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.
1. The Union: The Business Behind Getting High (2007)
Adam Scorgie is the filmmaker who provides the audience a detailed history of the prohibition of cannabis. The main theme of this documentary is the hypocrisy of the government as they keep weed illegal while they turn a blind eye to dangerous pharmaceutical drugs.
In-depth interviews with cannabis experts include politicians, growers, doctors, economists, police officers, criminologists, and famous weed users. This is one of the best weed documentaries out there, and if you are not already passionate about the legalization of cannabis you surely will be after viewing this.
2. The Culture High (2014)
Adam Scorgie’s follow-up to The Union: The Business Behind Getting High is another poignant documentary on the government and its perceived corruption. From President Nixon to President Obama, this doc looks at the War on Drugs through the actions of people in power who continually dismiss the public’s ability to use and access weed and practice personal freedom.
Featuring interviews with celebrities ranging from Wiz Khalifa to Sir Richard Branson, we get opinions from successful people who benefit from regular cannabis use. This documentary came out just before the first recreationally legal markets were opened in Colorado.
3. Weed: Special Report by Sanjay Gupta (2013)
Dr. Sanjay Gupta is the executive producer of this CNN exclusive report. The attention of this documentary is put on many different medical cannabis patients as they explain in grave detail the exact ways that weed helps them live a better life. Furthermore, we see just how difficult it still is for some needy people in the US to get a prescription for cannabis.
Gupta dives headfirst into the scientific evidence that cannabis affects the brain differently in those who use it occasionally versus those who use it regularly. The film also showcases researches that suggest how cannabinoids can kill cancer cells.
4. Super High Me (2007)
This movie is a satire of Supersize Me and instead of eating Mcdonald’s fast food for 30 days straight, comedian Doug Benson smokes weed for 30 days straight, all day! The first portion of the documentary shows Benson being weed-free for 30 days straight before he begins his 30-day stoner binge. The goal of the film is to chart the effects that cannabis has on the human body before, during, and after chronic weed use.
Doug Benson adds some comedy to this movie and the doctor visits help to legitimize the experiment as more than just hyperbole.
5. Emperor of Hemp (1999)
Jack Herer is a weed icon, and this documentary film 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 ending cannabis prohibition.
Jack is the author of “The Official Hemp Bible” and “The Emperor Wears No Clothes”, and is also a famous cannabis activist. Jack’s mission to bring weed into the mainstream was crucial to the current rise of the hemp industry.
The doc demonstrates the vast amount of uses for hemp, the history behind the government’s suppression of cannabis throughout the 20th Century, and the historical stigma against weed in American culture.
6. Dimebags vs. Dispensaries: Street Dealers to Multi-Million Dollar Weed Startups (2018)
This is more of a short than a feature-length documentary. Dimebags vs. Dispensaries is about two individuals, a club owner named Felix, and a former black-market grower from Atlanta named Kingston, as they transition to running a legitimate business in California’s legal recreational market.
The premise of this documentary is to examine the headache of operating and maintaining a company in a newly established industry. We see the challenges of creating brand recognition within such a crowded industry. The video also explores racial inequalities within this budding industry and its need for more diverse entrepreneurs to enter the game.
7. Weediquette (2016- )
Weediquette is a documentary series for Vice that has a lot of gonzo journalism influence. Episodes touch on certain topics like Uruguay’s fully legal market, or veterans with PTSD who use cannabis to heal. Krishna Andavolu is the host that tackles some of the more nuanced subjects within the world of weed.
Most episodes are available on YouTube so go over and give it a try.
8. 420: The Documentary (2013)
This documentary features footage from 420 celebrations, including stories of peaceful college students and others injured by police and even killed for weed possession.
Amy Porah is the director that takes us through the history of cannabis starting in the 1930s and up until the conception of this movie in 2013. She also includes stories of retired law enforcement that share disturbing stories of policies they regrettably helped to put into effect.
9. Grass is Greener (2019)
Fred Brathwaite, also known as hip hop legend Fab Five Freddy hosts this Netflix original documentary that showcases the history of illegal cannabis usage, specifically relating to its relationship with the music industry.
Starting with jazz icons like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, this doc tracks the racialized evolution of the war on drugs up to 2019. Musicians like Snoop Dogg and Damian Marley have interviews in the film with a focus on the inequalities in the cannabis industry, and the mad race to the top.
10. When We Grow – This Is What We Can Do (2011)
This documentary follows two filmmakers as they intensively uncover the hemp and cannabis industry in the United Kingdom. The uses of weed, its history, and the current UK weed laws are the main focus of this doc. On their journey and with the help of expert interviews, the two filmmakers get a truer outlook on how prohibition hurts some people and how it grossly benefits others.
11. Breaking Habits (2018)
Christine Meeusen created a good life for her family despite being betrayed and cheated on by her former husband. After discovering the betrayal, she took her business executive experience and turned to the weed industry to develop the Sisters of the Valley, which is a weed nunnery that is for members who appreciate the healing powers of cannabis.
Breaking Habits features one of the more unique characters of any documentary on this list. It is partly a character study and partly an advocate for cannabis reform.
12. Lynching Charlie Lynch (2011)
Director Rick Ray examines the story of a responsible businessman named Charlie Lynch who opened a medical cannabis dispensary. His business was located in weed-friendly California and completely adhered to state laws. Everything was just fine for Lynch until the DEA stepped in.
Weed is still federally classified as a Schedule I narcotic and therefore the DEA targeted his business. This documentary follows the investigation into Charlie Lynch’s weed store and the federal penalties he subsequently faces.
13. Weed the People (2018)
Weed the People is another entry in the fight for legalization. Director Abby Epstein showcases the struggles of families and individuals who use weed to combat cancer.
This doc is entertaining and sweet despite the serious tone. It does not shy away from the malicious arguments of people trying to restrict access but it comes back around to become a sentimental movie about the positive impact weed has for thousands of people every day.
14. Rolling Papers (2015)
Back in 2015 when weed was legalized recreationally in Colorado, a brand new industry had spawned practically overnight. This led The Denver Post to bring on an editor specifically to cover all cannabis-related material.
Rolling Papers is a documentary that takes a look at how The Denver Post managed to cover the beginning days of Colorado’s weed legalization and how consumers responded to the changes. Shown through a collection of experiences and random stories, this doc shines a light on the challenging aspects of a new legal weed market.
15. High Country: The Future of Weed (2013)
Another original documentary created by Vice, High Country: The Future of Weed also looks inside Colorado’s new legal cannabis industry. This doc takes a deeper look into the modern technology that is steering the industry into new directions.
High Country: The Future of Weed examines the potential outlook for the burgeoning weed industry in years to come.
16. A NORML Life (2011)
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.
17. Clearing the Smoke: The Science of Cannabis (2011)
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 documentary that relies on archival footage to demonstrate cannabis’ history of illegality. The research for Grass was based on the work of respected cannabis historians like Jack Herer.
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.
19. CBD Nation (2020)
While this documentary is about CBD rather than psychoactive 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.
20. American Hemp (2019)
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 its 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.
21. Hemp for Victory (1942)
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.