The Strain, The Documentary, The Legend: ‘Acapulco Gold’

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In today’s flourishing marijuana market, in which consumers can select boutique cannabis that is presented in eye-catching packaging, it’s all too easy to forget about the outlaw cultivation culture through which the plant was first created.

That culture is preserved in the 1973 documentary “Acapulco Gold,” which showcases the harvesting and smuggling of marijuana in the U.S. It peels back the curtain to show modern cannabis consumers the underground world of a cannabis outlaw.

A promotional photograph for the documentary “Acapulco Gold” appeared in the Nov. 15, 1974, edition of the Ann Arbor Sun newspaper in Michigan.

Originally reported by the Ann Arbor Sun on November 15, 1974, “Acapulco Gold” ’s director/producer Bob Grosvenor, a first-time filmmaker, felt compelled to make the documentary after he was caught growing about 5,000 cannabis plants in California. Grosvenor’s case was one of the state’s largest domestic cultivation cases at the time.

After he posted bail and waited for his trial, Grosvenor decided to recruit cameraman Steve Rosen to document the illegal harvest, cultivation, and smuggling of cannabis across America.

The impromptu filmmakers began by meeting up with members of the Kaw Valley Hemp Pickers, a counterculture group of farmers, bikers, middle-class dropouts and hippies in Lawrence, Kansas, to document the harvesting of undomesticated Midwestern hemp, commonly referred to as ditch weed. The crew joined the group of pickers as they snuck into the fields of unsuspecting farmers to cut down and harvest the unripe hemp plants in pursuit of a possible high.

The documentary’s subjects were later interviewed by authors Roger Martin, Susan Brosseau, and David Ohle for their book, “Cows Are Freaky When They Look at You: An Oral History of the Kaw Valley Hemp Pickers.”

“Cows Are Freaky When They Look at You: An Oral History of the Kaw Valley Hemp Pickers” by Roger Martin, Susan Brosseau, and David Ohle followed the coverage of the subjects of the “Acapulco Gold” documentary.

The film eventually leads viewers into a 1970s smuggler journeying into the Mexican jungles just outside Acapulco in search of the region’s cannabis flower, known as Acapulco Gold.

The laid-back smugglers enlisted the help of friends to smuggle 220 pounds of cannabis from Mexico back to shores of Imperial Beach in San Diego County, California. Finding the cannabis gold turned out to be the easy part. Dodging armed federal drug agents, sneaking past local checkpoints, and getting the illegal load of cannabis plants across the U.S. border proved to be the tricky part.

An “Acapulco Gold” movie poster promotes the documentary for the Australian re-release of the film in 1980.

Grosvenor returned home to California with the footage from the road trip just in time to face his cultivation charges in court. Grosvenor was found guilty and sentenced to jail, which slowed the post-production. From his jail cell, Grosvenor able to work on the film and score while Rosen edited the film from the outside. After Grosvenor was released, he and Rosen completed post-production and made distribution arrangements.

Years in the making, the film finally enjoyed a limited release in 1973, but was plagued by advertising problems and some theater owners refusing to play the film.

Today, fans of the original documentary have uploaded the entire film to video sharing platforms such as Vimeo and YouTube.

While the outlaw culture of the 1970s lacks the glitz and glamour of the modern cannabis market, the film captures the wild spirit of the cannabis outlaws who ultimately shaped the market we get to enjoy today.

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