With the legalization of cannabis in Canada less than two weeks away, organizations, agencies, and media outlets across Canada are putting a concentrated push on their pot-related campaigns and coverage.
So, when an email came through my inbox last week from the Alberta Motor Association (AMA) about the dangers of driving while stoned, I was less than surprised.
What did surprise me, however, was how they decided to play their public service campaign.
A stack of pancakes. A young woman wearing a tinfoil hat. A man having a conversation with his dog.
The ads read:
"Getting deeply philosophical with your dog when you're high, is legal. Getting behind the wheel when you're high, is not."
"Testing the all-you-can-eat limit when you're high, is legal. Getting behind the wheel when you're high, is not."
"Googling conspiracy theories when you're high, is legal. Getting behind the wheel when you're high, is not."
It's 2018. Why are we still parading around stoner stereotypes?
Marijuana is a drug, yes, but it also has medicinal value. Studies show it can be used to calm epileptic seizures, help with PTSD, increase appetites in chemotherapy patients, and cope with chronic pain.
And it will soon be a economic driver, a job creator, and a basis of taxation — in other words, it's very serious business.
I think it's great that the AMA is doing its part to educate Albertans about the dangers of driving while high.
And, for the record, other components of the campaign, like the following video, are a cute way to whittle away at the stereotypes.
But their print ads feature outdated stereotypes of who and what cannabis users are, and to use that tactic in a public service campaign is actually a disservice.
Debra Borchardt, a U.S. cannabis writer, told High Times magazine that she calls the propensity for organizations to lean on old weed stereotypes and puns as the "giggle factor."
"What this means is that, while most writers and media outlets (and people in general) are aware of the implications and the importance of cannabis legalization, they still find the topic a bit amusing, a bit funny, a bit pun-worthy." - High Times
South of the border, where several states have already legalized cannabis, there are groups pushing back against stoner stigma.
The Forget Stoner campaign, launched by MedMen cannabis company in Los Angeles, highlights hard-working, successful people who use marijuana products for a variety of reasons.
Photos of 17 people include a police officer, a grandmother, and a business executive. Their reasons for cannabis use run the gamut from treating medical conditions to relaxing after a busy day.
"What we're saying is the very definition of a stereotype is defining a person by one bad mention," says Daniel Yi, MedMen's senior vice president, told The Associated Press. "They're also a grandmother. They're also a father, a son, a brother."
More from HuffPost Canada:
In fact, pot users themselves are turning against the tired, old tropes and calling for advertisers and media to move beyond.
New York media consultancy agency Miner and Co. Studio polled hundreds of cannabis users in the U.S. and found that more than 70 per cent think pot users in the media are too often portrayed as forgetful and lazy, and 80 per cent want to see characters that offer positive portrayals of cannabis consumers.
Sure, everyone knows that one stoner who worships at the altar of Cheech and Chong; or plays non-stop video games while shovelling Doritos into their face — but a part does not make the whole. Does the media portray every person who has a casual alcoholic beverage as a stumbling, bumbling, falling down drunk? No.
When we toss around silly portrayals of cannabis users we're in danger of a number of things, including:
Non-consumers of marijuana will question the judgement of cannabis users.
People who rely on marijuana as medicine will be taken less seriously.
Education campaigns to raise awareness about marijuana-related issues (like the AMA campaign mentioned above) will be diminished in both their message and reach.
It's not enough to take cannabis seriously. We need to start taking cannabis users seriously, too.
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