The past several years have seen measurable and sustained advancements in the fight to liberalize America’s cannabis laws. The steady legalization of medical cannabis, for example, has taken place in both liberal and conservative states throughout the country at an encouraging pace. The progress has both activists and entrepreneurs hopeful for the years ahead.
Yet while supporters of less-restrictive cannabis laws are excited about the future, they are also quietly seeking to hit a ‘reset’ button on the ways in which cannabis is perceived by the larger population. Through medicine, language, technology, and public figures, the forthcoming years are likely to see a sea change in the ways in which cannabis is understood in America.
The first way in which cannabis is seeing its image rehabilitated is through the aforementioned nationwide push to legalize medical cannabis. States as diverse as Florida, Georgia, New York, and Virginia, to name a few, have passed their own versions of medical cannabis legalization. And with support for legalization now hitting an all-time high, the trend is not likely to end anytime soon.
“The embrace of medical marijuana to ease ills including Alzheimer’s disease and seizures is one reason that support for marijuana has continued to grow,” wrote the LA Times in 2014.
Language & imagery
Another important aspect in cannabis’ image rebranding has been a tweaking of terminology and imagery surrounding cannabis. According to The Atlantic magazine, instead of using long-popular street slang for cannabis, ‘dope,’ ‘grass,’ ‘cheeb,’ etc, proprietors have instead adopted the more benign-sounding ‘cannabis’ to market their goods. This opens up the market to potentially new customers who might otherwise be made leery by the nefarious-sounding words associated with cannabis.
Also changing are the faces used to market cannabis. It was not long ago that cannabis conjured images Cheech-and-Chong-like stoners sitting around on their couches, smoking their days away. That is rapidly shifting.
“Marijuana is being covered by the media in an increasingly sophisticated and nuanced way now that the laws are changing and more people are ‘out’ as marijuana users,” said Sharda Sekaran, the managing director of communications for Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group. “We all know that many marijuana smokers look more like your Aunt Bettie or your accountant than ‘The Dude’ from ‘The Big Lebowski,’ but most images in the public sphere still do not reflect this.”
Language and medicine, however, can only move public opinion so far: In order for cannabis to undergo a true change in the public’s eye, a greater number of celebrities would have to step forward and announce their support for the product and its derivatives. And that is exactly what has occurred.
In the entertainment realm, such celebrities as Whoopi Goldberg and Snoop Dogg have recently announced their own cannabis-driven vehicles. Goldberg recently debuted a new line of cannabis-infused products designed especially for women, while Snoop launched his own line of cannabis products that includes edibles, concentrates, and flowers.
The country’s political leaders have also been helping to shift perceptions of cannabis. As legalization pushes have made headway around the country, politicians have been steadily jumping on board and, in the process, slowly shifting the discussion and perception of cannabis among the general public.
Even the ever-cautious President Obama, perhaps the most visible human being on the planet, has downplayed the effects of cannabis.
“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” he told writer David Remnick in a 2014 New Yorker interview. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
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