The History of Cannabis Pop Culture

There is no doubt we’ve come a long way from the “Reefer Madness” of the early 20th century, but how did we get here? What was the turning point or rather, what were the turning points? Come along as we explore the biggest moments in pop culture that took marijuana from an “unspeakable scourge” to the new wine of mom’s everywhere. Here are the top five moments that took cannabis to the next level!

Pop Culture Legends: Cheech and Chong

Let’s begin in 1978 with the advent of Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke.” This movie started a dialogue in popular culture about marijuana that had previously been nixed by government interference. “Up in Smoke” centers around Anthony “Man” Stoner and Pedro de Pacas in

A mishap-filled search for weed that leads them across international borders and directly into the path of some unsuspecting, albeit incompetent cops

The film was so controversial at the time, that they had a hard time getting any traditional advertising outlets for the movie on board, and thus the idea of promoting the film through comic strips on bus benches was born. The idea was ultimately very successful and added to the “street” feel of the film, catapulting it into the cult hit archives.

The “Red Bikini” and Bongs

Next up on our cannabis pop culture journey? Fast Times at Ridgemont cannabis and pop cultureHigh! This 1982 coming-of-age is based on a real life undercover adventure into a San Diego High School by Cameron Crowe. Our primary character, Jeff Spicoli, is perpetually stoned throughout the movie and ultimately faces off with Mr. Hand, a teacher who is devoted to the idea that all of his students are high on dope. In fact, there was supposed to be a scene where one of the characters dreamt they were singing on the Tonight Show, but because drug use featured to prevalently in the movie, no late night talk show hosts, at the time, would agree to be involved.  Times have certainly changed, but we wouldn’t be where we are today had it not been for trailblazers like Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Hey, Are You Cool Man?

Alright, alright, alright, time to move along to the next pop culture phenomenon paving the way to cannabis acceptance, Matthew McConaughey and 1993’s stoner classic, “Dazed and Confused.” “Dazed and Confused” follows the last day of high school in a small Texas town in 1976 where everyone just wants to get inebriated or laid. The studio originally wanted this cult classic to be rated PG-13 in hopes of increasing box office results, but between all the F Bombs and ganja, there was no way that was going to happen. Funnily enough, the studio would later go on to lament the director’s failure to fully exploit the movie’s R-rating by including nudity. While “Dazed and Confused” may not have been a blockbuster hit, it’s portrayal of marijuana has forever secured it’s place in cannabis history as a stoner classic.

90’s Rap and Half baked

Now that we’ve entered the late 90s- early 00s era, cannabis’ role in pop culture starts gaining traction. We start to see this in movies like “Half Baked” and rapper Afroman’s novelty track “Because I Got High.” “Half Baked” really brought the conversation to a more mainstream level as it featured so many familiar pop culture faces such as Tommy Chong, Snoop Dogg, and an unexpected Bob Saget! Despite the film’s cult following, co-writer and actor, Dave Chappelle, told “Inside the Actors Studio” in 2006 that he felt the original script he co-wrote was funnier and the final product was just “a weed movie for kids.” But movies aren’t the only pop moments to openly addressing weed.

“Because I Got High” became a worldwide hit upon its release in 2001

reaching #1 status in Germany, the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia! Afroman would go on to release a “Positive Remix” in 2014 that touted the benefits of marijuana, including its medical uses.

21st Century Woman of Weed, Nancy Botwin

Let’s fast forward to 2005 and Showtime’s daring venture, “Weeds.” While weed had made strides in movies and music to this point, centering an entire television series around marijuana was unheard of at the time. The show features a suburban housewife whose husband has died and as a result, she turns to dealing marijuana to maintain her lifestyle.

The beauty of “Weeds” was its departure from the typical stoner stereotypes

This show brought suburbian marijuana consumption out of the dark crevices of secrecy and into the harsh, cold light of day. The show was such a hit that it garnered 13 Emmy nods and averaged 2.7 million viewers each week! Turns out sex isn’t the only thing that sells!

What Came First, the Strain or the Movie?

In 2008, we start to see things come full circle with “Pineapple Express.” “Pineapple Express,” tells the story of a process server and his dealer as they try to outrun hitmen and a corrupt cop after the server inadvertently witnesses his dealer’s boss commit murder. Starring James Franco and cannabis and pop cultureSeth Rogen, the movie was comedy gold and helped popularize the Pineapple Express strain. Interestingly enough, the movie has a fun tie back to “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” In a 2008 interview with Rogen and Franco for “Pineapple Express, “ the interviewer told them he had prepared for their session by watching “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and he asked if Rogen and Franco had watched anything in preparation for the filming of “Pineapple Express.” Franco said he prepared by making out with Spicoli, Sean Penn’s character from “Fast Times.” Turns out Franco and Penn had played lovers in the 2008 film “Milk.” It’s a small world after all I guess!

So, you see, marijuana is enjoying a new era of comfort in the spotlight thanks to pop culture adventures like these. Slowly, but surely, “reefer madness” is being recognized as the dangerous propaganda it is and people are beginning to bring cannabis out of the shadows and into their daily lives.

The History of Cannabis Pop Culture was last modified: by
Amber Faust

About the author: Amber Faust is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in natural lifestyle pieces and sociopolitical commentary. Amber is a lifelong activist for social justice and environmental issues. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, painting, drumming, meditation, and yoga.