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'Inside Man' Gets the Dope on Medical Marijuana
June 22, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 5 comments

CNN has had some winning additions since former NBC head Jeff Zucker arrived earlier this year to revamp the news channel, most notably with Anthony Bourdain's itinerant odyssey, Parts Unknown.  Next up, and giving CNN more alt spin, is documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock's Inside Man, a series dedicated to burrowing deep inside the social issues of the day.

Spurlock, one of the more recognizable faces in American documentary filmmaking alongside (though slightly behind) Michael Moore and Errol Morris, premieres the series Sunday night at 10 ET, with a look inside the medical marijuana industry in California. The hour-long show looks at the case of Harborside Medical, a large, pharmacy-styled dispensary in Oakland, which is currently fighting federal prosecution despite being in compliance with California state law. The U.S. Department of Justice is going after them, and other similar operations, for federal violations which still outlaw the drug. (Spurlock with Harborside Executive Director Steve DeAngelo, left.)

Spurlock ate his way to fame in his 2004 film Super Size Me, in which he consumed only fast-food from MacDonald's for 30 days and would not refuse up-selling super-sized offers. By the end of the project, he gained 25 pounds and suffered liver dysfunction. He brings a similar sense of immersion to his investigation into the medical marijuana industry for his first show. Future shows will look at gun ownership, the elder care industry and the plight of migrant farm workers.

Spurlock takes a turn working at the counter at Harborside, a large, brightly lit retail-looking facility with a steady flow of prescription holders that include middle-aged patients suffering orthopedic ailments and side effects from cancer treatments. They find marijuana an effective, natural remedy, as opposed to heavy-dose painkillers and other meds that have unpleasant side effects.

It's far from being the pot boutique or head-shop you might expect, with dropouts stoking up on fat buds so they can get baked and watch cartoons all day. Surprisingly, there are concentrated pills, liquids and other concoctions meant to refine the delivery of the drug.

Spurlock remarks, "I was blown away by how much of a well-organized business it was, because it's the last thing you would expect."

He finds an elderly woman there with a prescription from her doctor. She says, "I grew up thinking it was something only jazz musicians did." She laughs. "We've all evolved. The whole country's evolving."

We learn that the Justice Department's case focuses on commercial growing operations supplying the pharmacies, essentially skirting California's (and 17 other states, currently) legalization of the medical use of the drug.

Spurlock shows video of President Obama, then a candidate running for office, arguing that these cases are a waste of resources. Spurlock then presents statistics illustrating that, since Obama took office, marijuana pharmacy prosecutions have actually increased over those pursued during the George W. Bush administration.

Inside Man's first episode is good documentary filmmaking, and a wise addition to CNN's lineup, going into the statistcal surprises of the marijuana issue and escorting us into an illegal commercial growing operation. Spurlock's style, though, is folksy, and perhaps more affable than you'd want when learning about the outrages of its subject. There's no Mike Wallace here, microphone aimed like a pistol, getting us some satisfaction.

Spurlock is content with a few cuts to his hotel room, on the bed in his socks, leaving voicemails for the U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case, knowing full well he won't get a call back.

It's then when Inside Man seems less like hard-hitting journalism, and more like Spulock's continuing Everyman adventures. Nonetheless, it's time well spent.

Inside Man somewhat oddly avoids President Obama's admitted experience with pot as a teenager in Hawaii, or, that if he (or Clinton or W.) had ever been busted for it, he could likely never been elected with a criminal record. After all, it's the Obama administration that's behind the charges and prosecutions. In some of those cases, the defendants face serious jail sentences after having have gone into what they saw as perfectly legitimate businesses in California.

That would seem to be the ultimate thread to tie around the hypocrisy of the prosecution of a drug that, like alcohol, seems more or less socially accepted, and one that also offers clear, clinical help to patients that need it.
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Jan 13, 2024   |  Reply
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Oct 7, 2023   |  Reply
I love Morgan Spurlock, and I plan to watch this beginning next Sunday. I'm sorry the premier episode is scheduled against the Mad Man series finale as that is my "must see" for Sunday. This new show looks like a very welcome relief from the ridiculous glut of reality junk polluting the air waves.
Jun 23, 2013   |  Reply
You have to pity any network or cable channel counter-programming against AMC's "Mad Men" or later this summer, "Breaking Bad". But, that's what DVR's are for. Set yours for "Inside Man". –EG
Jun 23, 2013
Thanks for the heads up about this. From what you wrote this does sound interesting even though I usually shy away from this subject because it's usually pretty much the same thing said in different ways. This one sounds a bit different, and in a good way. (I posted a link to Facebook about it.) Knowledge is power!
Jun 22, 2013   |  Reply
Angela - Plenty of new and surprising things to be had in the premiere of "Inside Man". –EG
Jun 23, 2013
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