Overview: With marijuana legalization debates sweeping the country, this documentary takes aim at the pot prohibition shedding light on those who suffer and those who stand to gain from the ongoing criminalization of the substance. 2014; Phase 4 Films; Unrated; 120 minutes.
“Getting All Potted Up On Weed”: When I moved to Southern California in 2011, everything about it was a far cry from that small town in West Virginia I was raised, especially the medical marijuana dispensary a mile from my new home. I didn’t have long to get used to it, though; just a few months into my residency, all medical marijuana stores vanished. A few days ago, I arrived early to a new doctor’s office to fill out a slew of forms. Of course there was a section asking for a detailed history of drug use. And of course the box for marijuana was next to the box for cocaine, next to the box for heroin, next to the box for methamphetamine. Medical marijuana dispensaries have popped back up since the feds first raided them, some not too far from the doctor whose paperwork outlined if a patient ever uses marijuana, or any illicit substance, he reserves the right to terminate that doctor-patient relationship. The Culture High is quick to point out the hypocrisy in the system – the War on Drugs sometimes looks like a War on Healthcare and often a War on the American People.
Down the Rabbit Hole We Go: The film opens with an attention-grabbing, gut-wrenching raid in which a SWAT team opens fire on an average looking American home, instantly killing the family’s dog. All for a $300 fine. You have my attention, Director Brett Harvey (The Union: The Business Behind Getting High); I’m immediately incensed. The Culture High seeks to expose the politics, media, private prison system, drug cartels, law enforcement asset forfeitures, history of prohibition, pharmaceuticals, and big corporations who have vested interest in the status quo. In every area the film achieves, it often takes a minor misstep. The Culture High succeeds in bringing up pertinent, compelling data. The initial footage that so swiftly captured my attention proved an effective ploy. As gripping as the actual footage and many of the personal anecdotes may be, they ultimately feel oddly placed and mistakenly trivialized in the sheer volume of information the filmmakers attempt to cover. It wavers between poignant documentary and amateur senior film project; sprinkled throughout is a clunky voiceover narration that’s particularly jarring. The film is a series of talking heads – the vast majority of which are fantastic – but some underqualified celebrity interviewees stand to undermine the entire effort. It seems an eagerness to include certain names caused the narrative to lose traction. Regardless, most of the interviews are phenomenal enough to make the film worth viewing. The Culture High doesn’t attempt to pit users against non-users or convert the latter population. Instead, it hopes to ignite a fight for personal freedoms and a glimpse into the complexities behind such an undertaking.
Overall: The Culture High takes on too much and simply doesn’t know how to organize, how to transition, or when to end. Two hours for a documentary is a bit taxing. The pacing suffers without a proper, focused edit. Despite all of that, the content is valuable enough to recommend a watch.