Pubdate: Sat, 13 Aug 2005
Source: Courier-Journal, The (KY)
Copyright: 2005 The Courier-Journal
Note: Only publishes local LTEs
Author: Tamara Ikenberg
Cited: Gonzales v. Raich ( )
Cited: Drug Enforcement Administration ( )
Cited: National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws ( )
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)

Pot Culture


Marijuana Is Hitting an All-Time High on the Small Screen

Nancy Botwin is a widowed suburban soccer mom who happens to sell
marijuana to support her family. Played by Mary-Louise Parker, she's
the star of Showtime's fresh half-hour dramedy "Weeds," which made its
debut on Monday.

An attentive parent and a member of the PTA, Nancy is one of many
sane, seemingly everyday TV characters who relate to reefer.

The Supreme Court may have voted against legalizing medical marijuana,
but that hasn't stopped pot from cropping up all over cable TV, where
you're more likely to see a joint dangling from a character's lips
than a cigarette.

You can get a contact high just from watching HBO's Sunday night
lineup. On "Six Feet Under," weed is as common as an after-work
cocktail. Members of the Fisher family, from frustrated young artist
Claire to conservative brother David to matriarch Ruth, light up
regularly. Next, on "Entourage," Hollywood hangers-on Turtle and Drama
are known to pass a joint while cruising through La La Land, and the
show's handsome hero, Vincent Chase, sometimes takes a puff to prepare
for stressful situations.

Finally, on "The Comeback," the writers of the fictional sitcom "Room
and Bored" are known to break out the bong for inspiration. This is
hardly an endorsement of the drug, as the material they write is terrible.

When you look at the stats on marijuana use, these characters aren't
that out of sync with society: According to the 2003 National Survey
on Drug Use and Health, nearly half of Americans over the age of 12
have tried marijuana at least once.

TV isn't the only medium where marijuana is making a statement.
Willie Nelson's new album cover sports the distinctive leaf, and
video games such as "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" feature pot in
their subplots. The off-Broadway play and "Vagina Monologues" spoof
"The Marijuana Monologues" was a huge hit, and radio endlessly emits
the reefer-steeped rhymes of hip-hop and rap.

But the ubiquitous medium of TV is perhaps the most hallowed frontier
for reefer to conquer.

Marijuana activists are pleased, for the most part, with the new wave
of onscreen pot smokers. Unlike the munchie-prone misfits of the past,
many of today's TV tokers are taxpaying family folks with careers and
brains. And marijuana isn't the focal point when it's featured. No one
makes a big deal out of it.

"It's definitely coming around," said Stephen W. Dillon, an Indiana
attorney as well as chairman of NORML, the National Organization for
the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "There's an increasing awareness that
marijuana is not the killer drug, 'reefer madness' that was presented
to the parents' generation in the '30s and '40s."

"Reefer Madness," a 1936 propaganda film, portrayed pot as the
ultimate evil in a time when drug commission head Harry J. Anslinger
was militantly crusading against cannabis use. He no doubt would have
been shocked -- shocked -- by Showtime's giddy musical send-up of the

Anslinger's bud-bashing reign may be history, but there are still
anti-drug activists who are less than thrilled with pot's media moment.

Gary Oetjen, assistant Drug Enforcement Administration special agent
in charge of Kentucky and southern Ohio, doesn't have cable, but he is
bothered by pot's growing presence in mainstream media.

"Do I think TV influences the younger generation? Absolutely. They're
glamorizing the usage of it and these young kids believe they can get
away with it. It's always a battle," he said. "It portrays a positive
aspect when it should be nothing but negative. They're allowing (kids)
to believe they can get away with this and cause no harm."

Steve Dnistrian of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America expressed
concern in USA Today that cannabis on cable will increase drug use
among kids.

"These are trendsetting shows. They affect behavior and attitudes,
particularly teens," he said in an interview with that newspaper.
"When glamorization of drugs has climbed, changes in teen attitudes

Steve Bloom, editor of High Times magazine, sees the rise in marijuana
content as part and parcel of a free TV land.

"These are premium cable shows, and they are not censored, and they do
what they want," he said. "A lot of these shows are on at 9 o' clock
or later. It's up to parents to really guide their kids; if they don't
want them watching "Entourage," then tell them not to. You can't
program TV around the wishes of anti-drug groups."

In addition to Showtime and HBO, Comedy Central -- the only TV network
to advertise in High Times, according to Bloom -- is also a bastion of
bud. "Chappelle's Show" is rife with reefer references, and the
subversives behind "South Park" regularly reinforce their proclivity
for pot.

"It represents the TV industry mirroring what's happening in society,"
Bloom said. "A lot of the writers, directors and producers, probably a
lot of them smoke marijuana, probably a lot of them deep down would
like to see the laws changed, so they're pushing the envelope by
including storylines with marijuana. They want to see it more
normalized on TV, and that would hopefully usher in some slight change
in society's view of marijuana."

Local playwright Brian Walker, creator and star of the pro-
legalization satire "Smoke This Play," which was performed earlier
this month at Actors Theatre, is encouraged by the more sophisticated
status of smoking in entertainment. If it's brought from the fringes
to the forefront, he believes, major changes can be made.

"If you look at the whole gay issue, it started to become not such a
big deal anymore when it was on TV, and Showtime and HBO started
embracing the subject matter and the regular networks started
embracing it," he said. "I think marijuana could sort of follow the
same street. The people in entertainment really hold a lot of cards in
their hands."

In the 1980s and '90s, non-cable networks also wove pot into plots. On
"Roseanne," Dan and Roseanne toked up in the bathroom after
confiscating drugs from one of their kids, and on "Murphy Brown,"
Candice Bergen's title character smoked pot during her battle with
breast cancer.

"Medical is the safe way to go when you're going to focus on
marijuana," Bloom said, adding that 80 percent of Americans approve of
medical marijuana use.

But nobody expects the laws to shift immediately just because public
opinion and TV's new ganja generation are showing pot in a new light.

"It's not surprising that even though marijuana is being portrayed
more positively in the popular culture, that public officials have not
yet caught up to public opinion," said Kris Krane, associate director

Even though the drug's image is getting an extreme makeover, there are
still shows where weed is purely a punch line.

Pot fumes have long filled the air of the Forman basement on "That
'70s Show," and Towelie, "South Park's" terrycloth toker, remains an
icon of inhaling.

"Who can forget Towelie? He's a funny character," Krane said. "We like
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