WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN DOCUMENTARIES
A documentary history of marijuana criminalization in the U.S. [ Grass credits: Dir: Ron Mann/ Woody Harrelson (narrator)/ 80min/ Documentary-Educational/ Canada/ Legalize Drugs, Propaganda]
Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans are arrested for marijuana use. The cumulative cost of these arrests (and subsequent incarcerations) is estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars. That’s a lot of pain and effort to ban a drug that even government experts have concluded to be relatively benign, as indeed marijuana must be since roughly a quarter of the U.S. population (including some Presidents) has used it without noticeable ill effect. So how did U.S. government policy with respect to marijuana get to be so absurd? You get the full answer to that in Grass.
The chief villain of this bit of history is Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930–1962 and an enthusiastic Prohibitionist. In league with some of the more yellow press and naive Hollywood, Anslinger stimulated public hysteria over marijuana by blaming it for widespread murder and insanity. The feds and the states then banned marijuana without debate or scientific investigation. After an embarrassing study (commissioned by Mayor LaGuardia of New York) disproved Anslinger’s preposterous allegations with regard to pot, Anslinger effectively stopped all research on it by cutting off the supply to researchers. Later, he encouraged the idea that marijuana was a commie plot and then finally topped off his career by getting the UN to ban marijuana around the world.
But the campaign against pot didn’t end with Anslinger. As is so often the case with government programs, once started, it became an unstoppable juggernaut, impervious to reason, that gathered more resources and caused more suffering as it rolled ever forward. We see this in the second half of the film, in reviews of the marijuana policies of the various post-Anslinger presidents. Under Nixon, the war on pot was expanded, even though Nixon’s own government panel recommended decriminalization. Carter favored decriminalization but lacked the clout to carry it through. After Carter’s defeat, Reagan and Bush picked up where Nixon left off and further fueled the war. Ironically, the liberal Clinton (who smoked pot but “never inhaled”) turned out to be the biggest anti-pot warrior of all—with more pot arrests under his administration that any previous.
You learn all that and much more in this well-researched and entertaining documentary. Although Grass is serious in its implications, the telling is light, even comic at times, as the main focus is on mocking U.S government marijuana policy and those who would defend it. In this regard, good use is made of early (now laughable) propaganda films on pot, like High on the Range and Reefer Madness, as well as videotaped speeches and interviews by drug warriors. This is an enjoyable film, and the comic aspect of it also makes it a good pick to share with non-libertarian friends, as it communicates its very libertarian message in a relatively palatable form. And just in case you were wondering, a note near the end of the film states that “no hippies were harmed in the making of this movie.”