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Present day cannabis culture is an interesting beast. On one hand, stoners just might be some of the most inclusive, kind, and accepting people out there. In fact, the cannabis movement has often aligned itself with marriage equality and the gay rights movement–movements that broadened America’s horizons regarding gender and sexuality. But, on the other hand, some of the imagery and media coming out of canna-culture itself seems to contradict this widening social acceptance.

A growing culture of tolerance

Mainstream media has opened up quite a bit when it comes to featuring different displays of gender and sexuality on TV, in film, and in advertising. More than ever before, same-sex couples are featured in advertisements, and TV shows like Modern Family and Transparent include strong LGBT leads. Twenty years ago, this type of imagery and inclusiveness was virtually nonexistent.

Snoop Dogg sums up this evolution of tolerance best during a smoke sesh with LGBT superstar Margaret Cho. Back in 2014, Snoop hosted Cho on his webcast for GGN. During the segment, Snoop wisely explains:

It’s OK to be you and not feel ashamed—It’s a new America now, you can be you! On all levels of the game, you can be you. And that’s what I love about America now, that it’s so diverse and so open that you can be who you are. I’ve been [a weed smoker] as long as I’ve been me, but they’ve always made it hard on me to be me. And now that I’m able to continue to do me, and allow others to be themselves, this is the new way of becoming the new me.

Over the past decade, this cultural shift to a more open, accepting, and less rigid society is being reiterated in the media and art that we’re creating. But, when it comes to imagery and advertising produced by the fledgling cannabis industry itself, are we still lagging behind?

Weed, sexuality, and media

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Though popular culture is making major headway when it comes to showcasing different expressions of gender and sexuality, long-held notions of what it means to be a man or a woman still dominate. For example, companies like Tylenol may be featuring same-sex and interracial couples in their ad campaigns, but we’re still bombarded with images that harp the ideas that a “true man” is a buff, macho, moneymaker and a “good woman” is less ambitious and an object of desire.

Media produced within the cannabis industry is no exception. In fact, weed culture often reinforces traditional gender roles with imaging that is predominantly heterosexual. Rather than letting the plant showcase itself, marijuana is often weirdly sexualized in a way that favors straight men. Browse through any internet forum on marijuana, and you’re sure to see several photos or memes talking about hot stoner chicks and why they’re better to sleep with. (Though, this isn’t to say that there aren’t any sites dedicated to gay men smoking.)

This is interesting because momentum for marijuana reform has been heavily linked to the gay rights movement and to initiatives spearheaded by women’s cannabis groups. Both groups are poorly/incompletely represented in the world of cannabis media.

Can the cannabis industry be more inclusive?

gender weed ci 2 The Truth Behind Gender, Sexuality & Weed
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gender weed ci 3 The Truth Behind Gender, Sexuality & Weed
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The argument that cannabis reform and marriage equality are connected came primarily from statistics that measured public openness to the ideas over time. For quite a while, support for marijuana reform and support for gay rights continued at roughly the same pace. Prior to the Supreme Court finally declaring marriage a universal right, a large number of states that allowed same-sex marriage also had liberal marijuana laws.

For the record, it’s been reported that rates of cannabis use are higher among those in the LGBT community than in other communities. In 2012, for example, the Center for American Progress reported that men who have sex with men are 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana than men who don’t have sex with men. Another study conducted last year in Colorado found that almost 20% of LGBT high school students smoked marijuana before the age of 13, but only 6.4% of students who identified as heterosexual admitted to trying the herb.

Women, especially professional women and moms, have been another crucial group when it comes to getting legislation passed. Figureheads like Cheryl Shuman have been out-and-proud for marijuana reform, addressing the stigmas against women and mothers who use cannabis on ABC’s The View and on many other platforms.

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So, what’s the point in saying all of this? The cannabis industry has gained a lot of momentum by aligning itself with movements that break through gender norms and shed light on the wide spectrum of human sexuality. But, at the same time, cannabis culture itself places a lot of emphasis on making the marijuana plant sexy for straight men. What’s with the disconnect?

There’s nothing wrong with expressing yourself as a heterosexual male or partaking in more “traditional” gender roles. It’s 2016, you’re free to express yourself however you want. But, at the same time, constantly presenting just one group in media far from paints a true picture of what’s actually happening out there. With 58% of Americans now favoring marijuana reform, it’s obvious that straight dudes aren’t the only ones smoking weed.

Mainstream media has recently stepped up its game by portraying cannabis use as just a normal part of life in contemporary culture. LGBT activist and marijuana enthusiast Margaret Cho is just one of many celebrities who have helped fight misconceptions about what it means to be a cannabis smoker. Others include Lady Gaga and Denis Perone. But, with all this social change and normalization of cannabis in popular culture, why is the act of smoking marijuana so strongly sexualized in a hetero, masculine way inside the industry itself? Better yet, why is the plant sexualized at all?

What do you think? Why do we sexualize the marijuana plant? Further, can and should the cannabis industry be more inclusive with its imaging? Share your thoughts with us on social media or in the comments section below!

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