Medical marijuana has been legit for 15 long years in California, and even though it has become a thriving industry, its very existence is somehow still greeted as news of the weird. Legal pot sales, which contribute a tidy sum to state and local tax coffers, are now thought to rival illegal sales there; several other states and the District of Columbia have since legalized medical marijuana or are in some stage of trying to.
You know what else about medical marijuana? It turns something that’s supposed to be illicit fun into something kind of boring. Potheads have never needed any help being uninteresting, but, as we learn Thursday night on Discovery’s new reality series “Weed Wars,” this business is just about as exciting as the gourmet cupcake trade.
The clients are certainly much the same — addicts who like to stand in long lines and make light of how delicious and irresistible they find the product. And the staff behind the counter at a medical marijuana emporium spend just as much time doing what in the cupcake business would be the equivalent of licking the frosting spoon.
Set in Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, which bills itself as the nation’s largest medical marijuana dispensary, “Weed Wars” does a fairly good job of explaining how such a business works. It works greeaaat, man.
Harborside is open every day of the year; customers line up each morning and sales continue apace till nightly close. Some customers still gamely perform the charade of describing for the camera and the sales staff the ailments that qualified them for a doctor’s cannabis prescription: insomnia, lower-back aches, stress . . . “We have some patients that come in here who, uhhh, have less clear medical issues,” observes Terryn, a salesman who works the counter and gives expert advice to customers about the effects, taste and other weed intangibles.
Steve DeAngelo, an aging boomer (and Silver Spring native and Montgomery Blair High School grad) who sports Sitting Bull braids and a sartorial panache, runs the place with the help of his brother and a determined cadre of employees, including an accountant named Luigi and a pants-averse co-owner whose legal name is Dave Weddingdress (he prefers wearing skirts).
“Weed Wars” often verges into infomercial territory as Harborside’s employees extol marijuana’s limitless benefits and make perfectly logical-sounding, Prohibition-era arguments for its legality. That said, “Weed Wars” is not particularly enamored with the finer points of the debate, the costliness of the drug war, or society’s thoughts on pot. It just wants to show some days (and daze) in the life of a business. Another of the show’s threads follows a determined marijuana grower — one of many who supply the store — as he tries to coax his latest bud harvest from the soil.
Harshly, the city passes a law that requires pot stores to pay a year’s worth of sales taxes in advance (a $1 million tab for Harborside), which introduces the only aspect of a “war” in “Weed Wars,” as DeAngelo and the gang suit up, scarf down a cannabis-packed energy bar or two (or three) and head off to fight city hall.
But perhaps the most interesting moment in “Weed Wars” comes when the cameras follow Terryn home. Though he excels at being a marijuana sales clerk, he would like to put his English and philosophy degree to some higher purpose, maybe write books, but never gets around to starting. He tries his hand at marijuana-growing, but his initial efforts fall prey to fungus. Terryn is the first to admit that his ambitions may be curtailed by the big doobie he fires up each night; his mother certainly thinks so, as she prods him to move past a life of weed. In these few simple scenes, “Weed Wars” undoes the case it was cogently attempting to make.
Whatever triumphant feeling it initially evokes, “Weed Wars” drags as the lackadaisical attitudes of both the suppliers and the customers begin to grate on a viewer’s nerves. Ever been in a room where everyone’s high but you? That’s this show.
Oddly enough, one of the first people pulled over on the Oklahoma byways in TLC’s new “DUI” (also premiering Thursday) is a grandmother whose passengers have been smoking weed. She’s hauled in and given a drug test and made to wait until her family, who live in Arkansas, can scrape together enough money to pay the bail bondsman.
“DUI” is irresistible, picking up where “Cops,” “Jail” and other guilty-pleasure law-enforcement reality series usually don’t go. It is primarily interested in what happens to motorists after they fail a sobriety test. It follows them days and weeks into court appearances and the punitive phase of their charges.
What’s emphasized here are the disastrous financial and personal losses that come for everyday working folks arrested for DUI. Granted, they should never have been behind the wheel, but “DUI” is surprisingly uninterested in MADD-style scolding and more focused on legal process. It’s also refreshingly empathetic to everyone involved and therefore some of the best Christmastime TV you could watch — an excellent holiday reminder to anyone with a driver’s license.
(one hour) premieres Thursday
at 10 p.m. on Discovery.
(two 30-minute episodes) premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on TLC.