Cannabis has come a long way in the United States in the last 20 years. Although grassroots activists, scientists, and politicians have lobbied for legalization and toleration with varying degrees of success, one of the biggest assets in the fight for cannabis recognition has been celebrity clout. Speaking openly about their own use and about weed’s many benefits, celebrities can help normalize perceptions of the drug, paving the way for more progressive legislation. Here’s a look at some of the most influential celebrity cannabis enthusiasts.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
“Do you agree that planetarium shows are much better when you’re high?” host Peter Sagal asks Neil deGrasse Tyson in a 2015 episode of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. Without hesitation, Tyson fires back:
“Is everything better when you’re high?”
Although Tyson has denied regular cannabis use in a Reddit AMA thread and decried the useless nonsequiturs that can sometimes come from stoned thinking, he’s nevertheless become something of a cannabis icon. He frequently tweets jokes and thoughts on mind-altering substances. His intense, pensive persona has even yielded an uncanny stoner meme. Even if N. dG. T. never admits to a personal affinity for cannabis, he’s provided a whole vault of cerebral entertainment with programs like Cosmos. Watch an episode and try NOT to gawk like a stoner cliche as you attempt to understand humanity’s place at the edge of the observable universe.
No list of celebrity cannabis advocates would be complete without Willie Nelson. For people of a certain generation, he is almost synonymous with marijuana — the musician penned both a song and an autobiography titled “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die”. After achieving crossover success as country-rock star in the 1960s and 70s, Nelson threw his celebrity weight behind a number of progressive causes, including pacifism, renewable energy, and LGBT rights. Most of all, though, Nelson has supported cannabis legalization. He serves as co-chair of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and as of 2015 has expanded into cultivation, establishing the brand Willie’s Reserve, with plans to open stores in states where recreational use is legal. Nelson, who allegedly smoked on the roof of the White House, has secured a place for himself and for cannabis in Americana.
With a career spanning decades of comedic and dramatic roles, Susan
Sarandon is one of the preeminent actresses of her generation. She’s also an avid pot smoker. It was only as recent as 2013 that she came out as a cannabis enthusiast, admitting on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live to being stoned at almost all Hollywood award ceremonies “except the Oscars.” She subsequently sat down for a lengthy interview with High Times magazine, in which she talked about the benefits cannabis can provide for seizures, for veterans with PTSD, and even for casual social use. She also called for more widespread legalization, pointing to the obvious economic benefits to states. Sarandon’s love of cannabis has had the fringe effect of endearing her to a younger audience: A$AP Rocky and Action Bronson give her a shoutout in the 2013 track “1Train” with the rhyme “see us scrambling / selling Susan Sarandon.” In response, Sarandon tweeted out a thanks for the namecheck, inviting the rappers to “blaze one and talk about it some time.”
His friend and True Detective co-star Matthew McConaughey may have gained cannabic notoriety for the bongo incident, but it’s Woody Harrelson who has spent much of his life in the public eye extolling the benefits of cannabis and hemp. Shortly after his big screen breakout in Natural Born Killers, Harrelson, with a CNN camera crew in tow, symbolically planted four hemp seeds in Kentucky soil to protest that state’s failure to make a legal distinction between recreational cannabis and industrial hemp.
His subsequent arrest marked the beginning of a career in the organized counterculture — like Willie Nelson, Harrelson is a prominent member of NORML. To commemorate New York City’s 2014 decriminalization of possession of less than 25 grams for personal use, he appeared in a Saturday Night Live skit that resonated with stoners everywhere.
It’s hard to say where Ilana Glazer ends and her Broad City heroine Ilana Wexler begins. Both are outspoken feminists, both are thoroughly sex-positive, and both smoke weed daily. With a healthy dose of raunch and irreverence, Glazer (and her marginally less stoned writing partner Abbi Jacobson/Abbi Abrams) have put female stoners front and center in primetime for the first time ever.
Broad City not only contextualizes the cannabis use of a young, urban generation, it also provides handy DIY tips — like concocting psychoactive smoothies for a friend in need, or using your vagina as an emergency stash box.
Ilana Wexler is an eminently likeable character with a political mind and a fierce sense of loyalty; Ilana Glazer herself is inspiring proof that a stoned improv student can create a groundbreaking, top-rated comedy.
A celebrity in his own right, neuroscientist Oliver Sacks did more in his lifetime to popularize hard biological science than maybe anyone before or since. An explorer of the human brain, Sacks wrote fascinating and accessible books like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars, demonstrating the endlessly complex ways in which our brains perceive the world around us. Sacks was obsessed with bizarre and rare neurological conditions because they highlighted the ways in which reality can be subjectively understood. Instrumental in his scientific and deeply existential studies was his use of cannabis and other hallucinogens, which Sacks felt opened up invaluable channels of human perception. In “Altered States,” a 2012 article for The New Yorker published a few years before his death, Sacks spoke of his first experience with pot as “marked by a mixture of the neurological and the divine.” A scientist and a humanist, Oliver Sacks was not only an example of the incredible things that cannabis users can achieve — he was an advocate of the profound benefits cannabis can hold for individual lives and for human progress.