As cannabis becomes more mainstream, there is a discussion happening within the community over who should (and shouldn’t) speak for the cannabis cause.
One side is saying that we need new spokespeople as legalization kicks in because the activists who got it here no longer represent the common cannabis user, while the other side argues that we can’t ignore that history and push these people to the side.
In many ways, this is a public relations issue as the media provides a platform to the people and organizations it chooses to quote in cannabis stories, and it shapes how the cannabis community is seen by the general public.
But who should decide who gets to represent the industry?
We’ll take a deeper look into the factors at play such as the War on Drugs and the effects of its anti-cannabis propaganda, the generation gap, the media’s influence, and if there is such thing as the common cannabis user.
A war of misinformation
For generations, cannabis consumers have been stuck with the stoner stereotype, from the hippies in the 1960’s to Cheech and Chong, Bill and Ted, Harold and Kumar, and many more.
At the same time, there was a competing narrative that began in the late 1930’s with Reefer Madness that continued with the kick-off to the War on Drugs in the 70s, which inspired those generation-defining anti-drug PSA’s.
With the War on Drugs came a war of (mis)information and cannabis activists were branded as potheads and conspiracy theorists by government propaganda and anti-cannabis lobbyists, and some of the most anti-legalization industries will not surprise you- alcohol, tobacco,
and pharmaceuticals. Of course, they’re worried cannabis will dent their profits.
It also bears mentioning that many cannabis activists have been saying that cannabis was a relatively harmless plant the entire time, versus the “Just Say No” crowd that told you smoking a joint was just as addictive as crack.
Knowing what we know now, who was telling the truth?
It just goes to show how we shouldn’t blindly trust what the government and authorities have to say because they all have their own best interests in mind, not yours.
Is it a generation gap?
Many of the more OG activists are at least 40+, but I think that could actually help the cannabis cause when it comes to getting the Baby Boomers on board because I doubt a bunch of millennials ranting at them in thinkpiece after thinkpiece about the benefits of cannabis would necessarily resonate with them, but I digress.
In general, younger generations tend to be more liberal and progressive in their politics while the older generations usually skew more conservative, and we should keep in mind that many Boomers came of age during the War on Drugs.
A recent opinion piece complained that “the national and local media [always] get the same three people to give their opinion” when it comes to cannabis spokespeople, and the main point was that they no longer represented “common cannabis users”. But, it’s important to remember that some of these people have been fighting unjust cannabis laws since we were toddlers (or before we were born), and some have even been to jail for it.
Now that the activists are starting to see the fruits of their labour doesn’t mean we should abandon them, because it’s due to them that we got this far in the first place.
Cannabis will be a huge billion dollar industry and it’s not like there’s limited space for spokespeople. As more and more people get involved in the legal industry, it’s only natural that the people representing the cannabis industry and the common cannabis user will continue to diversify.
The media and the message
Let’s look at the question of why it always seems to be the same people getting interviewed by the media whenever reporters need a sound bite.
I believe a lot of it has to do with the cannabis stigma because depending on your social circle, cannabis can run anywhere from being not-a-big-deal to the-worst-thing-ever.
While some of the anti-cannabis rhetoric may make us laugh, the politicians and others saying it represent a sizable crowd, and we should be careful with social media as it can often become an echo chamber where everyone agrees with each other, and there’s a very real danger it could blind us to opposing viewpoints.
Personally, I think the more voices, the better.
At the same time, the media should be held accountable for the sometimes biased way the cannabis industry is portrayed.
There are so many stories to be told in the cannabis space, from the LP’s dedicated to sustainable practices to the craft cannabis growers, but equal weight should be given to the LP’s using banned pesticides who’s only focus is maximizing shareholder wealth.
Then there are the LP’s that are ruthlessly trying to monopolize the industry with billion dollar merger after billion dollar merger, trying to preemptively kill any semblance of an independent craft market of craft growers.
Besides, these corporate capitalists aren’t necessarily who you’d want representing the industry either, are they?
Why aren’t “common cannabis users” more represented in the media?
I think a lot of it comes down to the stigma that still lingers around cannabis, even now, like the lingering haze in a hotboxed car. For the younger generations, cannabis may not be that big of a deal, but even going back one or two generations can reveal some huge differences in opinion.
Many people of all ages still wrestle over how open to be about their cannabis use with friends, family, and work because the cannabis stigma is very real, with some deciding to never bring (or talk about) it at all.
But then again, who typifies the “common cannabis user” anyways? Everyone will likely have a different image in their head based on our tendency to see ourselves as the norm and compare everyone else to that baseline.
Keep in mind when world leaders like Trudeau, Obama, Bush, and Clinton admitted to smoking cannabis (although Clinton claimed he never inhaled), it made headlines all over the world, which goes to show how mainstream media still loses their minds when a world leader admits to cannabis use.
Even more, their political opponents will often point to their past cannabis use as if it’s evidence of a fundamental character flaw.
It’s also preposterous to think that PM Trudeau could be banned from the USA once he returns to civilian life, but it’s a distinct possibility for any Canadian cannabis user who admits to using cannabis to an American border guard.
If you’re a cannabis user, what do you think- would moving away from these activist roots fight some of the negative stoner stereotypes and make cannabis look more legitimate to the general public?
Also, what effect do high-profile politicians and celebrities have when they admit to cannabis use?
Cannabis needs all the voices it can get
What cannabis needs is more diversity- in thought and every kind of demographic category- to offer a well-rounded representation of all the people who use it.
But we’re not yet at the point where everyone can feel comfortable coming out and putting themselves in the spotlight as cannabis users, and until then, we still need the activists who’ve fought for this from the ground up because being loud is one of the only ways that we can influence the powers-that-be to adopt sensible cannabis laws.
So let’s bring on the rigorous reviews and debates, whether on the legal, social, or health aspects of cannabis because this is the only way of gaining new knowledge and insight into the potential of what cannabis can really do.
But until the day we can speak as openly about cannabis as we do about our drinking habits without fear of repercussion, we need these activists and anyone else who is willing to step into the spotlight and add their voice to cannabis reform because even with legalization mere months away, the fight is far from over.