The way cannabis use is portrayed on the silver screen is not typical for the majority of consumers. Rarely is marijuana characterized as anything other than an infringement on society or a problem to be dealt with. Largely relegated to fodder for cheap laughs or a plot devise surrounding illicit sales or teenage mischief, not many storytellers in Hollywood approach the substance with any substance. Classic stereotypes of the unsuccessful stoner abound and do little to convince the American
voters moviegoers of anything to the contrary.
Firmly established in the canon of cannabis on film—characters like Cheech, Chong, Harold, Kumar, Smokey from Friday and all of Grandma’s boys have done their part to define a genre while inspiring a legion of fanboys to lives of mediocrity. Over the course of time cannabis enhances nearly all aspects of existence and helps to focus energy and commitment on worthwhile endeavors. More or less it is only harmful only to those without ambition or are incapable of free thought.
Depictions of cannabis as a conduit to creativity or self-awareness are few and far between. Little to no effort is made to showcase the powerful properties of the plant. Cannabis consumption in motion pictures needs to be better promoted as a healthy and natural quality of life as opposed to detrimental. Demonizing or otherwise condemning marijuana while featuring booze and cocaine as preferred social lubricants fosters a dismissive message to the youths that sneak into R-rated movies without their parents consent. Hollywood needs to think about the kids.
Outside of the studio system is where marijuana is looked at with more progressive eyes. Independent filmmakers have been able to give a realistic rendering of how cannabis is used and regarded in modern society. 1969’s Easy Rider impressed upon the mainstream the idea of doing your own thing in your own time and provides a memorable study in the joys of getting high for the first time while dispelling fear based anti-marijuana propaganda of then and now.
The constant sparking of joints, blunts and bowls by protagonists in cult classics Belly, Inherent Vice and Dazed and Confused is responsible filmmaking. Subtly emphasizing the importance of regular cannabis use throughout the day as a means to success allows for the viewer to be educated without feeling that they are being preached to. Iconic characters like Steve Zissou and Jeffery “The Dude” Lebowski use cannabis as part of their personal wellness plans and approach the subject with normalcy and aplomb.
Movies are about honesty. Telling a common story in an uncommon way that resonates with viewers is not quite as simple as it sounds. Through connecting with the characters it is possible to escape times of great personal dismay and turbulence, learn important lessons or be motivated towards a new way of thinking. In film, seeing cannabis regarded not as menace to society but rather an essential ingredient to accomplishment goes a long way towards removing the stigma carried over from Reefer Madness.