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California | Drug War | Government & Elections | Health, Housing, and Public Services | Police State and Prisons
Bud’s Blog: Stoner stereotypes hamper Prop. 19 debate
Bud Green, the founder of CalPotNews.com, explores how outdated stoner stereotypes affect news coverage and debate about Prop. 19.
I love the movie “Dazed and Confused,” which I caught the other day on TV. The flick is filled with stoner stereotypes that are funny because they ring so true. At least, they rang true when I went to high school more than 30 years ago.
Then Wilford Brimley ruined the movie for me. Not because he’s a bad actor, but because he tried to sell me prescription drugs during the commercial. Despite its countercultural pedigree, “Dazed and Confused” has become an advertising vehicle for catheters, wheelchairs and other products designed for aging boomers. The icons of my youth have died or turned gray — have you seen Cheech and Chong lately? — but stoner stereotypes are seemingly ageless, as if they were sealed in some sort of time capsule.
Why bring this up now? Because stereotypes will make or break the campaign for legal cannabis in California. Because we pretend to debate Prop. 19 with facts, when mostly we’re stirring a pot filled with cliches and preconceptions. Because cannabis policy is vitally important to 21st century California, but we’re still weighed down by 20th century ideals.
Put simply, we must do a better job explaining what cannabis prohibition means today, not what it meant 40 or even 10 years ago. The Prop. 19 debate has been sidetracked by tax estimates and ridiculous claims about stoned workers and drivers running rampant. Outside the state Capitol, though, a different calculus applies. As drug-related violence hits new heights, and our prisons remain filled beyond capacity, the high cost of cannabis prohibition has never been more apparent.
Indeed, while combat operations have ended in Iraq, the “drug war” rages in California and Mexico with mounting human casualties, no chance of success, no end in sight. Our leaders should have developed an exit strategy years ago, and they would have if we’d only had the vision to demand it. Prop. 19 makes that demand loud and clear: Stop fighting this unwinnable war and start building a better future for California.
Reframing the debate won’t be easy, however. Stoner stereotypes are so deeply ingrained that they influence our behavior, with CalPotNews.com as one example. As a former newspaper reporter and editor, I’ve been reluctant to attach my name to my own website, thinking it might cost me a future job or embarrass my friends and family. But this blog and its readers remind me daily that timidness is costly, too.
So what the hell, let’s do this. My name is Michael S. Green, aka “Bud” Green, aka “mid-career professional seeking new challenges.” If you’re one of the thousands of California journalists in a similar plight, don’t get me started. After two years of recession and newsroom layoffs, you have my support. I’ll even buy you a taxed and regulated beer to cry in — provided you vote to treat cannabis the same way.
As for those who still work in the news industry, please don’t lecture me about “fair use” should your content appear on my website. I give full credit (and occasional blame) where credit is due, and your reporters might learn a thing or two from searching the CalPotNews archives. What they’ll find are lots and lots of crime stories, process stories about local ordinances, stony headlines written by too-clever copy editors — and a big, gaping hole where the enterprise reporting should be. With the exception of a few Bay Area papers, the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times, in-depth coverage of cannabis issues remains rare.
The problem arises because cannabis is not one topic but a collection of subtopics – cops and courts, state vs. federal jurisdiction, taxation, dispensaries, cultivation, health and science, workplace safety – that affect all Californians, whether they use cannabis or not. Yet the state’s top news organizations dabble only occasionally in cannabis coverage, while smaller outlets do less than that. I know times are tough in the news biz, but c’mon: Is this the best we can do?
Here’s a thought: If I can commit time and energy to a pot blog for 10 months without having a pot to piss in, reporters and editors still lucky enough to draw a paycheck can turn over a new cannabis leaf. Stop depicting marijuana users as slackers, potheads and stoners in headlines and story assignments, at least until Nov. 2 and preferably after that. Cultivate good industry sources, check your stereotypes at the door, tell the copy desk to lay off the dumb pot puns, stop parroting “drug war” rhetoric out of sheer habit, and take whatever other steps are needed to ensure your news coverage is neither dazed nor confused. Deal?