‘Marijuana Inc.’: OK documentary,
dazzling Trish Regan fashion show

          Posted Sunday, March 8, 2009

The timing is a little off for Trish Regan's "Marijuana Inc.: Inside America's Pot Industry" documentary.

Marijuana operations have been covered in TV investigations at various times for decades — including even a recent feature by Lisa Ling for the National Geographic Channel that, according to other critics, is very similar to Regan's program — and it's always the same theme, here are people shockingly doing something that is illegal under federal law, etc.

With the economy in serious trouble, and with terrorism fears still lingering, the nation just doesn't seem as interested in the drug war as it was in the 1980s.

Nevertheless, Regan's production is mildly interesting, and at times entertaining. The best segment is the interview with Eric Sligh, publisher of Grow magazine, who is down-to-earth and even funny: If Mendocino County didn't have pot operations, "I think we'd all be selling Amway."

Richard Lee, a medical marijuana entrepreneur in Oakland who also has a clever name for his operation, "Oaksterdam University," and whose own Web site billing ("His dedication to ending cannabis prohibition continues to play a crucial role in the revitalization and economic growth of Oakland") is provocative, is also a good interview.

But the biggest star is the host. Regan is very beautiful, and she glides through more outfits than a runway model: blue Izod polo shirt, yellow long sleeves, light blue long sleeves, blue jacket, black business jacket with black boots, bright white top at a pool hall, black sweater on the streets of Oakland, bright green top, all usually with jeans, sometimes shades ... at one early point, she suddenly appears in a dazzling pink long-sleeve top, distracting momentarily from her report.

Undoubtedly this program was meant to, in part, showcase Regan's appeal, and rightly so, but one could question how seriously she is taking this subject matter. Conservatives who find these operations appalling might find her a bit too upbeat about some of the disclosures, and she tends to smile frequently when pot producers explain their activities.

She does give significant time to authorities, who mostly just matter-of-factly lament the size of the pot industry. She lets slip a good opportunity for a human interest story on the other side of the growers, a local principal, Joy Tucker, who moved her family out of the area because kids would show up at school reeking of parents' marijuana and a nearby home that was housing a growing operation blew up on fire. But even Tucker does not express a large amount of emotion, and the segment is mostly reduced to a soundbite.

Regan also talks to an interesting and dubious character, Bruce Perlowin, who set up a pot smuggling operation in San Francisco in the 1980s. He said he actually commissioned a research firm, after telling them he was writing a novel, to determine the best port to smuggle in pot. On his Web site, Perlowin trumpets Regan's documentary and notes "I'm still selling special herbs, however these are all legal ones which are incredibly healthy for you." The problem with Regan's segment is that the footage consists mostly of her and Perlowin standing on the shore near the Golden Gate, having a conversation, interspersed with weak stock footage from Colombia.

There aren't many deep conclusions to be drawn, but one of them must be, while there are certainly places in the country where marijuana growing and/or distribution is vigilantly prosecuted, northern California is clearly not one of them, and everyone seems to accept that.

A more relevant recent CNBC program is David Faber's "House of Cards," featuring new material about the ongoing mortgage crisis. "Marijuana Inc." is somewhat tired fare, will not shock and awe anyone and is not the deepest material on its subject. But weeks after its debut, it is already said to be one of CNBC's highest-rated original programming efforts and is bound to linger on weekends and holidays for a long time.

Other reviews of "Marijuana Inc.":

Daily News: "Solid feature, but Lisa Ling reported the same story about two months ago."

Baltimore Sun news services: "According to the program, every American is an unpaid, unwitting party to the process."

Newsday: "Was by far the most-viewed special on the network's air EVER."

Kevin McDonough, South Coast Today.com: " 'Marijuana' cries out for debate. Or at least a few libertarian voices."

"Marijuana Inc.: Inside America's Pot Industry"

Featuring: Ukiah Morrison, Eric Sligh, Tom Allman, Jim Wattenberger, Javier Pena, Richard Lee, Joey Ereneta, Lori Strand, Chuck Ladding, Butch Gupta, John Walters

Correspondent: Trish Regan

Editors: Atticus Brady, Joi De Leon

Producer: Jonathan Dann
Executive producer: Mitch Weitzner
Co-producer: Lauren Farrelly
Coordinating producer: Christie Gripenburg
Associate producer: Lauren Kesner
Director of photography: David Dellaria
Camera: David Dellaria, John Kabasakalis, Jon Van Amburg, Michael Elwell, Carlos Rigau, Samir Suarez, Bill Sims, Marco Mastrorilli, Mike Vaughn
Audio: David Baumgartner, Dave Foerder, Corey Liebin
Creative director: Victoria Todis
Art director: Peter Krugman
Designer/animator: Jacqueline Dessel
Manager of digital post-production: Vito Tattoli
Chief photographer: Angel Perez
Unit manager: Pamela Gaskins
Archivist: David Evans
Production intern: Michael O'Shea
Special thanks: Roy Christiansen
Archival video & photos: Photofest Inc., Getty Images, "Weeds" courtesy Lionsgate Television, Bruce Perlowin www.bruceperlowin.com.
Executive producer: Josh Howard
Senior vice president, business news: Jonathan Wald

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