Ant-cannabis campaigners would shudder if they ever realized how often they are exposed to mentions of the plant they demonize. The truth is, marijuana is by far the most commonly consumed illegal drug on the planet. According to a 2019 World Drug Report, approximately 200 million people use cannabis globally. Usage of the drug has increased by 60% in the last decade.
Therefore, it no longer comes as a shock to see it mentioned in movies, television programs, and songs. However, you might be stunned to see just how often it gets mentioned. Let’s examine the growing popularity of cannabis in pop culture.
The Rise of Marijuana’s Popularity as the War on Drugs Fails
In 2007, Rolling Stone magazine wrote about how America had lost the War on Drugs. The author, Ben Wallace-Mills, outlined how the nation had spent over $500 billion across a 35-year period. Yet drugs remained as cheap and plentiful as ever.
In actual fact, the war on cannabis began much earlier. The early 20th century saw a large number of states prohibit the drug. The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act outlawed it nationwide, and America used its influence to ensure other countries followed suit.
While the government realized alcohol prohibition’s failure after 14 years, it has persisted with keeping cannabis illegal. By most accounts, the American public accepted this state of affairs. A 1969 Gallup Poll revealed that only 12% of Americans backed the legalization of marijuana.
At the time, those who used it were vilified just as the Mexican immigrants when they fled to the United States during the Mexican Revolution. Yet plenty of people used it in private. The likes of Louis Armstrong were known users.
In 1948, Robert Mitchum, one of the great actors of the age, became one of the first celebrities arrested for using cannabis. It didn’t seem to harm his career as he starred in Rachel and the Stranger, a box office hit, not long after his release.
Cannabis Counterculture & The War on Drugs
The marijuana plant became a major symbol of the counterculture movement from the 1960s onward. In case you’re wondering, ‘counterculture’ is a culture where the values and behavioral norms differ from mainstream society.
In 1964, Bob Dylan famously gave cannabis to The Beatles. According to legend, Dylan mistook the lyric “I can’t hide” in I Want to Hold Your Hand for “I get high.” The group told him about his mistake and admitted to never using the substance. Dylan responded by giving them a joint.
The legendary Woodstock Festival of 1969 attracted an estimated 400,000 people. It featured arts, music, and a lot of drugs, including cannabis. The following year, President Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act into law. In June 1971, he famously declared a War on Drugs.
However, the war was doomed right from the start. By that point, a growing section of the American public began to embrace cannabis. The first Michigan Hash Bash occurred in April 1972. It was one of the first events in the U.S. to be devoted to marijuana. Two years later, the famous publication, High Times, was founded by Thomas King Forcade.
In 1978, Up in Smoke, one of the all-time great cannabis movies, premiered. It featured Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin as two stoners who get involved in all manner of adventures. By the end of the 1970s, support for cannabis legalization had grown to 28%.
Just Say Yes – Pop Culture Ignores Government Advice
In 1986, First Lady, Nancy Reagan, told a young girl that she would ‘Just Say No’ if someone offered her drugs. It was the beginning of a worthy campaign to prevent children from using drugs.
President George H.W. Bush announced his War on Drugs in 1989. Over $12 billion was invested in the federal control budget during his four-year term. As was the case with Nixon and Reagan before him, Bush was criticized for targeting underprivileged and minority communities.
While public support for cannabis legalization stalled at 25% until the early 2000s, cannabis’ influence on pop culture continued to grow. In 1990, the Grateful Dead popularized the 4/20 cannabis ‘holiday.’ The following year saw Seattle host its first Hempfest.
It was a time when Dennis Peron and Mary Rathbun began giving cannabis to people with serious medical illnesses. Although they were regularly arrested, these pioneers refused to be kowtowed. Their efforts were rewarded in 1996 when California became the first American state in the modern era to create a medical marijuana program.
The early 1990s saw the explosion in rap and hip-hop music’s popularity. In December 1992, Dr. Dre released his famous album, The Chronic. The title was a well-known nickname for marijuana at the time. The rest of the decade featured movies such as Dazed and Confused, Friday, and The Big Lebowski. All of them popularized the usage of cannabis.
Marijuana Mentions in Pop Culture Go into Overdrive
In 2004, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle became one of the most popular movies of the year. It features two friends who get high and embark on an epic journey to White Castle, a fast-food restaurant. Within a few years, Pineapple Express and Weeds became mainstream hits.
The influence that cannabis has on hip-hop culture has always been obvious. However, it reached new levels during the 2010s. This was helped by the legalization of recreational cannabis in Colorado and Washington state in 2012. In the same year, Rihanna was pictured openly rolling a joint on her bodyguard’s head at Coachella.
The hip-hop industry was also at the forefront of further legalization efforts. In 2015, 2 Chainz, a Grammy Award winner, did an excellent job of pointing out the benefits of cannabis in communities. In the process, he schooled TV host Nancy Grace, who claimed that marijuana leads to poor judgment.
Over the years, celebrities such as Willie Nelson have spoken out about how cannabis has helped save their lives. In 2016, talk show star, Bill Maher, smoked a joint live on his HBO show, Real Time with Bill Maher.
How Often Is Marijuana Mentioned in Pop Culture? Prepare to Be Shocked
A study published in JAMA in 2018 investigated the prevalence of combustible and electronic tobacco and marijuana products in hip-hop music. The researchers covered the period from 2013 to 2017 and focused on videos of the top 50 songs from Billboard magazine’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs.
In 2015, they discovered that over 40% of these videos featured the use of cannabis. This was either through electronic or combustible use or smoke and vapor. The percentage increased to almost 51% by 2016! In 2013, there were no branded cannabis products in the videos. By 2017, almost 10% of videos had branded products.
A case study published in SSRN in 2019 looked at pop culture’s influence on recreational marijuana use and legalization. It focused on Snoop Dogg and analyzed how the hip-hop king helped change the public perception of cannabis.
The legalization of cannabis in various states has helped embolden pop culture’s championing of the drug. Public support has also increased significantly. From 25% support in the early 1990s, cannabis legalization achieved 50% support by 2012. The latest Gallup poll shows that 68% of Americans now believe cannabis should be legalized.
Final Thoughts on Cannabis & Pop Culture
Whether we like it or not, pop culture plays a major role in our lives. Unless you avoid consuming media stories, you’ll likely gain a reasonable level of exposure to it. We have found that the support of pop culture for cannabis has ultimately translated into greater public support.
For marijuana lovers, this is a good thing because pop culture will continue ‘normalizing’ the use of cannabis. If this happens for long enough, public support for marijuana will reach a level where the government has to act. With almost 70% already in favor, we’re already close to the tipping point.