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Up in Smoke: The Influence of Cannabis in Pop Culture

Up in Smoke: The Influence of Cannabis in Pop Culture

Cannabis has always been present in pop culture, whether as a demonized taboo, an edgy badge of countercultural bonafides or simply a normal part of daily life. Today, celebrity figures from musicians to movie stars publicly integrate cannabis into their lives and work, shaping its significance and normalizing its presence in our society — but it’s been a long road to this point. Take a tour with us of cannabis’s influence in pop culture throughout the years and how it has evolved over time.  

How Has Cannabis Been Represented in the Media?

Historically, cannabis consumption was mostly portrayed through negative stereotypes. In television, newspapers and on radio, cannabis consumers were often depicted as lazy, unmotivated individuals who typically engage in criminal behavior. News coverage of cannabis would focus mainly on the risk and dangers of cannabis without presenting a balanced view.

This negative atmosphere surrounding cannabis can be traced back to the start of the prohibition movement, which targeted cannabis, or “marihuana,” to stoke xenophobic feelings about Hispanic immigrants entering the U.S. from Mexico, Central America and South America. Many of these immigrants brought cannabis and the culture of consuming it with them, and it was easy to paint both the plant and these newcomers in a negative light.

Anti-cannabis propaganda is also rooted in racism. Cannabis was central to cultural movements like the Harlem Renaissance, inspiring Jazz legends like Louis Armstrong in the 1920s. In 1927, New York entirely outlawed cannabis after more than a decade of restrictions on the plant; the federal government would soon follow in 1937. Chief proponents of the prohibition movement, like Harry Anslinger, were very clear that they were motivated at least in part by race.

As negative representations of cannabis seemed to parallel the Prohibition movement, so too are more positive representations of the legalization movement. In recent years, there’s been a notable shift in the media’s portrayal of cannabis. News outlets now cover the therapeutic potential, the changing legal landscape and the economic impact of cannabis rather than focusing solely on dangers, real or imagined. TV shows and movies explore the complexities of cannabis use with multi-dimensional characters that contribute to a more authentic and diverse representation of consumers. 

To understand how we got from there to here, we need to examine the timeline more closely.

Exploring the Origins and History of Cannabis Use in Pop Culture

Cannabis has woven its way through the decades, leaving an undeniable mark on music, art and social movements. This brief timeline explores the journey of cannabis use in popular culture, tracing its origins through pivotal moments and highlighting its influence on our cultural landscape. 

  • 1920s and ‘30s: Cannabis’ roots in popular culture trace back to the early 20th century. During this time, musicians such as Armstrong and Duke Ellington incorporated cannabis into their creative processes. They ultimately played a significant role in establishing its presence among creative and artistic communities. At the same time, the Prohibition movement made substantial advances and cannabis was demonized in the mainstream discourse.
  • 1950s: The emergence of the Beat Generation further propelled cannabis into pop culture, as writers and poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac celebrated the plant openly. Their works, such as Ginsberg’s article “The Great Marijuana Hoax,” resonated with a generation questioning societal norms and seeking alternative perspectives. This era set the stage for a revolution in how society approached cannabis in the following decades.
  • 1980s and ‘90s: The 1980s marked a period of intensified anti-drug campaigns and the escalation of the War on Drugs. Cannabis faced renewed scrutiny and negative portrayals in the media, reinforcing stereotypes associated with consumption. Despite the crackdown, cannabis maintained a presence in subcultures and underground music. In 1996, Prohibition took its first major loss when California voters approved Proposition 215 and created the nation’s first legal, medical marijuana market since Prohibition began.
  • 2000s and beyond: The legalization movement continued to gain victories in state after state in the new millennium. As legal cannabis markets proliferated — first elevating medical marijuana and eventually adult-use cannabis — public perceptions of the plant underwent a significant transformation. Cannabis is now openly discussed in a positive light, reflecting changing public perceptions, and portrayed positively or neutrally in music, TV and movies. 

