How many documentaries have you seen, total? No, Spinal Tap doesn’t count! There have been a few breakout documentaries over the years, movies like Roger and Me, Super Size Me, Hoop Dreams, and lately Won’t You Be My Neighbor have all been popular at the box office, as far as docs go. There’s always a sub-genre within every genre, and sure enough “marijuana documentary” is a sub-genre within the documentary world. Just like feature films, these documentaries vary in their quality. None are as bad as Reefer Madness, of course, the absolute pit of despair when it comes to film quality. Looking at IMDB ratings, we put together a list of all the marijuana documentaries, from best to worst.
Let’s dive into some of these and see what aspect of cannabis they actually document.
|1||American Drug War 2: Cannabis Destiny||2013||8.5|
|2||Lynching Charlie Lynch||2011||8.5|
|3||What if Cannabis Cured Cancer?||2010||8.4|
|4||The Culture High||2014||8.3|
|5||The Union: The Business Behind Getting High||2007||8.2|
|8||In Pot We Trust||2007||7.9|
|9||Weed I, II & III||2013-15||7.9|
|10||420 – The Documentary||2013||7.8|
|11||Code of the West||2012||7.6|
|12||Hempsters: Plant The Seeds||2010||7.4|
|13||Evergreen: The Road to Legalization||2013||7.3|
|15||Grass Is Greener||2019||7.2|
|16||Weed The People||2018||7.2|
|17||The God Plant||2018||7.2|
|18||Emperor of Hemp: The Jack Herer Story||1999||7.1|
|19||How Weed Won the West||2010||7|
|21||GrassRoots: The Cannabis Revolution||2016||6.8|
|22||Cannabis: The Evil Weed?||2009||6.7|
|23||The Legend of 420||2017||6.7|
|24||A Norml Life||2011||6.6|
|26||Super High Me||2007||6.1|
|27||Inside: Medical Marijuana||2011||5.3|
|28||High As Mike||2019||unrated|
1. American Drug War 2: Cannabis Destiny
This documentary might be rated at the top because it focuses on the human toll of America’s war on certain types of drugs. In particular, it focuses on Cash Hyde, a young cancer patient with a brain tumor who tried to get cannabis oil to help his symptoms. Of course, his family is denied — so they secretly begin administering cannabis to the 2-year old while he lays in a coma. What happens next would be a miracle, had they not triedcannabis. The documentary looks largely at how kids have been affected by the drug war.
2. Lynching Charlie Lynch
Charlie Lynch was one of the hundreds of Californians who had their dispensaries raided under George W. Bush’s presidency. Lynch’s story shows what happened to some of the pioneers in the cannabis business, as raids continued to occur while Federal laws didn’t mesh with state initiatives. It’s a powerful, human story about justice and business and fighting for what you believe in under impossible odds.
3. What if Cannabis Cured Cancer?
Medicinal marijuana might be more acceptable than it was in 2010, but many doctors and potential patients still get the facts wrong. Here, Peter Coyote and an interesting cast walk through potential applications of medical pot for cancer, while interviewing a number of respected doctors and researchers to bolster their case. If you’ve ever wanted to see Roseanne Barr play “Connie Cancer” with Malcolm McDowell playing “Kurt Cannabis,” here’s your chance. It’s completely focused on the medical uses of marijuana, and is well-researched.
4. The Culture High
Featuring an all-star lineup of interviews, The Culture High focuses on the US Drug War, from Nixon’s crackdown to the very beginnings of legalization. The movie was released in 2014, and is from the creators of another documentary on weed called The Union (it’s also on this list). It’s a moving documentary that digs into the suppositions of anti-marijuana laws, then exposes where they went wrong.
5. The Union: The Business Behind Getting High
Before The Culture High, The Union was released 7 years before, and describes the effect of legalization in British Columbia, the Westernmost province of Canada. Pot wouldn’t be legalized across Canada until 12 years later, so this documentary is almost quaint at times by comparison to today’s industry. At the time, BC weed was trickling into America, and contributed billions to Canada’s economy, setting up much of the tension in the film.
