Top 5 Cannabis Documentaries to Watch During Quarantine
If you’re anything like us, you’re starting to feel a little stir-crazy during this period of isolation. Instead of binging more brain candy (we promise we’re not judging), why not take this opportunity to unearth a little more information on our favorite subject–cannabis? These five documentaries are excellent platforms to learn about the history, cultural impact, and legal journey of this powerful, yet incredibly stigmatized plant. So kick back, relax, and nourish your mind with some enlightening insight into the rapidly evolving cannabis industry–from past injustice to future hope.
Trying to figure our if cannabis is right for you? Learn the science behind our endocannabinoid system, or how terpenes can impact your experience.
CBD Nation (2020)
Available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, and iTunes – this incredible documentary 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: Amazon Prime
American Hemp, a documentary directed by Josh Hyde, follows the growth and development of a hemp food company (Evo Hemp), focusing 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 main food source to Americans, with their products being picked up at well-known grocery chains and participating in major trade shows. However, the industrial hemp industry isn’t an easy one to navigate, from destroyed “hot” hemp crops (a.k.a. crops which contain too much THC), to ignorance about the legality of the plant, resulting in aggravating shipping and logistical issues.
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.
American Hemp (the Evolution Continues): Amazon Prime
This four part documentary from Josh Hyde continues in the path of American Hemp, delving further into the business side of cannabis and the future of hemp production. The first episode introduces UnCanny Wellness, a water soluble CBD producer in Boulder, Colorado. Alex Corren, the founder and owner, is intensely involved in every element of the business. The focus of this episode profiles how he created his water soluble powder and how Alex outsources and automates the process to oversee each step of the process while maintaining a tiny team of two.
This small, yet mighty business is in stark contrast to the following three episodes which focus on Oglala Lakota and its owner, Alex White Plume. Alex tells of his struggles surviving as an American Indian in South Dakota, the abuse suffered by the Native American people during their fight for civil rights, and his personal story as a pioneer in the hemp farming industry. While continuing to face generations of economic difficulties and inequity, the Lakota remain committed to growing and celebrating this plant, with the hopeful message that hemp will change the world.
This follow up to American Hemp is incredibly stirring, highlighting the many injustices placed on the American Indian people and the stark contrast between the evolving commercial cannabis industry and small, family-owned hemp farms.
Grass is Greener: Netflix
This Netflix documentary, directed by Fab 5 Freddy, hip-hop pioneer and cannabis advocate, explores the brutal history of the demonization of cannabis in America and how it was used as a political tool and device for racial oppression throughout the past decade of our history. The film begins by exploring the intersecting relationship between jazz, African-American culture, and cannabis to show how these three components influenced the creative lifestyle and production of revolutionary art for the next sixty years. Continuing with the beat poets who promoted the view that art is the product of an altered mindset and that cannabis encourages the freedom of expression, marijuana eventually became a permanent fixture within the hippie counterculture movement, resulting in continued oppression from the government and further restrictions to stop dissent and control the civil rights movement. The film asserts that this legal restriction and cultural stigma continues to hold back growth and progress within minority communities, polarizing the current legal industry.
As cannabis moves from illicit drug to mainstream craze, this film asks us to keep our eyes open to the glaring racial disparities between the small businesses within minority communities and the polished and thriving corporations honing in on the growing cannabis market.
Emperor of Hemp: Amazon Prime / YouTube
This 1999 documentary explores the life of Jack Herer, 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 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. (And the production of this film will instantly take you back to 1999.)
Clearing the Smoke: The Science of Cannabis: pbs.com
This PBS special explores the role of cannabis in modern medicine through the perspective of medical marijuana patients, doctors, and skeptics. It provides in-depth information on the science of the endocannabinoid system, discusses how cannabis has been used to effectively treat many drug-resistant symptoms and illnesses, and offers insight on the roadblocks research has faced due to the controversy and legality of cannabis during the past century. This film provides a very unique perspective, presenting both sides of the issue, from the critic who believes that medical marijuana use is just “smoking dope for medication” to the proponents of the plant who have used medical marijuana to regain their health and function within their daily lives. As cannabis continues to become a part of our mainstream culture, we look forward to future conversations on what has traditionally been ruled an academic dead-end in the field of scientific research.
Extra Credit – Hemp for Victory: Youtube
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.
Have you watched any interesting documentaries on cannabis recently? Let us know what we should watch next in the comments below!
Kick back, relax, and nourish your mind with some enlightening insight into the rapidly evolving cannabis industry–from past injustice to future hope.
