Traditionally, outside the cannabis community, pot smokers were seen as lazy, unproductive, and slow. Paranoid daydreamers with long hair and short attention spans. Perpetuated in part by experience, and in part by representation in media, cannabis users were seldom given a fair shake. But the 21st century has seen a shift not only in what type of person uses cannabis but also in how we’re perceived. The stoner stereotype is slowly disappearing.
How the old Stereotype Came About
Looking at classic stoner characters in TV and Film, the portrayal has typically been clichéd and repeated over the years – as far back as Cheech & Chong, and as recently as Pineapple Express.
Hollywood traditionally portrays marijuana users as hippie types, unkempt in appearance, and often a page behind the rest of the cast when it came to the plot. We all knew what kind of Scooby Snacks Shaggy was eating. There’s comedy mileage in that portrayal, sure – no-one laughs at stoner comedy as much as stoners – but there’s far more depth to cannabis than movies traditionally show.
Negative Stoner Stereotype Origins
The negative stereotypes associated with cannabis use were built into the public consciousness long ago. In 1936, the now-infamous Reefer Madness crafted a legacy of harm towards cannabis and cannabis users which lasted decades and arguably perpetuated more damage than any political war on drugs since.
Regarded as a propaganda film, the movie was financed by a church group and portrayed cannabis as a drug that sent users into fits of psychotic, destructive rage. The plot features a group of high school students who are tempted by pushers to try marijuana, and upon doing so, they descend into a mess of violent crime and madness as the evil weed fries their brain and distorts their moral compass entirely. Parents who watched the film were aghast, and a long-lasting demonisation of the plant was born – but the way Reefer Madness portrayed the effects of cannabis could hardly be further from the truth.
The biggest hurdle cannabis and cannabis users have faced is ignorance – lack of information about the true benefits of the drug had long been hard to come by, or worse – intentionally suppressed. In the 1960s, cannabis use became more widespread and the hippie movement embraced marijuana, which slowly began to become synonymous with peace and relaxation – a notion which Bob Marley and other influential musicians would further expand in the 1970s. Through the drug’s endorsement by cultural icons, public perceptions of cannabis were beginning to move in another direction – away from violence, madness and paranoia, and toward peace and tranquillity.
Quietly, over the course of the 1990s, the stereotype of the stoner began to shift. As information on strains became more widely available (thanks, internet!), consumers were able to choose cannabis with greater discernment than in the past. Rather than going for the most potent, many were choosing strains that offered different benefits – medicinal, uplifting, creative, and so on. The result – in part, at least – was a more savvy cannabis user, and once science got involved, the game changed forever.
Within a short space of time, the outdated perceptions of the plant’s effects slowly started to melt into obscurity. Medicinal cannabis played a huge part, and when California’s landmark Proposition 215 legalised medical marijuana in 1996, a new trail was soon ablaze. Cannabis became the go-to for stressed executives looking to unwind and even of athletes looking to recover – but others looked to cannabis to rescue them from symptoms of physical ailments.
At long last, people are looking at cannabis differently. It’s heralded as one of nature’s finest medicines, sure – but so much more besides. The long-held stereotype of stoners as unproductive is slowly being laid to rest. As the cannabis industry continues its meteoric rise, more and more businesses are being set up by cannabis users who are highly driven to succeed. One need only look to the industry itself for evidence that many hard-working, intelligent, motivated people not only use cannabis but are super-creative and hyper-productive with it. The advent of microdosing has allowed many to reap the creative benefits of THC without becoming benign.
Productivity and the Stoner Stereotype
One of the most widely-held misconceptions about cannabis is that it demotivates users and harms productivity. There may be a degree of truth in this depending on the individual and level of use, but one needn’t look far to find examples to the contrary.
- Famed astrophysicist and cosmologist Carl Sagan was a prolific author and cannabis user
- Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs was open about his marijuana use
- Joe Rogan is the most successful podcast host today, tours his stand-up comedy every year and still finds time to provide commentary to the UFC
- Elon Musk smoked a joint with Rogan on a recent podcast
- Virgin founder and entrepreneur Richard Branson is a long-time advocate for marijuana legalization, and has declared himself a smoker in the past
These are some of the most successful people in their respective fields ever to have lived; all smoke or smoked marijuana, and all have broken new ground professionally in some ways. Some of these high-profile success stories may be attributed to cannabis, rather than in spite of it. Indeed, the tide has turned and perception has changed.
Stereotypes are usually partially rooted in fact, but upon exploration, are quickly found to be misleading. The traditional stereotypical portrayal of cannabis users is exactly that – misleading – but as more people continue to benefit from the sacred plant than ever, that stereotype becomes little more than an incorrect – yet occasionally amusing – parody.