Higher education: Here are 5 of the best documentaries about weed out now

Grass Is Greener on Netflix
Grass Is Greener on Netflix /
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This story originally appeared on Salon by Ashlie D. Stevens.
This story originally appeared on Salon by Ashlie D. Stevens. /

From nuns who grow to Fab 5 Freddy’s look into how American music was shaped by weed, there’s a story for everyone.

When most people think of weed movies, films like The Big Lebowski, Pineapple Express and the Harold and Kumar franchise likely come to mind. But over the last several years, as marijuana legalization continues to spread across the country alongside decriminalization efforts,  some fantastic documentaries have debuted that challenge the idea that weed entertainment is restricted to stoner comedies.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot of fun to be had in the world of weed documentaries — there are gun-toting “nuns” who grow marijuana, letters that illuminate Louis Armstrong’s pot habit, and newsroom drama at the Denver Post, the first newspaper in the United States to have a “pot editor.”

But there’s also a lot to be learned, too. So, in observance of 4/20 (and really, any day you like to observe), here are our picks for the best weed documentaries for some, well, higher education.

Grass is Greener, Netflix

Fred Brathwaite — the former Yo! MTV Raps host who is probably better known as Fab 5 Freddy — opens this documentary by lighting up and musing to the camera, “I’m a longtime cannabis connoisseur and advocate.” Through his eyes, viewers take a journey through the history of the connection between music culture and marijuana in America, from Cab Calloway’s 1932 jazz hit “Reefer Man” to modern hip hop and rap.

Grass is Greener is packed with amazing lines from academics and music experts — like, “Louis [Armstrong] was one of our early, glorious potheads,” — as well as evidence of how musicians have long advocated for the legalization of marijuana. For example, Armstrong was once quoted as saying, “All I want is a permit to carry that good s**t.”

But inherent to the narrative is, of course, racism. With the help of musicians Killer Mike, Snoop Dog and B-Real, Freddy outlines the ways in which America’s insistence on cannabis prohibition was motivated by a fear of Blackness (or, as some white politicians coded it, “jazz culture”) and Mexican immigration.

Grass is Greener is a fascinating documentary that uses music history to tell an approachable story about America’s war on drugs, with a heady thread throughout of how weed has long served as a lightning rod for artistic creativity and political discourse.