Due to the uprising in the cannabis community following the DEA’s decision to keep cannabis a Schedule I substance, you might be curious as to how this whole thing got started in the first place. As America sits on the cusp of nationwide legalization, there’s never been a better time to educate yourself about how the feds prohibited the plant in the first place and the motivations for legalization advocates. Rather than wading through the web, you can learn just about everything you need to know during the course of one film. In all of these eight well-crafted documentaries, you’ll learn about the imperfections of the legal system in regard to how it treats non-violent drug offenses; discover health benefits in using the plant to treat chronic pain, glaucoma and other serious illnesses; and find out just how much money the government could be making (and taking from cartels) by taxing cannabis sales. So, get your friends’ log-ins for Netflix and Hulu, sit back, smoke up and get ready for an education like no other.
The Culture High (2015)
This is the film everyone in America should watch. Whether you’re a long-time advocate or a skeptic, you’ll learn all the important information about cannabis from The Culture High. More than any other documentary in this list, this one goes into detail to expose the truths about how the war on drugs failed and actually causes more harm than good. Additionally, you’ll find out who benefits from cannabis prohibition—and it’s not just the black market. The best thing about this film is that it takes in a wide range of perspectives. From interviews with sheriffs and dealers to actors and doctors who specialize in mental behavior, viewers get a comprehensive view of the system and how cannabis prohibition plays a role. Most poignant is an eye-opening description by Dr. Gabor Mate about addiction: He argues it has more to do with how your brain formed during childhood as opposed to being just about drugs. If you’ve never seen a documentary about cannabis before, this is the perfect place to start.
A NORML Life (2011)
Now that you know why cannabis should be legal, meet the people who have been working for years to end this prohibition. National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is a grassroots organization that’s been around since the 1970s fighting for your right to enjoy cannabis. The film is mostly focused on the medical aspect of legalization and highlights how it happened for D.C. The best thing about A NORML Life is that interlaced with interviews from patients and other activists is footage of Seattle’s Hempfest, which showcases items for sale, a peaceful culture and the stage where everyone rallies together and gets fired up about the injustice of prohibition. This film further proves its point by giving an analysis of what cannabis is made of and how those compounds react with our CB-1 and CB-2 receptors as well as our little-recognized endocannabanoid system. While it may seem like a science lesson, the gist of this important part of the film is that cannabis is helpful to your body and certainly does offer a lot of medicinal value.
Super High Me (2008)
Now that you’ve got the important information, it’s time for a fun film. Super High Me, a quasi-parody of a similarly titled fast-food documentary, follows comedian Doug Benson as he abstains from all drugs (beer and coffee included) for 30 days and then spends 30 days smoking or consuming cannabis and being high constantly. The movie mostly focuses on an array of tests that Benson takes during both sets of 30 days, including tests for depression, memory and psychic ability. This films ranks high because it’s really funny and doesn’t contain so many heavy scenes, like the films that deal with police brutality and cartels. It’s perfect for sitting back with friends and enhancing the experience of your sesh. On top of all the comedy, you get a look at the struggles in California during the early days of medical legalization as the federal government took action against patients and dispensaries, which multiple federal courts ruled they cannot do anymore. Benson’s film shows viewers that, at least for him, chronic cannabis use has no real adverse side effects.
Images (left to right): Culture High, A NORML Life, Super High Me, Evergreen, Rolling Papers, High Profits, American Drug War and Bad Seed.
Evergreen: The Road to Legalization in Washington (2013)
From California, we travel north to one of the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, Washington. The film’s title suggests that Washingtonian green isn’t just about pine trees people anymore. Focusing on the state’s path to legalization, Evergreen shows how Initiative 502 was conceived, marketed and eventually made into law. One intriguing aspect of the film is that it highlights activists who opposed the bill because of the way it dealt with offenses by minors, among other things. What’s unique about Evergreen is that it discusses driving under the influence and how some patients need to be medicated above the allowed amount in order to feel well enough to drive in the first place. Washington was bold to lead the way in ending cannabis prohibition, but if there’s any takeaway from this documentary, it’s that federal legislatures needs to be on board, or people even in state-legal communities will continue to suffer.
Rolling Papers (2015)
You’ve seen what it takes to get the legislature passed in the first place, but what about the outcome? Rolling Papers takes you to what has become like the holy land for cannabis enthusiasts, and follows Ricardo Baca, who was hired by The Denver Post to cover all things related to cannabis, for the first year of legalization in Colorado. The best thing about this film is that you get an in-depth look at several different types of products, including strains and the people behind them. Probably the most interesting thing about this film is that it showcases a range of jobs in the industry that you might not have considered, including cannabis photographers, bloggers and even critics who get to smoke and review various brands. We all wish we could live that life.
High Profits (2015)
Speaking of the high life, the obvious meaning of “high” in this title is juxtaposed with the immense amount of profit following the legalization of cannabis, once again, in Colorado. Instead of big-city press, this time you get a look at the vicious battle to earn most of the profits and control the commercial sale of cannabis in the small ski resort town of Breckenridge. The main focus is on the owners of a small cannabis business and how their lives were instantly changed after the first day recreational sales were allowed. The unique thing about the documentary is that it shows how difficult it is to own and operate a business of this nature, especially amidst legal and financial struggles. Best of all, for those of you who love to binge watch, High Profits is actually a docu-series you can consume in episode-size increments.
American Drug War (2007)
The title is blatant. American Drug War centers on all the reasons why the war on drugs failed. While many of the other films acknowledge this is an immense problem, this documentary gives a comprehensive view of everything from the prison system to political corruption. The most important part of the film is the discussion about how prohibition leads people to do more harmful drugs like meth, PCP and alcohol because they are cheaper or easier to get. Taking into account the chemicals that go into these more dangerous drugs as well as what they cause people to do, this film aids in proving that the DEA needs to reschedule cannabis.
Bad Seed: The Tale of Mischief, Magic, and Medicinal Marijuana (2013)
After seven documentaries, you probably think you’ve heard everything there is to know, but adding Bad Seed: The Tale of Mischief, Magic, and Medicinal Marijuana is the icing on the cake. The title reflects the film’s focus on cannabis coming from nothing but a seed. The best thing about the documentary is that it takes you back to the 1800s when cannabis was used in tinctures for various physical and mental ailments. What’s unique about this film is that it discusses the differences between marijuana and hemp, which are just varieties of the cannabis plant, and in doing so exposes hemp’s incredible uses, such as textiles, food and fuel. By the end of this film, you’ll have a better appreciation for the movement and a deeper passion for the cannabis plant you already love so much.