If half the battle in reality TV is unearthing colorful characters, “Weed Wars” already looks like a winner. Focusing on a medical-marijuana dispensary in Oakland, the show features an eccentric lot who fight the good fight to distribute their product and freely partake of it — including the guy who walks around in a tie-dyed dress. Critics might see this as romanticizing the participants or serving as a gateway to harder shows — “Heroin Hustlers?” “Crack Crusaders?” — but it’s really just a typical family-business saga, albeit with the threat of a contact high.
Any program of this variety feeds on drama, which could be in short supply when the cast is in a cannabis-fueled state of relaxation. Fortunately, the premiere offers the equivalent of an existential threat — a tax issue that, if unresolved, will force shutting down the Harborside Health Center.
The partners include the aforementioned co-founder, David Weddingdress (yes, he changed his name), but the focus is on executive director Steve DeAngelo, who wears his hair in long braids and shows up late for a meeting because he chooses to swing by work for a stress-relieving cannabis edible.
DeAngelo describes the larger mission as “risky” and “dangerous” given the hostility of local officials, and dispatches his brother, Harborside G.M. Andrew, to plead their case to the city council.
Will the center survive? Therein lies the suspense, but that’s just part of the story. Addressing the camera, Steve describes himself in evangelical terms — “an agent of change,” as he puts it, “who’s working to bring the truth about the cannabis plant to the rest of the world.”
“Weed Wars” also offers some interesting and unexpected surprises, like the guy who left the mortgage business to go grow topnotch weed — and feels much more wholesome doing that than prodding people with crappy credit scores to buy homes they can’t afford.
Obviously, the title is intended to grab attention, but “Weed Wars” (soon to be joined on Discovery by another contraband show, “Moonshiners”) presents its quirky combatants with only the vaguest aroma of condescension, and should find a fairly receptive audience subset among the many Americans who view smoking pot as a law they have no trouble violating.
Unless, you know, those folks forget to watch.