The directorial debut of hip hop legend and former Yo! MTV Raps host Fab 5 Freddy (aka Fred Brathwaite), Grass is Greener, hits Netflix on the fitting date of 4/20. With the legalization of medical marijuana in 33 states and recreational use in 10, the debate over cannabis has changed drastically in the last few years. As white entrepreneurs flood the marketplace, Grass is Greener draws attention to the marginalized demographics left behind in the wake of over a hundred years of disproportionate policing.
Throughout his film, Fab 5 Freddy explores the long history of America’s relationship with cannabis, often through the lens of popular music. It all begins in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz and the earliest supporters of the drug. Marijuana was a staple of the greats, with everyone from Duke Ellington to Louis Armstrong vocally endorsing its use. And Fab 5 Freddy’s close connection to the New York music scenes of the ’80s and ’90s gives the film a personal edge, distinguishing itself from similar docs.
Not initially a concern of the American people, as Grass is Greener argues, it wasn’t until cannabis was widely associated with African-American and Mexican populations that the government began to intervene, spurring the harmful stereotypes and the racist policing of the drug we’ve come to know. The unofficial rebranding of cannabis as “marijuana” by US government propaganda furthered this connection in an attempt to stigmatize those citizens who used it.
Grass is Greener is a comprehensive if not standard retelling of America’s relationship with cannabis. For those who have seen other docs on the subject or are just interested in legalization in general, there is little new information given, but it’s still worth hearing again.
The film effectively breaks down the Reagan-era laws put in place that resulted in disproportionate policing and the US having the highest rates of incarceration in the world still today, with Black and Hispanic men much more likely to be jailed than whites despite rates of marijuana use being consistent across the board. While this has all been noted before, Grass is Greener finds strength in its eclectic and knowledgable subjects who speak on the topic.
As Fab 5 Freddy works his way through the hundred-plus years of cannabis prohibition, he features a pleasant mix of experts and friends to give testimony, including prominent authors and professors on the subject as well as famously pro-marijuana celebrities like Snoop Dogg, members of the hip-hop group Cypress Hill, and NBA star Cliff Robinson. These are men and women who have been outspoken supporters of destigmatizing marijuana use throughout their entire careers, and their deep understanding of the culture is key to the film.
These passionate insights are the most impactful part of Grass is Greener. Activists and connoisseurs alike come together to fight for the legalization of marijuana across the US by way of personal testimony laced with a thorough understanding of the history of cannabis. They urge viewers to be cognizant of the racialized past and actively seek reparations for marginalized communities that were unfairly policed.
In a moving segment towards the end of the film, Fab 5 Freddy visits the family of Bernard Noble, a black man in prison for possession of less than two joints worth of weed. Due to the arbitrary three-strikes laws enacted across the country and his two prior, similarly minor possession charges, Noble was imprisoned for 13 years. His sisters and mother speak bluntly about the harrowing effect this has had on him over the years, including the fact that he wasn’t allowed to attend his brother’s funeral and has lost contact with his children. By putting a face on the senseless War on Drugs, Grass is Greener drives home its most impactful argument.
While Grass is Greener isn’t particularly groundbreaking in any way, it’s a fun, fast-paced introduction to the history of cannabis use in the US and the effect its criminalization has had. From hilarious moments with Snoop Dogg to heartbreaking real-life stories, Grass is Greener manages to stay compelling throughout its tight 97-minute runtime. When it comes to the music scene and cannabis, Fab 5 Freddy is the perfect person to tell this story, and he does so effectively.