8 Documentaries That Will Change How You Think About Cannabis

If you saw “Reefer Madness” at some point during high school, you probably remember how hokey and quaint it was. You probably found it easy to mock, snickering over the self-seriousness of the film’s tone and the way it exaggerated the effects of cannabis on society, from hallucinations to homicidal urges. Since then, how the culture perceives cannabis has changed, drastically. Part of this has to do with the sheer amount of information available to us now, in particular, the science which has dispelled a lot of myths about the plant. Here are eight documentaries that are NOT “Reefer Madness,” each with a different perspective, some more liberal, others more conservative, but that will nonetheless change how you think and talk about cannabis.  

Though it is hardly recorded in the history books, cannabis has had a pretty impactful role to play in human history. Cannabis Sativa is the Latin name of of the plant we call marijuana. It is one of the earliest known cultivated plants. Processing practices date as far back as ten thousand years and medical use as far back as four thousand. This documentary delves into the many uses of the plant throughout pretty much all recorded human history, from industrial to more domestic purposes. If you’re looking to catch up on your cannabis trivia, this film will take you through literally thousands of years of a history of all things cannabis-related, from ancient Chinese farming practices to modern day organic hemp farming in France.

This Montana PBS documentary goes to town on a buffet of information about all the medical benefits of cannabis. Interviewed are cancer and epilepsy patients, doctors, researchers and even some more skeptical scientists and professionals. Taking a political stance is not so much the point here. “Clearing the Smoke” goes into as much detail as it can about the science of the chemical effects of cannabis on the brain and then some. The facts are discussed, as well as the potential limitations of the plant as a pharmaceutical drug. This film stands out among the list because it steers clear of the political debate and lays down the simple fact that this plant has the power to heal.

Among those interviewed here are Joe Rogan, Snoop Dogg, and Wiz Khalifa. “The Culture High” looks at the political history of cannabis, how the plant has been treated in the legal system, why it was banned and how the various laws surrounding it came about. The filmmakers criticize the way in which cannabis has been portrayed in the media and the news and discuss how it has affected society’s long-time negative perception of the plant. Whatever your stance is on the debate of legalization, this documentary tries to lift that veil.

Recognize the name Jack Herer? Before it was the name of the sticky uplifting sativa-dominant hybrid strain, it was the name of the sometimes-controversial cannabis activist Jack Herer, nicknamed the “Emperor of Hemp.” Herer is the author of “The Official Hemp Bible” and is the primary subject of this documentary, which chronicles his life’s work, his quest to bring awareness, to educate the public on the history and the potential utility of cannabis, as well as his struggle to end its prohibition.

For a long time, director and creator of “Weed,”  Sanjay Gupta was CNN’s chief medical correspondent and was strongly opposed to the use of medical marijuana. After researching the topic for a documentary series, he came to a more nuanced understanding. Central to his own story are the stories of countless epilepsy patients whose seizure disorders have been cured and others whose struggles with the symptoms of cancer treatment have been alleviated. This film documents Gupta’s shift in perspective.

Meet Charlie Lynch. He opens a medical cannabis store in Morro Bay, California. He is a responsible business owner, following all state laws and regulations. Then, one day his store is raided by the DEA and he is incarcerated and is faced with federal charges. This is the horrific story of how one law-abiding, tax-paying citizen became the target of a federal investigation, which led to his inevitable and eventual incarceration, where he faced up to a hundred years in prison. If you’re interested in brushing up on state versus federal law concerning cannabis, this film might come in handy.  But be warned: it is not for the faint of heart.

The politics surrounding the legalization of cannabis are not just complicated and confusing for citizens of the U.S. It is still very much a legal gray area in both Canada and the UK, while a majority of countries across the globe have outlawed it outright. While the federal government still considers it a Schedule I drug, many states have legalized it for medical use and some for recreational use. How are cannabis users supposed to negotiate a cultural terrain that sends us mixed messages, with some agencies saying it’s okay while others are telling us it’s not? The situations in the UK and Canada are very much the same, a legal gray area that criminalizes massive populations across countries.

Watch ‘High Society: Weed’ HERE
Watch ‘The Dark Grey Market’ HERE

So maybe you know everything there is to know about America’s War on Drugs. And now the UK’s and Canada’s. Well, how about the War on Drugs in New Zealand? Despite its relatively small population, New Zealand has had the most cannabis-related drug arrests since 1972, far surpassing America’s 22 million. After legislation was passed that criminalized cannabis as a Schedule I Drug, many other countries fell right in step and New Zealand was one of them. Watch this documentary and learn how the legal practices surrounding cannabis in America influenced practices across the globe and how it trickled down at local levels among law enforcement.


Author: Matthew Reid

Matthew ReidMatthew Reid was born and raised in Santa Cruz, California. He has a dog named Charley. They are best friends.

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