Marijuana is kind of having a moment right now. Not only is it now legal to use in a number of States, it’s open prevalence in popular culture is at a level that we haven’t really seen before.
This is the product of a slow, steady rise that, while it hasn’t always been smooth, has been pretty unstoppable. How did this happen? Read on for a list of seven key moments on the timeline of weed’s epic journey from fringe, frightening drug to the people’s cuddly favorite relaxation aide.
Reefer Madness (1936)
Reefer Madness might be one of marijuana’s first appearances on film… and not for the right reasons. It’s an exploitation flick designed to show the terrible things that will happen to anyone who smokes a joint, including suicide, hallucinations, descents into total madness and more. As far as weed in popular culture goes, this might not be accurate, but it’s big.
The movie was so ridiculous and exaggerated that this same propaganda used to demonize smokers is now mainly known as a legendarily hilarious movie to watch while high. Sort of satisfying, isn’t it?
Easy Rider (1969)
It took as until the late 60’s for weed to get some reasonable celluloid treatment. Easy Rider (aside from being Jack Nicholson’s breakout role) is noted for being one of the first movie’s to really give a voice to America’s burgeoning counter-culture… and marijuana use is a big part of that. It’s not a weed movie, but it’s significant for showing its use and capturing a moment in which it was crucial.
Reggae Blows Up (1973 - 1980)
Yeah, we know, it’s a cliché. And it’s reductive to simply yell “reggae!” in answer to the question as to why weed has such an important place in pop culture. But reggae came out of nowhere decades ago to take the world by storm and remains huge to this day. It’s hard to imagine pot’s intrusion into popular culture moving quite as quickly without Bob Markey’s status as a genuine generational icon to anthems like Peter Tosh’s ‘Legalize It’.
The Rise of 4/20 (1990 - present)
We’ll save the actual origins for another article. We mention the date of 1990 because that was the year that Steven Bloom, an editor for High Times, came across the concept on a flyer that was handed to him in the parking lot of a Grateful Dead concert (we’re not making this up). This was the beginning of 4/20’s journey to what it basically is now; the official Day of Weed.
Bill Clinton, not inhaling
Bill Clinton Doesn’t Inhale… (1992)
One of most famous mentions of marijuana in politics came when Bill Clinton claimed to have “experimented” with marijuana, but that he “didn’t like it” and “didn’t inhale”. It’s a joke now, but it was a significant moment. Him feeling fine with admitting to trying it says a lot in itself about how far things had come; the fact that he had to try and couch it with the silly assertion about not inhaling shows how much further was left to go.
… but Barak Obama Does (2006)
Obama went a totally different route in 2006, though, with the immortal words below:
“I inhaled. Frequently. That was the point.”
While the whole comment is a slight dig at Clinton’s squeamishness, it’s the “frequently” that’s key. That’s a big change in just 14 years; from the Democratic contender for president trying to wriggle out of admitting any real affinity for weed to a Democratic future contender for president openly saying he’s used to blazing on the reg. That’s mainstreaming in action, right there.
Rihanna Smokes Out her Instagram (2010 – present)
When Rihanna was outed as a smoker a few years back, it wasn’t that surprising. What was surprising was her response; she’s gone on to totally embrace it and let it be known that she’s a smoker, from rolling weed on her bodyguard’s head at a show to openly lighting up on vacation. This wouldn’t be surprising coming from a rapper or rockstar, but coming from a popstar of Rihanna’s stature, it’s something new.
Nowadays, former Disney kid Miley Cyrus seems eager to let everyone know she’s a pothead, while star-of-the-moment The Weeknd recently partnered with PAX Labs to start slinging branded vaporizers on tour. Point is, it’s hard to imagine as many household name, family-friendly pop stars being so open about blazing up even within the last decade. Weed is part of popular culture now in a way it hasn’t ever really been before.