The pro-pot problem: the issue of positive representations of Cannabis in Media
by J2r0c on April 24, 2017 - 6:00pm
In episode 285 of the Simpsons, “Weekend at Burnsie’s”, Homer Simpson is introduced to medicinal marijuana, which helps induce a state of calm and euphoria for him, but also results in him cutting his face shaving, forgetting that he owns a kitchen, and accidentally signing a petition criminalizing his newfound medicine. The episode does an excellent job at showcasing both the positive and negative elements of Marijuana, and speaks to Canada’s legalization process, as despite our progressing views on Cannabis, we are opening up the floor to a slew of new issues surrounding the legalization of the supposedly harmless drug- Issues like preventing impaired driving, stopping underage usage, and cracking down on street suppliers. It is because of our more open view of Cannabis that we need to be more careful than ever about preventing the formation of a negative cannabis culture constructed on the foundation that it’s acceptable to abuse pot because of its reputation as being relatively harmless, a view that is plastered throughout the media just as frequently as negative stigma rallying people against its usage. In a day and age where media is one of the biggest proponents of legalization, the stereotyping of marijuana in media may be actively contributing to a culture of its misuse. By creating films glorifying the irresponsible use of marijuana, and depicting Cannabis in a purely positive and non-consequential light in music, contemporary media may be doing far more harm than good for recreational marijuana users from a Teleological perspective.
In her article for Slate magazine, “Leisure and Innocence”, Marisa Meltzer writes about the prevalence of Marijuana in movies and its role in creating an entire film genre based around the consumption of the drug. Examples of these films include cult classics like “How High?”, a film about getting a college education at an Ivy League school while smoking pot, Dave Chappelle’s “Half Baked”, a comedy satirizing the American justice system and its harsh penalties for nonviolent offenders, and “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”, the story of two roommates going on a trip for white castle cheese burgers while under the influence. (Meltzer) Each is different in its plot and content, but each shares in the copious amount of pot shown onscreen. Although the general message in each film is about how Marijuana is not nearly as dangerous as the war on drugs would have one believe, this message may be diluted by the tendency of these films to downplay the negative effects of Marijuana. In one scene in “Half Baked”, Dave Chappelle’s character, Thurgood, visits an addiction support meeting where he admits to being addicted to Marijuana, provoking an angry response from the audience. One member of the audience stands up and says “Marijuana is not a drug; I used to suck dick for coke! That’s an addiction man, you ever suck some dick for Marijuana?” (Half Baked) It’s a funny scene, but it highlights a serious issue that comes with the culture of acceptance that has been built up around Cannabis use: it refuses to acknowledge the very real and potentially dangerous issue of addiction and dependency on a drug that many believe to be non-addictive. This is demonstrably untrue, and in a study on the treatment of Marijuana addiction, researchers found that the rate at which users of Marijuana are seeking treatment for a dependency is increasing, and that they represent one of the largest groups seeking treatment. (Sofuoglu, 2) The argument can be made that while addiction is a risk, it is marginally less addictive than other narcotics. This argument, while true to an extent, may be a contributing factor to the ever-increasing addiction rate associated with Marijuana, and presents a confounding issue to the Teleological question of whether the harm of addiction outweighs the benefits of legalization. This increasing addiction rate could be linked to our Media’s portrayal of the drug, and the downplaying of the harmful effects of Marijuana is not only limited to stoner comedies in film media, either, with Marijuana being frequently referenced in popular music.
Another instance of Marijuana culture ingraining itself in media is seen in the influence of Cannabis on music. In a study conducted by the Office of National Drug control Policy on the presence of substance use in popular movies and music, researchers found that in the popular music of 1996 and 1997, 18% of songs studied contained references to illicit drugs, with nearly 61% of rap music as a genre containing some kind of reference to illicit drugs, mainly marijuana. (Roberts, 6) It’s no secret that music is often associated with drug use, but many musicians cross the fine line between use and abuse with lyrics that promote irresponsible consumption. A prime example of this can be seen in Snoop Dogg and Dr.Dre’s song “The Next Episode”. Lyrics in the song include statements like “Drug dealers yeah they givin it up”, “Get my drink on, and my smoke on” and at the end of the song, “Smoke weed everyday”. (Dr.Dre) Ignoring issues often inherent to rap music like the presence of illegal activity, violence, and misogyny, the song highlights many of the issues associated with the abuse of Marijuana in music, with the lyrics promoting selling on the street, irresponsible consumption like the combination of alcohol and pot, and daily usage, casting the drug in a light that separates it from the consequences of addiction. These problems are not exclusive to rap music, either, with rock and metal acts like Black Sabbath promoting Marijuana through songs like “Sweet Leaf”. In Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf”, the lyrics “My life was empty, forever on a down, until you took me, showed me around, my life is free now” describe the potential positive effects Marijuana can have, but also reflect the danger of supplementing meaning in life with drug use. Some may say that while the lyrics are negative, individuals are capable of understanding the artistic merit of the drug references and separating good and bad behavior on their own. This is true, but it undermines the fundamental issue that comes with the possibility of addiction created by promoting drug use. In each instance, Marijuana is associated with ideas of partying, liberation, and personal freedoms, which while not inherently wrong, can be negative in the context of substance abuse.
For millions of Canadians, marijuana is becoming increasingly common in our daily life, from a current political climate geared towards its legalization on a federal level, to a large number of outspoken Canadians admitting to using the drug recreationally (Evans), North American society is gradually reforming its view on the previously-taboo and often vilified drug, and instead embracing a more open-minded position on the use of cannabis both recreationally and medically. Despite our newfound openness to cannabis consumption, it is now more important than ever that we educate ourselves on the responsible usage of marijuana, because the best way to root out addictive behavior at the source is to supplement ignorance with knowledge through education.
“Weekend at Burnsie’s.” The Simpsons, written by Jon Vitti, directed by Michael Marcantel, 20th Television, 2002.
Meltzer, M. “Leisure and Innocence.” Slate, 26 June 2007.
“How High?” Directed by Jesse Dylan, performances by Method Man, Redman, Universal Pictures, 2001.
“Half Baked.” Directed by Tamra Davis, performances by Dave Chappelle, Jim Breur, Harland Williams, Guillermo Diaz, Universal Pictures, 1998.
“Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.” Directed by Danny Leiner, performances by John Cho, Kal Penn, New Line Cinema, 2004.
Sofuoglu, M., Sugarman, D., Carroll, K. “Cognitive Function as an Emerging Treatment Target for Marijuana Addiction.” Exp Clin Psychopharmacol, April 2010.
Roberts, D., Henriksen, L., Christenson, P. “Substance Use in Popular Movies and Music.” Office of National Drug Control Policy, April 1999.
Dr.Dre. “The next Episode.” 2001, Aftermath Records, 1999.
Black Sabbath “Sweet Leaf.” Master of Reality, Vertigo, 1971.
Evans, P. “20% of Canadians smoked pot last year, but more than 30% would if legal, poll suggests” CBCNews, 10 Nov. 2015.