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The cannabis community has been working to overcome stoner stereotypes for decades. Meanwhile, pop culture is spreading and perpetuating these pot-head portrayals. Anyone who smokes or has friends that smoke knows that stoners are just as varied in personality and capability as the rest of the world. Many of today's brightest minds cite marijuana as their creative and intellectual muse. So how is it that society came to perceive pot-heads as lazy and small-minded?
Cannabis as an Intellectual Stimulant
While some strains of marijuana can make you lethargic, on a broader basis the drug is not a downer. It has been used by artists and intellectuals throughout the centuries to lighten the mind and broaden scopes of thought. In the 1800s, cannabis was used often in intellectual circles. From Samuel Taylor Coleridge to the esteemed French poet, essayist, and intellectual Charles Baudelaire, the most respected minds of day praised the intellectual stimulation marijuana provided them. Baudelaire found it cleared his mind rather than clouded it, stating, "Every difficult question… becomes clear and transparent. Every contradiction is reconciled. Man has surpassed the gods." Francis Crick, one of the scientists who discovered DNA, was also a pot advocate who was a founding member of the proto-legalization group called Society of Mental Awareness (SOMA). The famed neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote that pot allowed him to reconcile with his own atheism.
These intellectuals and their openness about pot use kept society surprisingly open to cannabis use in comparison to modern time. In fact, cannabis was so widely praised in the 19th century that in 1876 the Sultan of Turkey presented the United States with a large quantity of hashish as a token of esteem at the World’s Fair. Is this view of marijuana outdated? Have we made new discoveries that have proved these intellectuals wrong and shown us that stoners are, indeed, the short-sighted idiots we portray them as? Far from it. In fact, many of today's most capable minds utilize marijuana for their thought processes, and find that it clears their thoughts and increases their abilities.
Modern Minds and Weed
One detail regarding weed and intelligence that is often overlooked is the fact that many of modern society's greatest business successes have admitted that they use cannabis. From Steve Jobs to Bill Gates to Oprah Winfrey, as well as many who are sure to be afraid to admit it given the stigma it carries, a large number of brilliant minds use this substance that society claims makes us stupid. Use of marijuana by intellects goes beyond the business world. Harvard professor Lester Grinspoon wrote, in a reprint of his landmark book Marihuana Reconsidered:
I no longer doubt that marijuana can be an intellectual stimulant. It can help the user to penetrate conceptual boundaries, promote fluidity of associations, and enhance insight and creativity.
Included in the original edition of Marijuana Reconsidered was further proof that marijuana can enhance intelligent thought. An essay by a person only referred to as “Mr. X” praised cannabis for helping the writer have an epiphany into racism while showering and led to 11 essays in the course of one hour. Mr. X turned out to be the pseudonym of Carl Sagan. Author Lee Childs of the Jack Reacher novels admitted he smoked every night for 44 years and writes while stoned.
Music creatives also use marijuana to enhance their creativity. DJ Quik frantically mixed half of Tupac's classic post-jail album "All Eyez on Me" in 48 hours by alternating between a steady smoking regimen of cigarettes and joints.
If so many people respected for their intelligence smoke marijuana, how did we end up with the stereotypes that are so common today?
Where Did the Stereotype Come From?
Another quote from Lester Grinspoon sheds a bit of light on this question. In the same book, he noted:
There is something peculiar about illicit drugs: If they don’t always make the drug user behave irrationally, they certainly cause many nonusers to behave that way.
This just about sums up the lash against cannabis that started in the early 70s. The Nixon administration was under an overwhelming amount of public criticism. To diffuse some of the anger, they needed to find a public enemy to direct frustration towards. In the past, they had displaced anger onto minorities and war protestors. However, society was slowly embracing the fact that racism was unacceptable, and protesting was protected under the First Amendment. A new public enemy was needed. To serve their own purposes, Nixon and his cohorts focused in on a recreational aspect of counter-culture instead. This was the beginning of stoner persecution, and cannabis became public enemy number one.
Many of the counter-culture groups the government had been pursuing previously, including Black Rights groups and anti-war protestors, became free game for arrest and incarceration again through this new avenue. The government opened the floodgates of stoner stereotyping, painting a picture of all marijuana users as lazy and dim-witted, living out of society's pocket. Suddenly the general public saw the groups the government was battling as far less credible to the general public.
Pop culture saw a way to make this stereotype humorous and ran with it. Movies like Cheech & Chong, Harold & Kumar, Strange Wilderness, Dazed and Confused, and a slew of others, have created a pop culture trend that feeds this cultural stereotype. The government's antiquated message is easily spread with the opening of a computer. Some intend it to be ironic, but the message is lost on a society that has spent decades taking in this manipulative message. Some simply think it's funny, and therefore don't care how accurate or inaccurate the stereotype is.
Continued Political and Social Pressure
Anti-drug organizations, such as Partnership for a Drug-Free America and Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaigns, have deepened and continued the stereotype. The “This is Your Brain on Drugs” ads were masterpieces of misinformation, lumping marijuana in with drugs such as heroin, and few people who had not smoked marijuana realized the difference.
In 1997, it was revealed that these campaigns were heavily funded by major alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical interests that had a financial interest in halting the spreading use of cannabis. To this day, the makers of OxyContin are one of the largest funders of anti-drug campaigns that continue to lump marijuana in with hard drugs. Those who use cannabis know the truth, but its hard to take action when you're considered dumb before you even open your mouth.
Are there stoners that fit this stereotype, and are lazy and unintelligent? Absolutely. Should that by any means define a community as a whole? No. There are certainly those of us who have had negative experiences with the stoner community, but at the end of the day this statement rings true for any community, especially one that has spent decades working to overcome criticism from outsiders. Unfortunately, the stereotype doesn't seem to be going anywhere unless society can open its mind to something it is still struggling to understand and that the powers that be are fighting against continuously.