Review by Michael Jacobson

Narrator:  Woody Harrelson
Director:  Ron Mann
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Home Vision Entertainment
Features:  See Review
Length:  80 Minutes
Release Date:  April 23, 2002

“Hey, man, I’m hungry.”

“Let’s order some Chinese.”

“Order some Chinese to do what?”

Film ***1/2

Don’t be put off by the title of Ron Mann’s film Grass, or its subject matter, regardless of your feelings toward marijuana.  This is a stylish, entertaining, and informative film that isn’t so much a commercial for legalization of the popular plant as it is a humorous and mind-boggling look at America’s legal and cultural perception of pot over the decades.  I’ll at least wager that, even if you’re very opposed to the drug, you’re likely to feel more angry at the government for the ridiculous amounts of money spent fighting in than the people who use it!

Grass is narrated by Woody Harrelson, himself occasionally on the receiving end of marijuana laws over the years.  He delivers his lines with wry humor, and the imagery does the rest.  Ron Mann’s extensive archival research brings you the history of the plant, how it first came into America through Mexico in the early 20th century despite being used for thousands of years in other parts of the world, how the first laws were aimed more at controlling Mexican immigrants than pot itself…and that’s just the beginning.

Included in the historical footage are clips from Reefer Madness, the government sponsored “educational” film that became a cultural joke for its portrayal of marijuana smokers as sex crazed, violent, and criminally insane.  What’s not so funny, though, is that our country’s first “drug czar” Harry Anslinger, built his career playing on America’s fears by perpetuating those very myths.

The first triumph for Anslinger was the Marijuana Tax Act in the 1930s, which made it illegal to possess pot without a tax certificate for it issued by the Treasury Department.  Then, no certificates were issued, thus making marijuana possession completely illegal.

The war on pot is presented via a fascinating array of facts and figures…for example, how only 9 states supported the criminalization of the drug originally, but how Anslinger’s propaganda machine eventually scared the other 39 states (at the time) into following suit.  How the torch was passed from one administration to the other, until under President Bill “I Didn’t Inhale” Clinton, more arrests were made for marijuana possession than under any other administration.  And ultimately, the staggering cost from one generation to the next spent on fighting pot.

As for me personally, I have no strong opinions on decriminalization one way or the other.  I’ve never used marijuana myself, nor will I ever, but then again, I don’t see the use in arresting a person for either possessing or using a small amount of pot in their own homes.  As one speaker in the film points out, laws governing individual, private moral behavior are almost always unenforceable and impractical.  Of course, changing the law is a tricky proposition…as Prohibition proved, once you’ve made something legal, it’s practically impossible to change back.

That being said, I don’t know if Grass is the kind of film that will change your opinion of marijuana, whatever that might be.  It will, however, open your mind a little bit to the absurdity of government actions against it, cultural perceptions of it, and the impossible cost of keeping society safe from a few recreational users of it year in and year out.

Video ***1/2

Considering the wide array of footage incorporated into Grass, this is an impressive visual offering overall.  Yes, some of the footage from the 20s and 30s looks its age, but frankly, the segments from Reefer Madness look better than any version of that film I’ve seen to date.  Paul Mavrides’ colorful animation is a plus, and opens up the palate for both tone and texture.  A commendable effort overall.

Audio ****

You may find this hard to believe, being a documentary, but Grass offers a phenomenal 5.1 soundtrack.  Ron Mann’s stylings include playfully enhanced sound effects, which he channels from one speaker to another with smoothness and potency.  Woody Harrelson’s voice resonates with depth and openness, and the music is superbly presented…in fact, I’ve never heard “Itchycoo Park” mixed for 5.1 before, and found it a terrific listen!  The dynamic range is surprisingly strong…you may actually have to click your volume down a notch or two for comfort.  All in all, this audio track is as lively if not more so than many action features, and is a reference quality offering all the way.

Features ***

There is a 9 minute interview segment with Ron Mann, which is decent, but doesn’t really tell you anything you can’t figure out from watching the movie.  There is a deleted scene intended to be the original opening, which centers around a skillful long tracking shot.  There is a gallery of High Times magazine covers from over the years…featured celebrities include Woody Harrelson himself and Kevin Smith, among others, an original trailer, and a reference guide to state-by-state marijuana laws.


Grass is the best DVD offering so far under the young label of Home Vision Entertainment.  It’s entertaining, informative, and extremely imaginative and stylish, and is presented on a good looking, GREAT sounding DVD.  Give this one a try…it’s non-addictive.