With the growth of the cannabis industry comes a growth in cannabis media. Nowadays, it seems like the majority of people you speak to are in favor of the legalization of cannabis. How did public and professional opinion on cannabis shift to becoming so favorable?
Part of the answer is thanks to the media, and specifically documentary filmmakers. The following influential films not only spread the truth about cannabis but managed to win the hearts and minds of voters to create lasting change.
Filmmaker, Adam Scorgie, gives an incredibly informative background on the prohibition of marijuana. The documentary uncovers why the government does not want the public using a natural plant when they currently benefit from pharmaceutical companies.
Scorgie performs in-depth interviews with growers, criminologists, doctors, police officers, politicians, economists, and pop icons. He exemplifies the different views and benefits that cannabis truly offers in one of the best weed documentaries out there.
Adam Scorgie pulls no punches in his follow-up to The Union: The Business Behind Getting High. A structural look at the War on Drugs, stretching all the way back from President Nixon to President Obama, The Culture High is a scathing indictment against those in power who continually clamp down on people’s ability to access cannabis and practice personal freedom.
While marijuana still is not federally legal in the United States, this documentary serves as an interesting time-capsule as it is a desperate call for change right before the country’s first recreationally legal markets were opened in Colorado. The Culture High features interviews with guests ranging from Wiz Khalifa to Sir Richard Branson as it breaks apart the myths underpinning the nation’s crazed War on Drugs.
A CNN Special Report by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This cannabis documentary features several medical cannabis patients and leads us through the process they must endure in order to receive a prescription. This difficult task is all due to the marijuana prohibition started by Harry Anslinger in 1937 and was, in Gupta’s words, “based on lies”.
Gupta explains the scientific reasoning cannabis affects the brain differently in those who use it regularly and those who use it occasionally. Researchers explain how the cannabinoids in cannabis, like THC and CBD, can kill cancer cells.
We follow the story of a young girl named Charlotte who suffers from Dravet Syndrome; a rare and severe form of epilepsy found in children. Charlotte’s family is then introduced to the Stanley Brothers in Colorado, developers of a medical strain called “Charlotte’s Web”. This strain is able to dramatically reduce the number of seizures in children suffering from epilepsy. This is a must-see documentary.
This humorous documentary is a spoof of the movie Supersize Me, and follows comedian and cannabis enthusiast Doug Benson through his hilarious recounts relating to weed. We follow Benson for 60 days; for the first 30 days he is weed free and subsequently consumes large amounts of cannabis for the next 30 days. Through the progression of the documentary and scheduled doctor appointments, we are guided through the effects that cannabis has on the human body.
This 1999 documentary explores the life of Jack Herer, a well-known cannabis activist and the author of “the official hemp bible,” “The Emperor Wears No Clothes”. The film, narrated by Peter Coyote, tells the story of how Jack became known as the “Emperor of Hemp,” beginning from his roots as a conservative, straight-laced army vet to head shop owner, followed by his 1984 revelation that “hemp could actually save the world” and his subsequent work to end marijuana prohibition.
This film chronicles the history of the stigma of cannabis in American culture, the abundance of uses for hemp in almost every industry, and the history behind the government’s suppression of cannabis throughout the 20th Century.
Jack’s crusade to bring cannabis into the mainstream was invaluable to our current climate within the hemp industry. This intimate portrait is an inspiring and thought-provoking watch.
The shortest entry on this list, this Vice special is somewhat of an epilogue to a specific “Weediquette” episode. Dimebags vs. Dispensaries covers two individuals, Felix, a club owner and Kingston, a former black-market grower from Atlanta as they transition to running a legitimate business in California’s legal recreational market.
Not only does the special do a thorough job examining the stress points of maintaining and operating a company in a newly established industry, but it also explores how the two business owners work to create brand recognition within such a crowded space. The special also steps away from the two leads and talks about the racial inequalities in the new industries and the need for more non-white entrepreneurs to step into the game.
A documentary series for Vice that eventually became a full-blown Viceland television series, “Weediquette” is a classic example of gonzo journalism. Featuring episodes on complex topics like veterans with PTSD who use cannabis to Uruguay’s fully legal market, host Krishna Andavolu dives into some of the most interesting angles of the cannabis world.
Every entry is incredibly insightful and educational, but Andavolu’s charisma make it easy to fall in love with this series. With most episodes available on YouTube, this series is definitely worth a watch.
This cannabis documentary does an incredible job presenting the stark contrast and hypocritical views on marijuana. Showing footage from peaceful 420 celebrations, followed by stories of college students, and others injured by police and even murdered for possession, this documentary is very moving.
Director Amy Porah goes through the history of cannabis from the 1930s until now, covering the false propaganda and political agendas keeping the public in fear of weed. Retired law enforcement also provides shocking stories of policies they regret helping put into effect.
This Netflix original documentary follows Fred Brathwaite, a.k.a. hip hop legend Fab Five Freddy, as he explores the history of illegal cannabis usage, especially its relationship with the music industry, in the United States.
Starting all the way back in the jazz era with an eye on icons like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, the film tracks the racialized evolution of the war on drugs up to the modern-day. Featuring interviews with musicians like Damian Marley and Snoop Dogg, the film’s focus on the inequalities in the cannabis industry, even as it booms into a big business, makes this one a must-watch.
