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The Changing Media View of Cannabis

Cannabis and its legality are never far from the fore of political and societal debate. There are those who argue for the medically approved usage, those for complete decriminalisation and legalisation and those who staunchly oppose the use of marijuana in any way shape or form.

However, it is the ever changing social view that guides this ebbing and flowing tide of argument that has seen the debate never yet put to bed.

One of the best ways to gain an insight into the changing view of cannabis is in the media and movies have for the last century played a major part in portraying the cultural views of the time whether through documentation, scaremongering and even comedy…

The Horrors of REEFER!!!

It wasn’t until the early days of the 20th century that proper legislation was brought into place that identified that cannabis was a harmful intoxicant and was made illegal. Even still it was widely used in the United States and the variant hemp was still used in industry for ship rigging, animal feed, textiles and many more things in the 20’s and 30’s. This was when the media would strike a major blow to the cannabis culture.

The most prominent anti cannabis film of the time was Reefer Madness (released in 1936). This film has been widely criticised in recent years due to its absurd scaremongering tactics and close ties to the logging industry. This was less an informative piece and more of an exploitative slander piece against the use of hemp over wood in industry.

This and a variety of other bizarre exploitation films from this time such as “Marihuana” and “Assassin of Youth” paint cannabis smoking in a hysterical and usually bizarre light with results ranging from becoming psychopathic rapists to fuelling kidnapping and abandoning children.

All of this worked to fuel a strong anti cannabis propaganda movement at the time that was actually quite effective. The Reefer Madness film also spawned the derogatory term ‘Reefer Addict’.

Your Country Needs YOU… to Grow Weed!

In a bizarrely self-contradictory decade, the 40’s saw a continuation of the anti-pot propaganda coupled with a government funded plea for farmers to grow hemp on mass.

The film “Hemp for Victory” was created by the United States government during World War 2 that actively encouraged farmers to grow crops of hemp to help with the war effort. It seemed that the evils of hemp and cannabis went right out of the window when they could be of some use. Hemp marijuana seeds were dispersed throughout the states in accordance with this film that basically said “We need weed to win the war.”

Once the war effort was over and freedom saved, it seems appropriately hypocritical for American media to go back to telling you what you can’t and shouldn’t do when “She Shoulda Said No!” or “The Devils Weed” was released in 1949.

Misconceptions Go Up in Smoke

It wasn’t until almost 30 years later that cannabis would receive any alternate view in popular culture or films, but when it did, people didn’t know what to think.

One of the first movies to show the lighter side of smoking cannabis was Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke movie, the 1978 follow-up to their stand-up and television appearances. Cheech and Chong never made any qualms with the way they were often viewed, the dopey stoners, wasters with more blunts than brain cells.

It didn’t matter as that was part of their charm and they were a part of the changing view of cannabis in regular society. Sure, people had done plenty of it during the 60’s but it had always been kept out of the view of the buttoned down family friendly mainstream.

This was a major change, when cannabis could be spoken about openly and not presented as the monstrous apparition of nightmares.

Stoners were no longer the terrifying reefer addicts out to abduct your children… stoners were funny!

The Cannabis Backdraft

While Cheech and Chong have gone on to be world renowned, they were still marginalised in their time. It would be the 90’s and 2000’s that saw cannabis become an accepted part of society. Already cannabis was smoked in more homes than the government would care to admit but the acceptance of it as common culture in the media really carried some weight.

Films like Half Baked, How High and Pineapple Express may all have been comedies but to a degree they were part of the more open and honest portrayal of cannabis in the media. Films like Dazed and Confused while also comedic in some aspects painted a picture of the adolescent purgatory of the teenage years that was relatable to so many. In what decade previous could pot heads be relatable?

The Informed Stoner

The final piece of the cannabis puzzle seems to after the best part of a century been found, and it is ever so carefully being put into place. No longer simply a mechanism for entertainment, cannabis documentaries are asking questions about why cannabis is illegal, how harmful it really is, the healthcare applications of these medical seeds and why governments are still so staunchly against its decriminalisation.

Documentaries like “Waiting to Inhale”, “In Pot We Trust” and the hilarious yet informative “Super High Me” are finally lifting the lid on cannabis culture and the future potential of this always controversial herb.

Cannabis has been the realm of the farmer, the reefer addict, the patriot, the dopey stoner, the average Joe and finally… the informed individual.

Brian Ramsey

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