The Culture High Reminds Us the Enemy Isn’t Cartels, It’s Prohibition


The archival footage of Richard Nixon in Brett Harvey’s The Culture High, starring Snoop Dogg and Ronald Reagan, is a reminder in this media-saturated era that you can attain the nation’s highest political office with zero percent charisma.

Sure, that was a long time ago, but it’s probably useful to keep his as a defining face of marijuana prohibition. We’re aware that the “War on Drugs” is really the “War on Regular People” because popular culture argues that every five years or so: HBO’s The Wire and Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic are high-profile productions that brought these ideas into the mainstream during the previous decade. (Former cop Ed Burns, David Simon’s writing partner on The Wire, offers commentary on policing.) Americans have basically internalized the arguments, and although federal law still presumes to tell grown-ups what they can or can’t smoke, vape, or ingest in gummy-bear form, state laws are slowly becoming less restrictive.

The film documents with SWAT footage and news reports that the enemy isn’t the drug cartels, and really never has been. It’s strongly anti-prohibition, and the film’s structure favors that bias: Talking-head interview segments with former cops, marijuana smugglers, culture icons, comedians, and legislators address the counterintuitive benefits of marijuana prohibition to criminal enterprise.

These are contrasted with video montages of completely ridiculous anti-drug propaganda that include clips of Fox News personalities, Nancys Reagan and Grace, stupid after-school specials, and public service announcements intended to terrify children. The difference between the two is that the rational, anti-prohibition arguments require a lot of intelligent explanation and the propaganda looks stupid all by itself.

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