Culture High: Movie review

The documentary opens with footage from a S.W.A.T. team marijuana bust in Missouri. The team promptly busts through the door of a residential home, pronouncing possession of a warrant. A family of three begins screaming in confusion while a squad leader brusquely yells orders at the family. The family dog begins barking at the intrusion and is quickly shot dead in front the screaming child. Arrests are made. The scene closes. Marijuana residue was found in the family’s trash.

My account seems glib, but even more so is the blatant disregard of privacy, legality, and ultimately, life.

A voice-over points out the blaring truth, “We cannot live free and live drug free.”

Thus begins Brett Harvey’s emotional rollercoaster Culture High. Harvey uses the metaphor of marijuana use to reflect how we function as a society at large. He asks how our attitudes toward marijuana mirror how we police ourselves, care for our sick and a host of other obstacles that have contributed to the denigration of American society. His treatment leaves the viewer furious, brings us to tears, and leaves us with more questions than answers.

The film dissects how modern law enforcement transformed itself from a symbol of safety and righteousness to the epitome of disregard and recklessness, with marijuana prohibition sitting at the helm. Director Brett Harvey – the documentarian behind films like “The Union: The Business of Getting High” and “Ice Guardians” – elucidates that very erosion of respect for police-related figures.

A series of marijuana myths are shown in media clips by news organizations representing both extremes of left and right politics. It’s a cycle that’s been perpetuated for almost a century, and mainstream culture has been swallowing it whole since prohibition.

The pain points are blaring as Harvey points out the death toll of innocent children and law abiding citizens, the financial burden of fighting a war on drugs, the perverse obsession with war rhetoric, and the profitability of maintaining that war.

One of the most sobering realizations comes with the knowledge that petty marijuana drug busts are rewarded with the same governmental merit as  large drug cartel arrests. The simplicity of nailing  small-time cannabis users has led to a drop in homicide arrests at an almost 1 to 1 ratio. Even more sobering is the shadow of an emerging prison industrial complex, wherein private corporations must keep their prisons full to meet quotas required for federal money.

Consequently, race and class discrepancies emerge with disadvantaged sections of society paying the highest price.

Appearances from the good doctors William Courtney and Gabor Mate usher in a parade of medical experts, patients, and family members of those afflicted by an illness and in support of ending prohibition. The film cites alarming statistics regarding legal  pharmaceuticals which have led to many deaths while marijuana remains a schedule one illicit drug in America. Harvey exposes the role of big pharma in cannabis prohibition.

Testimonies and perspectives are offered by a laundry list of societal figures from artists like Snoop Lion and political pundits like the Young Turks, to members of the British law enforcement agency MI-5 and scientific scholars. The list of guests is overwhelming and the philosophical issues that they reveal are astounding. And, while these themes may seem like old hat to those of us in the know (if you’re reading “Hybrid.Life” you’re most likely one of them), the density of this documentary is comprehensive to the Nth degree. Harvey does an incredible job of piecing together the systemic problems of cannabis use, as well as showing the detriment marijuana prohibition has on our society and the very basis of Western culture – freedom.

“Culture High” is available to stream here on Netflix. 


About Christopher Millard (4 Articles)
Christopher Millard is a freelance writer and cultural critic whose music reviews have appeared on Examiner, 40ozRobot.com, Decibelpromo.com and Anydecentmusic.com. He also works as a writer and publicist for Valence Communications Group. A former musician, Chris has recorded with several bands and served as musical director for Hollywood North Studios. He holds a Master's degree in Library and Information Science from the University of British Columbia, but is neither a librarian nor Canadian (unfortunately). Chris currently resides in Sacramento, Calif.
  • William Clark

    Prohibition of marijuana is a premise built on a tissue of lies: Concern For Public Safety. Our new laws save hundreds of lives every year, on our highways alone. In November of 2011 a study at the University of Colorado found that, in the thirteen states that decriminalized marijuana between 1990 and 2009, traffic fatalities have dropped by nearly nine percent—now nearly ten percent in Michigan–while sales of beer went flat by five percent. No wonder Big Alcohol opposes it. Ambitious, unprincipled, profit-driven undertakers might be tempted too.

    In 2012 a study released by 4AutoinsuranceQuote revealed that marijuana users are safer drivers than non-marijuana users, as “the only significant effect that marijuana has on operating a motor vehicle is slower driving”, which “is arguably a positive thing”. Despite occasional accidents, eagerly reported by police-blotter
    ‘journalists’ as ‘marijuana-related’, a mix of substances was often involved.
    Alcohol, most likely, and/or prescription drugs, nicotine, caffeine, meth, cocaine, heroin, and a trace of the marijuana passed at a party last week. However, on the whole, as revealed in big-time, insurance-industry stats, within the broad swath of mature, experienced consumers, slower and more cautious driving shows up in significant numbers. A recent Federal study has reached the same conclusion. And legalization should improve those numbers further.

    No one has ever died from an overdose of marijuana. It’s the most benign ‘substance’ in history. Most people—and particularly patients who medicate with marijuana–use it in place of prescription drugs or alcohol.

    Marijuana has many benefits, most of which are under-reported or never mentioned in American newspapers. Research at the University of Saskatchewan indicates that, unlike alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or Nancy (“Just say, ‘No!’”) Reagan’s beloved nicotine, marijuana is a neuro-protectant which actually encourages brain-cell growth. Research in Spain (the Guzman study) and other countries has discovered that it also has tumor-shrinking, anti-carcinogenic properties. These were confirmed by the 30-year Tashkin population study at UCLA.

    Drugs are man-made, cooked up in labs, for the sake of patents and the profits gained by them. Often useful, but typically burdened with cautionary notes and lists of side effects as long as one’s arm. ‘The works of Man are flawed.’

    Marijuana is a medicinal herb, the most benign and versatile in history. “Cannabis” in Latin, and “kaneh bosm” in the old Hebrew scrolls, quite literally the Biblical Tree of Life, used by early Christians to treat everything from skin diseases to deep pain and despair. The very name, “Christ” translates as “the anointed one”. Well then, anointed with what? It’s a fair question. And it wasn’t holy water, friends. Holy water came into wide use in the Middle Ages. In Biblical times it was used by a few tribes of Greek pagans. But Christ was neither Greek nor pagan.

    Medicinal oil, for the Prince of Peace. A formula from the Biblical era has been rediscovered. It specifies a strong dose of oil from kaneh bosom, ‘the fragrant cane’ of a dozen uses: ink, paper, rope, nutrition. . . . It was clothing on their backs and incense in their temples. And a ‘skinful’ of medicinal oil could certainly calm one’s nerves, imparting a sense of benevolence and connection with all living things. No wonder that the ‘anointed one’ could gain a spark, an insight, a sense of the divine, and the confidence to convey those feelings to friends and neighbors.

    I am appalled at the number of ‘Christian’ politicians, prosecutors, and police who pose on church steps or kneeling in prayer on their campaign trails, but cannot or will not face the scientific or the historical truths about cannabis, Medicinal Herb Number One, safe and effective for thousands of years, and celebrated by most of the world’s major religions.

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