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Scratch and Sniff: Richard M. Nixon smells out the pot problem firsthand.

Smoke Gets in Their Eyes

Ron Mann's 'Grass' chronicles the follies of anti-pot crusaders

By Richard von Busack

MARIJUANA SMOKING isn't just wrong, smelly and unhealthful, it also leads to greater trouble later on. In my case, it led to journalism. If only one person reads this review of the documentary Grass and is spared a life of shame and degradation in print, it will have been worth my time writing it.

Writing it on a Sunday, yet--is there no profanation that marijuana will not lead you to? Please, readers, I'm on my knees! Cast out that sweet-smelling green demon! Call it pot, call it grass, call it muggles--a word that turns up as the name of some magic critters in the Harry Potter books (attention, parents!)--call it, as the makers of Grass call it, "stooba," "snop" and "broccoli" ... but no matter what it's called, it always has the same effect. A giddy sense of euphoria is replaced with a burning urge to eat cookies, and the next thing you know, you're interviewing some finch-wit sophomore about why she loves 'N Sync. Begone, Satan!

Grass is produced and directed by Ron Mann (Comic Book Confidential) and narrated by the noted snop-puffer Woody Harrelson. It follows a Hundred Years' War on marijuana, from the earliest municipal laws against cannabis in El Paso to last decade's $214.7 billion war of extermination on drugs.

Dispensing with balanced journalism, Mann accompanies this grand total with the sound of a toilet flushing. Still the war to purge America of wacky tabacky continues, after pleas from everyone from Jack Webb to Nancy Reagan fell on deaf ears.

Efforts by Harry J. Anslinger, America's first drug czar, led to other, lesser-known drug chiefs, but loco-weed smokers from the 1900s to the 1990s made convenient scapegoats for any president lagging in the polls and looking soft on crime. Much scientific study indicates that monkey-shrub seems to produce some sort of buzz followed by sleepiness and affability. Reports critical of prohibition were ignored: one in the late 1930s sponsored by New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, of airport fame, and the Shafer Commission's Nixon-era report, which the president discarded, unread.

Biased as it is, Grass gives an overview of the anti-drug policies of the past century, those criminalization and recriminalization policies that seem to be following the steps of that antique dance, the Turkey Trot--one foot forward, two feet back.

Grass contents itself with a study of the Politburo-like immovability of Anslinger--a much worse man than he's painted here. We see also the squandering of a federal fortune and the century-long triumph of demagogues. And for comic relief, we get a few clips from vintage anti-drug movies to amuse this generation's bluntbakers.

Who is that mad-looking actor in the film Reefer Madness who gasps, "Faster! Faster! Faster!" as he's overcome with musical marijuaniac mania? Who were those anonymous skanks in Marihuana, Weed With Roots in Hell who are driven by maryjane to nude bathing?

Will any man of the 21st century surpass Sonny Bono as the most illustrious chowderhead of our era? And who can forget Cheech Marin's reverent "Hijo de la chingada!" at the sight of a joint the size of a calf's leg or the sound of Cab Calloway and his orchestra playing "Reefer Man"?

Grass is a perky documentary on a doleful subject: the triumph of prejudice and folly. It's a credit to Mann that he'd found a sarcastic laugh in the midst of the war against marijuana.

Grass (Unrated; 80 min.), a documentary by Ron Mann, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the June 22-28, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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