The “stoner myth” is a negative stereotype that associates cannabis use with laziness, lack of drive, or motivation. This myth has existed for many decades, and the stigma continues today, even as legal cannabis grows. A recent study by the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology defeats the notion that cannabis use causes apathy, yet the perception still exists in today’s society.
The stoner myth’s origins trace back to the early 20th century when cannabis was made illegal due to political, social, and economic factors in 1937, with the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act. Led by Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, he championed the idea of building support for prohibition, playing on public fears of anti-Mexican and African-American (particularly around jazz musicians) sentiment at that time.
In addition to social factors that were contributing to the criminalization of cannabis, big business played a hand in it as well. The paper and pharmaceutical industries were against legalization, seeing it as a threat to their profitability and viability. Today, a PLOSOne study found that if the US federally legalizes cannabis, Big Pharma could lose upwards of $3 billion. After all, there’s an unwritten rule in the US medical community that “a patient cured is a customer lost,” which, if legalization happens, could have a crippling effect on Big Pharma and the healthcare industrial complex’s profitability.
Before its criminalization in the 1930s, cannabis was legal in the US. Back then, typical applications included the treatment of ailments and ingredients for medicine and were also used to make paper.
High-profile people fought off accusations of cannabis use. There was Bill Clinton’s famous “I didn’t inhale” line in 1992. Both George W Bush and Barak Obama also fought off accusations of cannabis use.
While famous people have the resources to fight off negative stereotypes, regular citizens continue to fight daily. Cannabis use biases can include the following:
- Limiting employment opportunities – employers still have a negative view of “potheads” and often discriminate against those who use it, including passing over for promotions and termination
- Damaging a person’s reputation in social and professional circles, perpetuating the idea that one is unreliable and unprofessional, especially in the white-collar workplace
- Hindering fair treatment under the law, where even those using cannabis for medical purposes may be subject to harsher judgment than those using legal doses of opiates
Popular culture had a hand in promoting the stoner’s mentality. Movies like Reefer Madness, Cheech and Chong, and Half-Baked portrayed cannabis users as buffoons unable to function in society. Though funny, it helped reinforce the stoner myth and continued to contribute to the negative stigma of cannabis use.
Like anything else, overcoming the stoner-myth stereotype won’t happen overnight. Steps that the cannabis community can take include:
- Educating the public on the actual scientific effects of cannabis use
- Promoting responsible use, including moderation and not driving or operating heavy machinery
- Highlighting the medical benefits that can serve as an alternative to prescription drugs
- Fighting negative stereotypes in popular culture
- Encouraging open and honest conversation, especially among the doubters
- Supporting legalization and regulation efforts
We see increased cannabis use in the white-collar sector, the veteran community, and athletes. Even the NFL is allowing their players to consume cannabis with certain restrictions. Slowly but surely, we’re getting there. It’s only a matter of time.