Through The Decades: Cannabis Representation On Television - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Through The Decades: Cannabis Representation On Television

Popular culture represents the mood of society. This is true of all decades and eras. The TV shows, movies, series, and even some cartoons of the 80s and 90s largely presented marijuana as a bad weed that only bad guys use before doing bad things. ‘Bad’, ‘bad’, ‘bad’ used to circle around the plant everywhere, leading to madness, addiction, and simply going nuts. Often without any talk of any potential benefits it may offer.

Today cannabis is often represented in popular culture a far less negative way than it was when many of us were growing up, meaning people all over the world are looking for a safe way to try the drug. But let's turn the clock back and check-out the representation of cannabis on television over the last 60 years...

The 60s
This decade was quite tough for marijuana because the government started enforcing control so cannabis was rarely shown or spoken about within TV programs at the time. There were some notable exceptions; The Andy Griffith Show name-checked "marijuana" in the 1961 episode "Quiet Sam", and the creators of the Dragnet TV series were inspired to shoot the episode called “The Big High”, telling the story about a couple hosting cannabis parties which might be harmful to their baby and the detective who has to investigate the case, in a homage to the classic 1930s movies like Reefer Madness and Assassin Of Youth. By and large, though, marijuana was depicted as something that was not overly hazardous, taking the middle ground of the split opinion of the day between the younger and older generation.

The 70s
Television became more liberal during this decade, and the real-time decriminalization of marijuana that took place in New York and Los Angeles was described within episodes of certain shows. The comedy Sanford and Son is an example of this as it broadcast more than one marijuana-oriented episode (Fred’s Treasure Garden and Hash, for example). The characters are shown to have consumed marijuana, and are described as kind and pleasant people but with some problems with their short-time memory. The writers also underlined the need for munchies after cannabis consumption.

The 80s
At the beginning of this decade the attitude towards the drug was rather friendly. However, when Ronald Reagan came into power the laws on marijuana became much stricter. There were plenty of commercials (both outdoor advertising and on TV) that highlighted the danger of marijuana. TV channels and individual States controlled the spread of information about cannabis with a largely "just say no" attitude. The TV sitcom Saved by the Bell had a recurring motto - “no hope with dope”. Other TV shows’ rhetoric of the time was that alcohol was better than cannabis, even though alcohol is now ranked as the most harmful drug to society.

The 90s
The last decade of the 20th Century was heavily influenced by Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), which first began in 1983 but came to prominence in the early nineties. Anti-drug messages were frequently transmitted to all ages of viewers, primarily during children's programs. For example, George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush held a small introduction before the Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue’s episode on drugs. In the family show Dinosaurs, the episode Happy Leaf shows Robbie bringing home a mysterious happy plant which makes everyone feel all "groovy-like". It goes on to depict how that aspiration for ‘happiness’ turns a creature irresponsible, immature, and lazy. The message in all children and family shows was put simply - cannabis was evil.

Occasionally adult programming took a slightly different approach, playing for laughs. In Roseanne, the main characters smoked a joint to remember their wild youth. At first, they have fun sneaking around like they did in the '70s, hoping not to get busted by their children, but then adult realities set in like a bad trip. As the decade to drew to a close the president Bill Clinton admitted his experiments with marijuana, and although it would be about two decades before the dry herb vape pen ( would become popular, TV started to gradually soften its attitude towards cannabis.

The 00s
The use of cannabis became far more prominent on television during this decade, although many of them were rather passive on the question of the legality of marijuana. The immensely popular animated sitcom South Park showed that marijuana consumption can be fun, but expressed no opinion of its legalization. In one episode of Desperate Housewives, Lynette harshly disapproves of the fact that her husband’s doctor has prescribed marijuana to get rid of depression. Only late in the 00s when shows like Bored to Death and Broad City aired was marijuana represented as possibly positive for society.

The 10s
As we said at the start of the article, popular culture represents the mood of society, and during this decade the shift to a more positive attitude occurred. One of the possible factors of the change may well be the open discussion of college cannabis consumption by Barack Obama. High Maintenance, which began in 2012 as a web series before moving to HBO, focuses on representing the positive effects of marijuana consumption. This decade and the shows which have featured cannabis that have been broadcast have contributed a lot to the destigmatizing of the plant. Now, recreational marijuana use is highlighted in the news, TV shows, and movies in a more positive way.

A number of research papers proved the beneficial properties of recreational cannabis, and many U.S. States started creating bills on marijuana legalization, and around the world some countries legalized the weed, others decriminalized it or tend to not enforce laws around its illegality. In fact, the attitude towards marijuana has undergone a number of transformations and now many progressive people understand the importance of its use for medical purposes. 

Benefits of Cannabis
A controversial topic, yet cannabis has been proven to possess a number of beneficial features. The drug is helpful for a number of symptoms of serious illnesses. For instance, it helps to fight vomiting and nausea that a person may face after chemotherapy. Cannabis also increases appetite, therefore can be applied to treat appetite loss while undergoing treatment for cancer, HIV, or AIDS. The plant can be used as an anti-inflammatory medicine, and its pain-relieving properties are also beneficial for different conditions. Last but never least is that medical marijuana is now approved for treating certain types of epilepsy.

Harmful effects of Cannabis
Many people do not trust the proven positives of cannabis and claim that every coin has two sides. They do not believe that cannabis can help more than it will harm, and it is true that cannabis consumption does include some risks. Short time memory can be damaged through frequent use. The next step would be the loss of certain cognitive abilities. The most hazardous risk is addiction, something that is not an easy to be cured. Weed pen usage can lead to cancer because the smoke irritates the airways and the lungs can get damaged. In addition, specific chemicals used in substances for weed vape pens can be cancerogenic. It's also important to remember that marijuana is still illegal in many places.

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