One of the first shows to air on Viceland, this was a web series on Vice at first, starring host Krishna Andavolu, who acts as a sort of Carl Sagan of weed. Andavolu explores cannabis culture, science and the economics of legalization.
7. Bong Appetit
Another show that appeared on Viceland, you may guess at the content in Bong Appetit: Food and weed. Here, host Abdullah Saeed sets up a series of “parties” with chefs who integrate cannabis into a variety of dishes. If you like cooking shows, there aren’t many like this one — and it features a sort of showdown in the final episode if you’re a fan of shows like Top Chef.
8. In Pot We Trust
Another documentary examining the medical pot industry, this follows five patients who use medicinal marijuana. Each patient has a chronic condition, and the film takes pains to examine all angles of the issue. However, it’s pretty obviously pro-medicine because of the clear, demonstrated effects of medical marijuana on patients. Yes, there are prohibitionists interviewed, but their efforts are contrasted by the patients who are treated like criminals despite the relief cannabis brings.
9. Weed I, II & III
Sanjay Gupta hosts this CNN mini-series that aimed to bring facts to the discussion around cannabis. In some ways, the series is an attempt for Gupta to atone for his lack of education on medical pot. As a “talking head” he admits he didn’t look too deeply into claims until he filmed this documentary. Gupta’s conversion from skeptic to advocate is an intriguing journey, and the way CNN crafts the story makes it a good starting point for doubters.
10. 420 – The Documentary
Obviously the number 420 is associated with cannabis, but it’s also associated with civil disobedience. That is, it was until Canada legalized. Still, the 420 protest events are worth looking at in this documentary, which also features law enforcement officials decrying the policies they once worked to enforce.
11. Code of the West
This 2012 documentary shows what happened when Montana decided to repeal its medical marijuana laws. Montana has been the setting of a number of important battles regarding medical pot, but also highlights the precarious nature of state legislatures passing laws that circumvent the federal classification. If a state undoes legalization, what happens? In this case, it wasn’t so simple, and the back-and-forth led to changes after the documentary was done. Today Montana has far fewer medical pot cardholders than it did in 2011.
12. Hempsters: Plant The Seeds
A vital but often overlooked aspect of marijuana culture is the tending of seeds. After all, the plants start from seeds, and the genetic code of every strain is locked inside each tiny pod. Unfortunately, this documentary doesn’t really deal with seeds. It’s about hemp, and the kind of hemp that was ultimately legalized in the 2019 Farm Bill. Still, it offers a number of celebrity voices, like Willie Nelson and Woody Harrelson, who speak eloquently about the many uses of hemp throughout human history.
13. Evergreen: The Road to Legalization
If you’ve wondered how recreational marijuana became legal in the state of Washington, this is your documentary. It’s the story of Initiative 502, which was put on the ballot in 2012 and passed by over 50 percent. The movie is also a fascinating look at democracy in action, and the type of politicking most of us take for granted. It’s a similar process that continues to play out across the country.
It might come as no surprise that Woody Harrelson narrates this Canadian documentary about the U.S. war on marijuana. Each part of the movie looks at a decade starting at the beginning of the 20th century. Each “chapter” begins by summarizing the prevailing opinions of marijuana at the time. It also focuses on the propaganda and misinformation campaigns that led to prohibition. The movie is built from existing footage, in a sort of fast-paced newsreel that provides a comprehensive overview of the shifting sentiment — up until the turn of the 21st century, that is.
15. Grass Is Greener
Released on 4/20 of 2019, here’s another comprehensive overview of shifting attitudes around marijuana, but not always focused on prohibition. It includes the time before prohibition, and looks at the cultural impact of weed on music afterward. The documentary features Damian Marley, Snoop Dogg, B-Real and other celebrities in the cannabis world.
