Legal Marijuana: The New Media Darling of Mainstream America

The war being waged for marijuana’s legal acceptance in America has a new battleground these days. Mass media has decidedly been the tool of prohibitionist since the very earliest days of “The War On Drugs”. Who can forget Nancy Reagan’s unforgettable “Just Say No” campaign of the Reagan era. “This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs” saw the 1990’s Clinton administration frying eggs for the desired effect of scaring children straight. In the 21st century, you are “Above the Influence” and encouraged to not follow the crowd. What message is mass media sending to the adults of 21st century, the very generations these messages of the past were aimed at?

What do Time Magazine, The Nation Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and MSNBC all have in common? Each of these pillars of information distribution have dedicated time and space to the issue of legal marijuana in California and other areas of the country. The news pieces in question are not in Nancy Reagan’s tone of voice or point of view, however. The difference in opinion is as vast as possible now that mass media has determined that a legitimate argument can be made for the abolishment of marijuana prohibition and for legalization of cannabis.

The Nation Magazine’s December 27th 2010 edition cover features the caption “D.A.R.E. to End the War on Drugs”. Using the logo of Drug Abuse Resistance Education to accent the point, D.A.R.E. is self described as “giving kids the skills they need to avoid involvement in drugs, gangs, and violence.” The article “Altered State: California’s Pot Economy” by Sasha Abramsky, analyzes the future of distribution and packaging of legal cannabis in California. The impact that is possible on tourism for the Golden State in the future if recreational marijuana is legalized is discussed as well as analyses on why Proposition 19 failed and what needs to happen for future referendums to pass.

The New York Times on November 13th 2010 published an article entitled “Backers of Legal Marijuana Find Silver Lining in Defeat of California Measure” that went into great detail on what the issues were that led to the defeat of Proposition 19 on November 2nd. A conflict of ideology amongst the generations and the lack of the predicted large turn out of younger voters were the main issues attributed to the defeat of the proposition. According to the NY Times, the main reasons Prop 19 did not pass were that the measure was a “jumbled, legal nightmare” and questioned estimates of the potential tax revenue that legalization would bring in. The Times also acknowledged that the Proposition did not do well in Los Angeles (47%) or with the older voters, especially that of older Latinos, a heavy voting block in Southern California.

The Los Angeles Times, in an article published on December 16, 2010 and entitled “One Toke Over The Line”, takes on Obama administration policy for legal marijuana and in particular R. Gil Kerlikowske, the Obama administration’s drug czar. Mr Kerlikowske, in response to an annual survery that determined that teen marijuana consumption is on the rise among eighth through 12th-graders, was quoted as saying “Mixed messages about drug legalization, particularly marijuana, may be to blame. Such messages certainly don’t help parents who are trying to prevent kids from using drugs.”

The Los Angeles Times editorial went on to argue Kerlikowske’s point by citing another survey by the Congressional Research Service whose April 2010 findings examined studies comparing teen pot smoking in states with and without medical marijuana laws. No connection between such laws and drug use was found. “Concerns that medical cannabis laws send the wrong message to vulnerable groups such as adolescents seem to be unfounded,” it stated.

Time Magazine jumped into the fray with its November 22nd 2010 cover story entitled “The United States of Amerijuana” complete with a huge burning joint on the cover of the magazine and the caption “Legalization has gone up in smoke, but ‘medicinal pot’ has gone mainstream”. The 10 page article, complete with pictures, covers issues such as culinary arts in cannabis and how vernacular in the industry has changed from ‘smoking pot’ to ‘medicate’, ‘dealers’ are now ‘caregivers’ and the buyers in need are “patients” and not “users”. The article goes on to compare marijuana as a hot commodity in some areas of the country in the same vein as wine, dark chocolate and artisanal cheese.

Finally, even MSNBC, one of the largest cable news outlets in the world, broadcast an hour long documentary on December 8, 2010 entitled “Marijuana USA”. The content covered everything from a couple in Colorado who actively promote legal marijuana as their business to a company that labels, brands and distributes seeds for registered growers to plant as a natural herbal remedy for what ails you. The documentary goes into detail on how marijuana, in the states where it is legal for medical use, is being regulated, licensed and taxed, just like any other legitimate product.

The prohibition of marijuana in the United States took a firm hold in the 1930’s. Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs in 1971 and Ronald Reagan reinforced those efforts in the 1980s. There were times when the only public advocates for legal marijuana seemed to be comedians such as George Carlin or Cheech and Chong which hardly gave legitimacy to the cause and were no match for the United States government’s campaign against cannabis.

The year 2011 is being ushered in and there are now a couple of self evident truths to be told about the legalization of marijuana. Telling a generation to just say no when they are teens almost guarantees they will just say yes at some point when they are adults or even before that. The other fact that has come to bear is that it is easier to convince a majority to just say yes when an answer in the affirmative will line the pockets of state governments, opportunistic entrepreneurs and even major media outlets and publications that need to fill space and grab your attention.

Robert Carr, is an activist in the ongoing effort for legal marijuana in California. Visit for more information.

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