Like Mann's previous films Comic Book Confidential and Twist, Grass is essentially a quick romp through pop culture phenomena. Narrated by actor and hemp legalization activist Woody Harrelson, the movie tells its story with footage from over 60 years worth of campy propaganda. Many people have already seen the stunningly bad 1936 anti-dope screed, Reefer Madness. But how about High on the Range, a silent 1929 melodrama about a good-natured ranch hand who goes crazy and kills his foreman after smoking loco weed? Or take a peek at Mondo Mod/Teenage Revolution, a 1966 educational film that implies smoking marijuana leads to--gasp--interracial sex!
The film's most significant revelations deal with Harry J. Anslinger, America's first Drug Czar. Named to head up the newly-formed federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1935, the evangelical prohibitionist recruited Hollywood into his moral crusade to lobby anti-marijuana legislation through Congress and all 50 states. Anslinger skillfully exploited every conceivable public fear in a career that spanned nearly 30 years, even linking drugs to the Red Menace after Communists took over China. Testifying before a US Senate crime committee, the opportunistic Anslinger deplored the fact that the Nationalist Chinese executed 1,000 people a year for drugs, while the Communists hadn't killed anyone since taking power!
Unfortunately, like an aging hippie, Mann spends far too much time celebrating the '60s. Haight-Ashbury was all right IN ITS PLACE, but this is the year 2000, so enough already! The film quickly loses steam after paying homage to the Grateful Dead, Timothy Leary and John Lennon.
Conservative Republicans are accused of keeping marijuana illegal, but the film only barely touches on Democrat Bill Clinton, who has helped push the cost of the War on Marijuana to well over $215 billion (that's billion, with a "b") since 1980 alone, according to figures generated for the film. Grass also ignores the current Drug Czar, retired General Barry McCaffrey, who is behind far more sophisticated propaganda campaigns than anything envisioned by Anslinger.
Grass ends far too abruptly, as though Mann decided to demonstrate the dangers of marijuana by spacing out the final, stirring call for legalization. But by then you'll be down anyway. Time to get back to the party.