The empathy at the heart of “SMOKE: Marijuana + Black America” makes it a must-watch documentary
As someone who watches a ton of cannabis documentaries for a living, I came into “Smoke: Marijuana + Black America,” a new BET documentary focusing on the cultural, social, economic, and legal impact of cannabis in Black communities around America, with a certain degree of apprehension — was this going to be just another hollow documentary banking on the plight of Black people at the hands of cannabis?
While I was working, I got a Slack message from Weedmaps contributor Dante Jordan: “Hey, man. Watch the BET doc. I think you’ll appreciate it.” I found the link a publicist had sent me, started it, and my attention was immediately grabbed by the collar.
Narrated and executive produced by Nasir “Nas” Jones, “Smoke” premieres Wednesday, November 18, 2020, 10 p.m. PST on BET. The two-hour original documentary provides an intimate portrait of weed’s place in Black culture and its influence on some of the greatest artists, activists, athletes, and politicians in American history.
“Weed was in my music because it was in my world,” says Nas Jones early in the documentary. Former NFL star Ricky Williams says “One of the things that cannabis did is help me come to a kind of resolution to this inner conflict.”
It also explains how “America’s unjust War on Drugs systematically targeted marijuana use in the Black community, resulting in racially disproportionate numbers of arrests and convictions,” according to a press release.
While the cannabis industry is expected to grow exponentially as more states legalize adult-use and medical use, and federal cannabis legalization becomes an inevitably, projections expect the industry to generate $30 billion in sales by 2025. Much of cannabis’ popularity and acceptance comes from the art made by Black hip hop artists, comedians, and filmmakers, breaking down the stigmas of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and priming American consumers to flock to legal weed in the 90s and 2000s.
And yet, only 4.3% of dispensaries are currently Black-owned. Legal cannabis states have largely failed to address the repercussions from the War on Drugs or craft policies that provide equity to Black cannabis entrepreneurs, effectively cutting them out of the market they helped build.
At the same time, to this day, Black Americans are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement for the possession of cannabis, despite the fact that white Americans have equal consumption rates. As my colleague Summer Fox wrote in an explainer earlier this year:
Black people are 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than white people, despite both groups consuming at similar rates. These disparities exist in every state across the country. Black people are also more likely to receive longer and more punitive sentences than white people for similar offenses.
Graphic: Jaclyn Spears/Weedmaps
“Smoke” tells this story of injustice through numerous high profile interviews with Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Cory Booker, rapper B-Real, hip hop artist Ty Dolla $ign, WNBA star Cheyenne Parker, former NFL star Ricky Williams, former NBA player and cannabis entrepreneur Al Harrington, C.J. Wallace, the son of Notorious B.I.G., rapper and weed mogul Berner, and many more.
What “Smoke” manages to express better than most documentaries is just how complicated and compromising life as a Black or brown person is in America when it comes to cannabis. We’re constantly seeing how weed is a part of the culture and a source for expression and creativity, yet it’s stigmatized and criminalized. How cannabis is a relatively safe, inexpensive medicine to help manage the fears and stressors of oppression in America, yet it leads to harsher, more severe oppression from U.S. law enforcement. How cannabis helps create and is the subject of some of the most significant works of art, and yet Black people are the last in line to profit. And, most devastatingly, how paths to changing systemic racism and inequality often lead Black people to harm the very people they intend to help in the name of cannabis.
BET Senator Kamala Harris in “Smoke: Marijuana + Black America.”
“Most of the people I prosecuted were young Black teenagers. Mostly boys,” says Kim Fox, state’s attorney for Cook County, Illinois. “I felt like a hypocrite. I felt like I was put into this role as an assistant state’s attorney to bring safety and fairness to our communities. And in the exercise of doing prosecution of these low-level marijuana offenses, I felt like I was doing harm.”
“What I’m a little frustrated with is the lack of urgency around these issues. Every day we wait to change these laws, more and more people’s lives are being upended and impacted in such a savagely unjust way” says Senator Cory Booker. “I get very emotional about this because this is not an academic subject for me. I live in Newark, New Jersey. These are my friends.”
“What I like about it is that it’s not just another showcasing of like … a couple of Cheech and Chong clips, some talk about Snoop, and then Willie Nelson,” Dante slacked me. “It covers all the bases from rappers to civilians and politicians. I’m impressed more than anything, to be honest. This is really good work.”
Narrated and executive produced by Nasir “Nas” Jones, “Smoke” premieres Wednesday, November 18, 2020, 10 p.m. PST on BET.