16. Weed The People
Another movie about medical marijuana, this one made quite recently. It was released in theatres in 2018, and represents the most current look at medical pot. Even with dozens of states legalizing for medical reasons, many families must seek underground sources for cannabis-based remedies. It also looks at recent medical research that shows how tantalizingly close we are to cures based on cannabis.
17. The God Plant
While some of the documentaries on this list go back to the early American days, or maybe the turn of the 20th century, The God Plant goes way back in time — all the way to the development of the endocannabinoid system in a sea squirt. It also takes the viewer up to modern efforts to legalize, and how medicine has embraced some use of marijuana.
18. Emperor of Hemp: The Jack Herer Story
One of the legendary books in the cannabis movement is The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer. He’s been called the Emperor of Hemp as a result, and this movie chronicles his journey and repeated obstacles to promoting the truth about cannabis. While Herer was primarily focused on hemp, his efforts helped educate many who wound up fighting against prohibition of marijuana.
19. How Weed Won the West
While this film attempts to be comprehensive about the detrimental effects of prohibition, it focuses largely on what happened in California after a federal raid in 2009 on a dispensary. It features a number of entertaining interviews, like Alex Jones and narcotics officers who decry the nation’s obsession with prohibition.
20. American Weed
A look at the marijuana industry in Colorado, this film by the maker of How Weed Won the West was broadcast on the National Geographic Channel. When this series was made, questions around the effectiveness of medical pot in Colorado were swirling, and it puts a lens on a small town that must decide whether to embrace legal weed.
21. GrassRoots: The Cannabis Revolution
This movie is one of the few that examines the fight for legalization outside the USA. Based in the UK, GrassRoots takes the medical approach, talking to patients and advocates about efforts in England to legalize. Unfortunately, the law has swung back and forth, with a brief de-escalation of the drug war there only to have marijuana reclassified as Class B (along with ketamine and amphetamines) in 2008. Cannabis is still illegal in the UK.
22. Cannabis: The Evil Weed?
This film is hosted by an addiction specialist by the name of Dr. John Marsden. He traces the origins of cannabis and examines what it does in our brains. But he also talks to people who claim to have had their lives ruined by marijuana. It’s a bit like propaganda at times, as the stories sometimes don’t connect and in the end only offers a lack of a determination as to whether pot is harmful.
23. The Legend of 420
A fast-paced and humorous (at times) look at marijuana, this doc shows the growth of the cannabis industry. It contrasts facts and bombast with humor and wit to punch through stereotypes. It also advocates for the business end, and how growers and artists have benefitted from the trend of legalization.
24. A Norml Life
The organization NORML has been fighting for legalization for years. In this film, the group examines medical pot. How effective are medical remedies using cannabis? We find out through a series of interviews.
25. Rolling Papers
If you’ve wondered what “pot journalism” looks like on the ground floor, Rolling Papers will give you a clue. It looks at the Denver Post’s first marijuana editor, as the paper started giving out reviews, recipes and more. All of this is juxtaposed against the ongoing battle to keep newspapers fiscally solvent.
26. Super High Me
One of the most popular documentaries in recent years was a movie called Super Size Me, where the protagonist ate nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days to see what it would do to his body. So, comedian Doug Benson decided to try a similar experiment, but for weed. Benson is known for his penchant for cannabis, being called Stoner of the Year at one point. During the experiment, he’s put through a series of tests to see how cannabis affected his brain and body.
27. Inside: Medical Marijuana
Another National Geographic TV series, it also examines the evidence for medical marijuana.
28. High As Mike
A unique twist on documentaries about medical marijuana, this movie follows a man with a brain tumor that will leave him blind. However, he lives in Australia, where medical cannabis has stalled. The protagonist interviews a wide range of people, from patients to politicians, about medical cannabis, trying to find his own way to a cure.