Marijuana has had a long and complicated history within American politics, prisons and philosophy. Netflix’s new documentary Grass is Greener looks at the plant’s underground influence in early jazz music to its place in a now billion-dollar industry.
Directed and narrated by artist, rapper and hip-hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy (Fred Bathwaite), Grass is Greener takes an in-depth look at how marijuana prohibition and regulation have disproportionately affected black and brown communities, from its early propaganda with films like Reefer Madness to the ongoing war on drugs which gained momentum during the Nixon administration.
The documentary pulls some big names in the music industry including Snoop Dogg, Killer Mike, Damien Marley, DMC (Daryl McDaniels), B-Real (Louise Mario Freese of rap group Cypress Hill) and more to talk about marijuana’s connection to jazz, reggae and hip-hop. But, in somewhat of a bait and switch, Grass is Greener also talks with Dr. Carl Hart, author Asha Bandele and Drug Policy Alliance director Kassandra Frederique about its history with minority communities, luring in its audience with a cool lesson on music and marijuana and then switching gears to highlight how destructive and racist its criminalization has been.
And when we think of the absurdist, stereotypical rhetoric used in harboring fear against recreational marijuana usage, we often figure it as a staple of the past, of sensationalist Yellow Journalism at the turn of the 20th century to negatively associate cannabis with Mexican and African-American folk who partook. What Grass is Greener takes its time to address is how pervasive that ideology is today. (Marijuana is still a schedule one drug on the DEA’s drug scheduling list.) In one of its most harrowing moments, the documentary looks at Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Philando Castile and Bothan Jean, all of whom were killed. By juxtaposing reports of their deaths with news clips declaring that each individual possessed or had marijuana in their system at the time of their death, Grass is Greener alludes to the disturbing rhetoric that, because these individuals had smoked weed, somehow their deaths were justified.
Grass is Greener skirts in and out of poignant commentary about the history and state of marijuana legalization and obvious comparisons to alcohol and high school history lessons. But where it shines is in examining how white culture has turned a profit on something once thought to be detrimental, dangerous and deteriorating to the fabric of American society while brown and black folk have suffered for decades for the same industry that is now booming.