In this cannabis documentary, we follow two young filmmakers as they intensively research the marijuana and hemp industry in the UK. It delves into the history of weed, its uses, and UK laws surrounding cannabis. Through a series of interviews, the young filmmakers get a better look into why prohibition exists, how it hurts some people and how it really benefits others.
Being betrayed and cheated by her old husband did not stop Christine Meeusen from creating a good life for her family. The former business executive turned to the world of cannabis and developed the Sisters of the Valley, a cannabis nunnery full of individuals who try to use weed to help people.
The editing is somewhat sloppy, but the rushed nature fits the whirlwind urgency of Meeusen’s story. With one of the most unique lead characters of any documentary on this list, Breaking Habits is as much a character study as it is a look at the need for cannabis to be looked at more seriously as a medicine.
Director Rick Ray tells the story of Charlie Lynch, a responsible businessman that opened a medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay, California, completely adhering to state laws. Local politicians and the chamber of commerce supported Lynch throughout his business ventures until the DEA stepped in.
A federal investigation into Charlie Lynch’s storefront begins, and because marijuana is classified as a Schedule I narcotic, the DEA targets his business and he faces federal penalties.
Lazy stoners and severe munchies may be the first thing many non-users think about when they hear the word cannabis, but Weed the People shows a much more important side to the fight for legalization. Director Abby Epstein takes people inside the struggles of individuals and families who use cannabis to aid them in their fights against cancer.
Not only does the documentary do a great job putting a face on a large, structural issue but it is entertaining and sweet despite the serious tone. Weed the People is a touching story that shows the value of cannabis as a medicine and the malicious arguments of people trying to restrict access.
When recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado back in 2015, there was a brand new industry created seemingly overnight. To cover everything sufficiently, The Denver Post brought on a new weed editor who would oversee the new coverage.
Mitch Dickman’s documentary is an entertaining look inside how The Denver Post covered the state’s earliest days of legalization and how consumers responded to the changes. A collection of random stories and experiences, Rolling Papers, brings up a lot of interesting aspects of the new legal cannabis market and digs into them just enough for audiences to want to explore more material on their own.
A Motherboard/Vice original documentary, High Country: The Future of Weed also takes viewers inside Colorado’s legal market. An engrossing look inside the newly established market mechanisms that were taking shape at the time, the documentary also digs into the cutting edge cannabis technology being developed and utilized in the state.
This documentary examines what the future of the burgeoning industry could look like. Despite its release date, it still seems very relevant as more states develop recreational cannabis markets.
This is a documentary that displays the medical effectiveness of cannabis with testimonies from patients, caregivers, and medical professionals while advocating for legalization. NORML is the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and has been leading the effort to end marijuana prohibition since 1970. With the efforts put forth by NORML members and activists, people are finally seeing and accepting the medicinal benefits as well as the ability to generate needed tax revenue.
At this point, you still may have questions about the science behind cannabis. Lucky for you, so did Montana lawmakers. This Montana PBS documentary from 2011 steers clear of the social and political debate surrounding cannabis. Instead, the film centers on the value of cannabis as a medicine and the science behind its effects.
Clearing the Smoke dives into how the plant’s chemical compound interacts with the brain and body to potentially treat a myriad of conditions and diseases. Utilizing personal stories as well as legitimate research done by scientists across the nation, this documentary fills a vital role in the cannabis conversation, providing a much-needed look into cannabis medical science.
18. Grass (1999)
Grass is a 1999 film that uses archival footage to illustrate cannabis’ history of illegality. The research for Grass was based on the work of respected cannabis historians like Jack Herer. First airing at the Toronto Film Festival, Grass enjoyed a wider reach than earlier media on the topic of cannabis history.
Grass was released only 3 years after California passed prop 215, the first medical cannabis law in the US. During a time of shifting public opinion on cannabis, Grass showed a wide audience that the history of cannabis illegality was driven by racism and propaganda. In doing so, the film lent credence to activist groups working hard for legalization at the turn of the millennium.
While this documentary is about CBD rather than psycho-active cannabis (THC), this insightful piece features the world’s leading cannabis experts and highlights the powerful stories of many patients who took control of their own medical journeys.
American Hemp, a documentary directed by Josh Hyde, follows the growth and development of a hemp food company called Evo Hemp. It focuses on the day to day business side of growing, processing, and selling hemp and hemp products. Evo Hemp is successful in introducing hemp as a legitimate food source to Americans, with their products being picked up at well-known grocery chains and participating in major trade shows.
Watching this we learn that the hemp industry is not an easy one to navigate. From destroyed “hot” hemp crops (crops that contain too much THC) to ignorance about the legality of the plant, along with plenty of logistical issues in a regulatory system that is not yet properly engineered.
This film also chronicles Evo Hemp’s transition into the CBD industry, partnering with Alex White Plume of Oglala Lakota, the first Native American hemp farmer in the US to produce hemp extract products. This film was released in 2019, following the 2018 Farm Bill, amid the explosion of CBD products on the market. It is incredibly informative, showing the process of creating CBD and hemp products while documenting the issues hemp farmers and companies continue to face in this evolving market.
This educational film, referenced in Emperor of Hemp, was produced by the USDA in 1942, encouraging farmers to grow hemp during World War II to provide needed material for the Allies. After the war, the film disappeared for years, until Jack and his team of activists brought it back into awareness.
This short film provides an informative tool to help modern-day Americans rediscover hemp’s promise, shedding the stigma of past defamation and revolutionizing the production of many of our necessities in an eco-friendly and sustainable way.