The war on drugs, namely marijuana, has been raging most of my adult life. And I’ve always had a problem with it. It’s always dumbfounded me how smart, educated, nice people can go jack bat crazy at the mention of marijuana being legal. Around my part of the country right now there are people screaming that their freedom is in peril. And yet they are the same people who are ready to take the freedom of others and stomp on their rights if they happen to smoke the demon weed. And by doing so, they don’t realize they’re giving the government a tool to move us even closer to the police state they fear.
I spent some time in my younger years attempting to change people’s views on pot. But unbiased educational resources were limited and buried under a mountain of propaganda. Most people I encountered were firmly on board with the government’s view that weed was a terrible drug and I had little in my information arsenal to change their minds. But now there is just such a tool. An intelligent documentary that is filled with the educated as well as the famous explaining how the war against marijuana is a long running fallacy, and why it should be stopped.
“It makes no sense to lock people up because you’re concerned about their welfare”
The Culture High doesn’t give you a chance to settle in. It hits you in the gut at the outset. You see video footage of the arrest of Johnathan and Brittany Whitworth of Columbia, Missouri. In darkness, you see a heavily armed and armored SWAT team moving into a house. Screaming, barking dogs, and gunshots ensue. With one dog killed and another wounded, the suspects are taken into custody. Police were acting on information that the couple possessed a large amount of marijuana. They had searched their trash and found what was determined to be “marijuana residue.” so a warrant was issued. In the end, a pipe and a grinder were the only things found. Johnathan plead guilty to misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia and was fined $300.
With an opening like that, I assumed this was to be a film about marijuana arrests—the pot smokers equivalent of a snuff film. But it’s far more than that.
Funded through Kickstarter, The Culture High is the second documentary from Brett Harvey, following his 2007 release, The Union: The Business Of Getting High, a film that looked at how the cannabis trade was flourishing despite being illegal. The Culture High offers another angle on the same subject, an in-depth look at the powers behind the prohibition of marijuana and the effect of the war on drugs on our culture as a whole.
Although a bit long-winded at times, the film is impressive in its scope. Yes, celebrity stoner names Snoop Dogg and Joe Rogan appear on the DVD cover, but the talking heads of this film go far beyond that. There is a Harvard professor, psychologists, philosophers, billionaires, ex-law enforcement officials, a charming former international pot smuggler, and even a neuropsychopharmacologist. Through interview snippets, this well edited film nullifies every argument against the legalization of marijuana. The counter-point propaganda of news clips, talking heads of today’s media, government PSA’s, and archival footage only fortify the arguments put forth.
“You can’t have a society that’s truly free and drug free.”
Virtually all facets behind modern prohibition are addressed. There’s Richard Nixon making pot a Schedule 1 drug for political benefit while going against his own panel’s findings. And there’s Obama promising to leave medical marijuana alone while campaigning, only to go after it when he took office. It speaks with mental health experts who agree that while pot isn’t right for everyone, there’s no proof that weed alone causes schizophrenia. There’s an overlong segment about medical benefits of MMJ, but you will be heartbroken when witnessing the trials of Jason David and his son, Jayden who has suffered from seizures since he was an infant. Having tried a dozen different medications with various side effects, and having taken over 25,000 pills by the time he was 5 years old, marijuana extract is the only drug that has worked for him, and it was effective immediate.
Again and again throughout this movie, I found myself irked at the injustices that go on everyday while nobody in an official capacity seems to notice or care. I actually had to go walk off some anger after hearing the story of the large bank, HSBC, that had actually laundered money for Mexican drug cartels. In the end, a fine of $1.9 billion was levied against them—mere pocket change for them. Nobody went to jail. In contrast, Cynthia Spotted Crow sold $31 worth of pot and got 10 years in prison. The film also discusses drug forfeitures, lobbying in Washington, racism, big pharma, and the private prison industries. Not one of the falsehoods behind prohibition avoids being dragged into the light for closer examination.
Most telling are the segments where DEA officials are testifying before congress and asked to answer the question, is pot as bad as harder drugs? No answer is ever given because they can’t. It’s not in their best interest career-wise to answer with the truth. The film illustrates that if marijuana is taken out of the equation, the drug enforcement community would have little left to stand on. There are several former law enforcement officials, with the emphasis on former, who appear in the film to say the things the others can’t.
If you have ever looked into the reasons why marijuana could cost you everything you own (and possibly get your dog killed), then The Culture High probably won’t tell you much you didn’t already know. But for those still on the fence about marijuana, and possibly even those staunchly opposed to it, this film should be required viewing. It offers a calm, rational approach to tough questions about prohibition should leave even the most cynical mind questioning the cost of the continued drug war.