As society’s perception of the plant has evolved, so has cannabis’s role in pop culture. While cannabis remains stigmatized in some circles, gone is the taboo of yesteryear. In its place, normalization and even celebration of cannabis has come to the forefront.

The Relationship Between Cannabis, Creativity and Productivity

Artists, writers and creatives have embraced cannabis for centuries for its ability to stimulate creativity and unconventional thinking. Many notable figures have spoken about the role of cannabis in unlocking their creativity and enhancing their artistic process.

For example, the actor, writer, and producer Seth Rogen has been quoted referring to cannabis as “additive” to his life journey, stating, “It makes getting from here to there manageable and comfortable.” 

Numerous other artists have echoed Rogen’s sentiment, including Lady Gaga, who once said, “As an artist, there’s a sweet jump-starting quality for me. So, if ever I need some clarity, I smoke a joint.” 

How Has Cannabis Impacted Popular Music, Movies, Art, & Literature?

Cannabis’s influence on various forms of media, including movies, music and literature, is palpable. From its depiction in iconic songs and albums to its portrayal in films and literature, cannabis plays a significant role in the creative landscape of pop culture.

Cannabis In Music 

Cannabis has had a significant presence in various genres of music. Reggae artists such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh embraced cannabis as a central theme in songs, advocating its legalization and its spiritual and medicinal properties. Their iconic songs, such as Tosh’s “Legalize It” and Marley’s “Kaya,” not only celebrated the plant but became anthems for the broader movement seeking reform. 

But reggae isn’t the only genre promoting cannabis. Hip-hop artists like Snoop Dogg, Cypress Hill and Wiz Khalifa all speak on their use of the plant in daily life and incorporate cannabis into their lyrics. Additionally, bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, particularly during the 1960s, alluded to cannabis consumption. Country music also feels quite the influence, with icons like Willie Nelson and Melissa Etheridge openly and enthusiastically embracing their love of the plant.

Cannabis On The Big Screen 

Cannabis has also made its way into cinema, serving as a central theme and a subtle reference in various popular movies. Movies like “Up in Smoke” (1987), “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” (2004) and “Pineapple Express” (2008), for example, exist in a genre of “stoner comedies,” where cannabis culture takes the spotlight. These movies typically explore the recreational aspects of cannabis consumption through humorous and social situations. On the other hand, films like “The Big Lebowski” (1998) utilize cannabis as a more subtle influence on the characters and their plotlines. 

Cannabis In The Pages 

Cannabis has left its mark on the literary world, appearing both as a central theme and a subtle influence. Some works, such as Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” explore the cultural and personal implications of exploring altered perceptions. These literary portrayals of the plant have helped provoke discussion while also helping to normalize cannabis consumption as part of the human experience. 

Cannabis and Comedy

Cannabis has also served as a recurring theme in comedy. From stand-up routines to sketches on shows like “Saturday Night Live,” the humor inspired by cannabis often revolves around “stoner stereotypes” and the effects of the plant on body and mind. Comedians regularly incorporate cannabis-related anecdotes and experiences into their performances as a source of laughter and connections with the audience. And as legalization grows, more publicly embrace the plant’s role in their personal and professional lives. The list of comedians who regularly and openly talk about cannabis is seemingly never-ending, from Chelsea Handler to Pete Davidson to Hannibal Burress, just to name a few.

By presenting cannabis in a lighthearted and relatable manner, comedians help to challenge negative stereotypes and humanize the experience of consumption. Cannabis-related humor allows audiences to see the lighter side of its use and challenge the notion that consumption is solely associated with adverse outcomes.  

For comedians’ audiences, too, cannabis is relevant. Known to often make consumers laugh and giggle, many comedy fans flock to clubs or fire up the latest stand-up special after consuming to enhance the experience. In this way, cannabis and comedy go together hand-in-hand.

Join the Conversation with King’s Crew 

If you’re looking to explore the vibrant world of cannabis — or making a pit stop before seeing a movie or heading to a comedy show — swing by King’s Crew in Long Beach. Shop our wide range of high-quality products and immerse yourself in the thriving cannabis culture and enhance your consumption experience. 

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