Whether it’s disco music, alien conspiracy theories, Pokémon GO or Street Fighter, everybody has their guilty pleasures.
Mine are marijuana TV shows.
Yes, I’ve probably seen them all, or at least all the ones that have graced Netflix with their presence, including the bad (“Pot Barons of Colorado”), to the really bad (“High Profits”), to the downright awful (“American Weed”).
It’s hard to explain, but sometimes I’m a little disappointed when these shows are actually good. Despite my deeply imbedded hatred for reality television, I find it tremendously entertaining to see how cannabis enthusiasts, consumers and the industry itself are portrayed by show-runners who are obviously looking for an outrageous personality or storyline upon which to focus their cameras.
For somebody who believes in the power of the media, and believes that now more than ever, this industry needs to be viewed as legitimate, I find myself somewhat torn.
On one hand, it’s easy to be put off by the shows, even to be offended by the way some stereotypes are proliferated or even celebrated.
But at the same time, I embrace the fact that we live in a time when these shows can even exist. Twenty years ago, marijuana shows would never be fit for network television, regardless if it were a quality documentary, schlocky reality show or a work of pure fiction.
Like it or not, cannabis never would have made it this far without having mass media on board. For the past three and a half years, I’ve talked with probably hundreds of marijuana entrepreneurs and it’s amazing how many people referenced CNN’s “Weed” series as a major turning point. People will often say their parents looked at them like drug dealers until they watched Sanjay Gupta speak with the family of a child with epilepsy.
Advocacy organizations like NORML and events like Seattle’s venerated Hempfest have been around for decades, slowly chipping away at unjust cannabis laws. They started the movement, but cannabis never would have made its giant leap toward acceptance and toward legalization without “Weed.” Yet, “Weed” never would have happened without protestivals and pioneers demanding progress in the face of unrelenting stigmatization and nearly a century of inertia keeping cannabis illegal.
And this goes for the news media as well. Twenty years ago, a major bust would have made front-page news (back when big cities had multiple dailies competing against each other for the scoop). Ten years ago, busts may have taken a back seat to more sensational crime, but the fluctuating price of marijuana never would have been discussed even in local newspapers — let alone a major national news organization. On Aug. 30, the Wall Street Journal, of all papers, published a story about the “withering” price of cannabis in legal states. (According to Cannabis Benchmarks, the vast majority of wholesale cannabis sold in the U.S. in August went for less than $1,500 a pound.)
The mainstream media — and I do not use that term derisively — will also drive the next evolution of legal cannabis. Few reporters have dug into the actual carbon footprint of the cannabis industry or how much waste is being produced by roughly a billion dollars worth of vape cartridges, plastic pre-roll tubes and mylar bags. But when they do, some changes may be forced upon the industry — a burden initially, but better for all in the long run.
We may have a long way to go, but this is progress.