DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Grass (and Reefer Madness); American Drug War; The Union

Title:  Grass

Release Date:  1999

Nationality and Language:  English, USA

Running time:

MPAA Rating:

Distributor and Production Company: Unapix / Lions Gate

Director; Writer: Ron Mann




Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: War on drugs and libertarianism

Movie Review of Grass

Grass (1999), distributed by Lions Gate Films and Unapix, produced and directed by Ron Mann, Sphinx films, narrated by Woody Harrelson, 80 min, Canada, MPAA Rating not given (suggest PG-13).

This “grass” is marijuana, the weed—not the German writer Gunter Grass, so well known for his rebellious Tin Drum, about the little boy who wouldn’t grow up.  Well, that was one of gov’s arguments against pot—that it stunts you, makes you unambitious, uninterested in commitment.  They hand out a test with a “D” on it—reminds me of my first partial differential equations test (open book, no less) where I got a 22/40, a “D” no less. 

Woody Harrelson is effective as a narrator, and he should have been shown on camera.  But the historical vignettes, many in black-and-white, are extremely effective in recreating history.  We did not have a drug problem until we had a war on drugs.  According to the film, it started in 1912 on the Texas border when “undersirable” Mexican labor immigrants brang in pot with them.  The whites needed to set themselves apart.

Well, then big government go in the way, with it’s J. Edgar Hoover-like Jeff Anslinger, a drug czar for decades until 1963 when JFK gives him an “outstanding American” award, in a scene that could have come from Forrest Gump.   The government paraded a progression of truths—that it led to murder and insanity, that it would have unpredictable results, that it would destroy ambition, that it would lead to the “real” drugs. We would experiment with decriminalization in the 1970’s, only to have the war on drugs come back big time in the Reagan administration (Moral Majority, Bible-thumping James Robison is shown in a Texas church). 

I’ll say here that I’ve probably tried grass three times in my life, and it did nothing.  I remember the “indignity” of a pre-employment urine drug test in 1989.  In fact, fat-soluble marijuana can be detected for about 30 days, where as most other drugs can be detected only for a couple of days, except in human hair (so some insurance companies and employers actually require hair tests).

There is one scene where a user asks, “why should I go to jail for something that harms no one, not even me.”  There is a scene where the pols debate victimless crime laws, about homosexuality, sodomy, fornication and masturbation.  

There’s not space for me to articulate the whole panoply of paradigms regarding “legislating morality.”  Indeed, we could philosophize over why drug use should even be regarded as ‘immoral.”  But the real purpose of marijuana laws seems to be to provide a base for keeping political power and control.

Curiously, the film does not go into the medical marijuana issue, or the sorry case of the way the government treated libertarian author and AIDS patient, Peter McWilliams. 

I hope we’ll see more narrative historical films like this—films that can span many issues, rather than on picking them off one at a time (whether drugs, gay rights, censorship).  I particularly enjoyed the clips from the 1936 potboiler, Reefer Madness—one guy hits another with a car while stoned, on camera—check it out (that film from 20th Century Fox, 67 min, dir. Louis J. Gasnier).

American Drug War: The Last White Hope (2007, Sacred Cow, dir. Kevin Booth, 120 min) is a somewhat satirical documentary, somewhat in Michael Moore style, about America's "War on Drugs." The underlying theme is that the War on Drugs serves corporate interests, in legal substances, in private prison companies, an even in indirect racial "ethnic cleansing" or "lynching" by incarceration. Maricopa County Arizona sheriff Arpaio (with his tent city prison in Phoenix) was features. The Amsterdam program of toleration and control in semi-legal shops was shown. Blogger discussion.

The Union: The Business of Getting High (2007, Peace Arch, dir. Brett Harvey, created by Adam Scorgie). British Columbia drug “union” sends business across the border; the libertarian case for legalization. Blogger.


Related reviews:. Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

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