Weed documentaries help prepare for legalization

Collin Schopp

With the legalization of marijuana just around the corner in Illinois, there are lots of questions to be answered. It’s a big change, and the potential consumers are going to be looking for more information about what legalization will change and how it affects individuals and communities.

Fortunately, in the age of digital streaming, anyone with a Netflix account also has access to a wealth of documentaries, some pop-focused and light, others in-depth and information-rich. From this resource, some may be able to feel better prepared about how they’ll respond to the legislation coming in January.

Starting from a purely informational perspective, Vox’s “Explained” series on Netflix includes an excellent episode on cannabis. The 20-minute long “Weed” episode covers all the basics of contemporary conversations about marijuana and legalization. In less than a half-hour, the episode runs down where strains come from, how the hemp plant has evolved and been used over time and how cannabinoids work, as well as what they are in the first place. For anyone just looking for some basic knowledge on all things marijuana, this is a great place to start.

The most interesting debates around legalization revolve around the socio-economic issues that arise when businesses start to commodify something that’s been illegal, or used primarily by minority groups, for decades. One of the most interesting of these is Netflix’s “Murder Mountain.”

Covering the effects of legalization on Humboldt County, California — the  nation’s former leading producer of black market marijuana — the documentary is gripping from start to finish. There are few other places where you can see so clearly and openly described the way in which marijuana farming functions, how small farmers struggle when legalization comes their way, and how, even in a legal state, the black market can thrive. The whole thing is wrapped up in a murder mystery package that makes for some truly compelling storytelling.

Elsewhere on Netflix, “Weed The People” is lighter on the intrigue than “Murder Mountain” but contains some incredibly provocative testimonials about the specific ways in which weed can change lives. Following the lives of several children in circumstances that medical use can ease, the documentary brings some of the strongest arguments for legalization into the limelight. It’s a truly moving, personal look at a topic that can get swamped in business and legal angles.

Educational weed content isn’t only for those with a Netflix account. Over on Hulu, there are several quality documentaries about the plant available as well. From National Geographic’s long running series “Drugs Inc.,” the season 7 episode “Boston Weed Party” takes a more specific look at the ways in which marijuana affects culture on a college campus.

Though the episode doesn’t deal directly with legalization, it does give 45 minutes of insight into the young adult attitude towards weed. Hulu also hosts Viceland’s series “Weediquette.” Over the course of the series’ first season, it covers weed’s potential uses for ill children and those that suffer from PTSD, discusses the War on Drugs’s lingering effects in the era of legalization, and the inherent gender and racial inequalities of the “Green Rush” as cultivation becomes a multi-billion dollar business.

If not for deciding about possible use, these documentaries are also a great way to learn about some of the social issues legalization can cause to remain aware of. No matter where you find it, or what your stance on the plant is now, there’s plenty of media out there about marijuana to equip you to be informed for January.