Pot's stigma going up in smoke
These are high times for pop culture.
With record numbers of Americans supporting the legalization of marijuana, the drug’s stigma has been fading.
Actors puff pot regularly in films, openly discuss it on TV and even our governor, mayor and last three presidents all have taken a toke or two.
“People are bolder about their use today,” said Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation. “
A number of celebrities are talking about it, there are a number of shows that glorify drug use.”
The recent wave of pot use on TV started with “That ’70s Show,” carried on to “Six Feet Under” and “Weeds” and regularly is referred to on shows such as “Family Guy” and “Bored to Death.”
Weed also has wafted onto network shows like “Parks and Recreation” and “Accidentally on Purpose.”
On the big screen, stoner flicks such as “Harold and “Kumar Go to White Castle” and “Pineapple Express” attract huge, usually young, audiences.
Pot has even graduated to Hollywood’s biggest night when Neil Patrick Harris sang “Why does Harold call Kumar when he scores dope?” on last week’s Oscars.
Robert Thompson, pop culture professor at Syracuse University, said depictions of marijuana use on TV are “definitely” on the rise.
“It's a similar kind of feel that used to have that drinking in previous generations,” Thompson said. “Like those shows when Dean Martin would come out and act like he was drunk — and he probably was. There was that sense that this was fun and funny. We are seeing that much less with alcohol and more with marijuana.
Melissa Henson, communications director of the Parents Television Council, said that a boost in pot smoking on shows that youths watch is bothersome.
“The most concerning to me is ‘American Dad,’ ‘The Cleveland Show,’ ‘Family Guy,’ ‘Glee’ and ‘Gossip Girl.’ The danger, Henson said, is that many depictions treat it as if “not a big deal.”
But Fey said the negative effects of using the drug are too often ignored.
The biggest “offender” on TV, though, was Jay Leno, who made 21 pot references on his shows last year.
Harry Levine, a Queens College sociology professor who’s done a major study on marijuana arrests, disagrees that there’s more pot use depicted in the media — with one big exception.
“What’s changed is people are willing to say in all kinds of places they think marijuana should be legalized and sold like liquor is,” he said. “They’ll say that to their families on Thanksgiving, they’ll say that to neighbors …and if you put a microphone in front of them, they’ll say that on national television.
For example, last August Brad Pitt said on the “Today” show that if he ever ran for public office, part of his platform would be “the legalization and taxation of marijuana.”
Other young celebs who have admitted to smoking pot include Natalie Portman, Kirsten Dunst and Seth Rogen, who seems to not talk about anything else.
Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance said among the reasons people are more open about pot includes: the legalization of medical marijuana in 14 states; the fact that 44 percent of Americans in a Gallup Poll said pot should be legal; and the generation of Americans whose parents more likely than not have smoked pot.
But despite those factors, marijuana arrests are at an all-time high, he notes.
“We’ve gone from 400,000 arrests a year in the mid-80s to 800,000 now,” he said. “Marijuana arrests are now 40 percent of all the drug arrests in the country.”
One New Yorker said he’s noticed pot isn’t only shown in positive light on TV.
“On a show like ‘Law and Order’ they would charge people for smoking weed or for selling it,” said Eugene Paus, 23, of Washington Heights. “But in a comedy it’s all good, and everyone thinks it’s cool.”
While President Barack Obama said he won’t legalize marijuana, he admitted: “As a kid, I inhaled. That was the whole point.”
It’s hard to imagine Richard Nixon saying that in the ’60s, when the hippie movement was the center of the drug culture.
Julia Borovskaya contributed to this story.