Cannabis in Film History

Cannabis in Film History

On the topic of cannabis and movies, many think of funny “stoner films” like How High, Dazed and Confused, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle or even Pineapple Express. However, cannabis wasn’t always viewed as something comical in films, and in the early 20th century, it was portrayed as a menace to society that could drive the youth to crime and early death. Cinema and films have long been a sign of the times, reflecting thoughts and ideas held at the time of their creation, serving as time capsules for future viewers to look back upon. Fortunately, as society and laws have changed, so have the depictions of the plant we all respect. So, let’s take a closer look at the progression of cannabis in films throughout the decades.

Early Cannabis Film Appearances

Moving pictures are a relatively new invention in the span of history, considering sound was only introduced into films in the 1920s, leading to the decline of silent films and the birth of “talkies”. Around the same time, cannabis was added to the list of prohibited substances in Canada, reduced to an illicit substance due to a lack of understanding about its benefits as well as xenophobic legislation in the USA. As a plant deemed dangerous to society, it took another decade or so for the herb to appear on the silver screen. Reefer Madness (1936) was cannabis’s sensationalist and explosive cinematic debut, sparking fear in the hearts of many. A movie that portrayed rape, murder, and underage consumption, this propaganda film paved the way for the US’s 1937 Marihuana Tax Act and set the stage for the cannabis stigma.

Counterculture Films of the 1960s and 1970s

Of course, it would take long before ideas about the plant began to change. The late 1960s and early 1970s would show that the plant had become popular among the youth, despite the fear-mongering propaganda films of previous decades. Music, the anti-war and “free love” movements, and psychedelics all found their place in the counterculture that was bubbling under the surface of modern North American culture. Both in Canada and the United States, young people were rejecting the traditional ways of living and venturing out into the unknown for adventure, as seen by the popularity of the film, Easy Rider (1969). Later in 1978, two of cannabis’s biggest icons would make their names in Cheech and Chong: Up In Smoke, telling a comic story about two stoner buddies, thereby giving a face to recreational cannabis.

Contemporary Cannabis Movies

As Cheech and Chong continued their saga of films, more light-hearted and less negative portrayals of cannabis began to crop up on the screen. Although many of these films were coming-of-age stories that relied heavily on the stoner stereotype, think Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) or Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), they were still a far cry from early films, which portrayed cannabis as the devil’s lettuce. Cannabis films from the 1990s would achieve cult classic status and slowly chip away at the cannabis stigma. Nonetheless, there was a need for diversity in these films, which was met by Friday (1995) starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker, who played two characters that flipped cannabis stereotypes on their heads. The early to late aughties would see more comical cannabis films, but with the rise of medical marijuana, some of the more interesting movies featuring the herb weren’t Hollywood blockbusters, but documentaries instead.

Time to Enjoy

Art and cannabis go hand in hand, which is why we are excited to see what the future of cannabis in film history holds. With the evolution of cannabis culture and the widespread legalization of cannabis, there is no doubt that more and more nuanced portrayals of cannabis are about to emerge. We look forward to seeing more films about cannabis in a positive, destigmatized light! If you are searching for cannabis accessories or strain recommendations, check out more articles on the Parkdale Brass blog. For information on pipes, smoking tips or education, head to our Instagram. Be sure to visit the Parkdale Brass shop to sign up to be notified when our rugged brass pipes are back in stock.

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