he gets there, he discovers his brother’s death has been grossly exaggerated, and he is quickly caught up in the murky and dangerous world of drug commerce in the boondocks of the Southwest.