Cannabis has been a part of movies and television for decades, but the way it’s presented has evolved and shifted over time. We’ve come a long way from the 1936 movie “Reefer Madness” — it’s pure comedy now to portray weed as an insanity-inducing danger — but that isn’t the only way cannabis representation has progressed. Even just the last decade has resulted in noticeable change that can be seen clearly in entertainment media.
Casual cannabis use is steadily on the rise in television and movies. This differs greatly from the cannabis portrayals of yesteryear, which either centered around stoner stereotypes and comedy (such as “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”) or made pot a central part of the plotline (such as “Weeds”). Instead, we are beginning to see cannabis more commonly creep into the mainstream in delightfully offhand ways. Cannabis no longer must be the entire genre to still be a part of the story.
Shows such as “BoJack Horseman” (2014), “Broad City” (2015), “Love” (2016) and “Santa Clarita Diet” (2017) are just a few modern programs that have taken this approach. Though none of the aforementioned shows are about weed, all portray characters who casually consume cannabis. This normalization goes a long way; it’s relatable, realistic and believable.
In fact, as cannabis grows in popularity, a passed joint in a television show is no longer shocking or even subversive — it’s just a part of life.
This is a far cry from the outrageous antics in “Pineapple Express” or Cheech and Chong’s many films. Of course, there are some modern incantations of these classic stoner-focused stories. “Disjointed,” an original comedy series about a legalization advocate who owns a dispensary, debuted in 2017 on Netflix. However, despite being released in a time when cannabis use is more widely accepted than ever before in our country’s history, the show only saw a dismal 23 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was swiftly cancelled after one season. Whether the poor rating reflects the individual show’s writing, or a conscious shift away from the stoner humor of old, only time — and future ratings — will tell.
One thing is certain though: Cannabis use itself is not the problem with the struggles of “Disjointed.” Another Netflix original, “Grace & Frankie,” released in 2015, has made a long-standing habit of showing Frankie as the cannabis-loving hippie who always has a secret stash somewhere. She is frequently depicted as smoking, eating edibles and getting high throughout the series’ four seasons — and she’s not the only one. Grace’s adult daughters, Brianna and Mallory, also casually smoke weed during the series run. Even Grace, set up as Frankie’s opposite, gets in on the action from time to time, and with all the realistic depictions of cannabis use. “Grace & Frankie” is a critical darling, and the show’s fifth season is set for release in 2019.
There’s no doubt that the portrayal of cannabis is shifting and changing. Whereas before it was uncommon to see casual cannabis use in media, now it would seem that any show may write in a character who happens to smoke some grass. This was bound to happen as public perception of cannabis changes, and change it has — 64 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, as of 2017.
Weed is rightfully no longer stigmatized as a drug for goofballs and space cadets, and smoking cannabis is no longer seen as a “niche” or “fringe” activity. People of all walks of life use cannabis, from artists to doctors to parents and everyone in between. It’s about time movies and television reflected that fact, and the trend will surely continue as things keep on progressing.
TELL US, what are other examples you’ve seen of normalized cannabis on television?