Despite the increasing popularity and acceptance of cannabis in mainstream Western culture, the outdated and inaccurate stereotype of the 'stoner' persists in the media, in political discourse, and in the minds of a large chunk of the population.
Despite the increasing popularity and acceptance of cannabis in mainstream Western culture, the outdated and inaccurate stereotype of the ‘stoner’ persists in the media, in political discourse, and in the minds of a large chunk of the population.
What is the stoner stereotype?
The ‘stoner’ is lazy, unmotivated, greedy, dirty, and generally unpleasant. The ‘stoner’ is often black, Hispanic, or if white, labelled ‘trash’ to distinguish them from the white establishment. The ‘stoner’ is therefore incompatible with middle-class, white society. The ‘stoner’ has no aspirations in life save to eat junk food and play video games, and will never be seen to head a Fortune 500 company, take regular exercise or raise well-balanced children.
As well as this, the ‘stoner’ is callously and selfishly perpetuating the War on Drugs by purchasing their supply from violent, criminal gangs and cartels. In Europe, where Mexican cartels and Drug War rhetoric hold less sway, cannabis users are often accused of supporting Islamic terrorists through purchasing cannabis.
Consumers do not perpetuate the War on Drugs
Whether or not international drug traffickers fund militant organisations, the end-user cannot reasonably be held accountable. The illegal status of cannabis and other narcotics causes artificially high profits for black-market operatives, some of which may then be channelled into other illegal activities, but the average consumer of cannabis has no desire for blood to be spilt, or for cannabis to be illegal at all.
The true perpetrators of the War on Drugs are the authorities that refuse to meet the problem head-on and legislate effectively, rather than the end-users. The profits sought by criminal organisations would simply not be as great if illegal narcotics were made legal, as production costs are low and prices can be set with impunity as no legal suppliers exist.
The ‘stoner’ stereotype is pervasive in the media
As recently as November 2012, the Huffington Post quoted Robert Dupont (Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) from 1973 to 1978 and drugs “czar” under Nixon and Ford from 1973 to 1977) as stating that cannabis “makes people stupid and lazy”. While it could be argued that Dupont represents an outmoded viewpoint that is decreasingly popular in society, the influence of such establishment thinking persists, and is still very strong.
While the mainstream media steers away from blatant misrepresentation of ‘stoners’ (at least since the tide of public opinion shifted generally in favour of legalisation), subtle hints and reminders of residual bigotry remain. This is the case even in societies that are generally liberal and pro-legalisation, such as the Netherlands.
In the Netherlands, one might expect that the ‘stoner’ would not be unfairly stereotyped, although one would be quite wrong in that assumption. Less than 8% of the Dutch profess to regularly smoking cannabis, although some suggest that the true prevalence may be substantially higher. There is a degree of racialism inherent in the cultivation of the Dutch stoner too, as Moroccan and Turkish groups are widely seen to be responsible for much of the petty and violent crime in the country, as well as being responsible for the inflow of hashish itself.
The ‘gangs’ of youths that congregate on the street corners of Amsterdam suburbs, which are often made up of non-white ethnicities, are seen as the criminal element in society. They smoke cannabis on the street, “justifying” street signs forbidding the same; they intimidate passers-by, often by their mere presence alone rather than any threatening behaviour; they are visible to the extent that any crimes they do commit are similarly visible, and held up as an example of criminality to the white Dutch establishment.
The Netherlands has serious problems with integration of its immigrant communities. The unemployment rate among young (below the age of 25) Moroccans and Surinamese stands at 28% and 27% respectively, compared with just 6.9% among white Dutch people in the same age range.
The United Kingdom
In the UK, another country with a significant and growing cannabis-using demographic, the stereotype remains strong. The government still makes decisions based on it. Leading government advisors, such as Professor David Nutt, have been dismissed from their posts after making statements that disagree with the prevalent perception of cannabis and cannabis users.
Even Caitlin Moran, author of international bestseller How to be a Woman and the UK’s most popular feminist author, has subjected cannabis users to the same stereotype in at least one article for The Times (a known anti-cannabis publication). The irony of purporting to address negative stereotypes in her writing, while reinforcing negative stereotypes of other demographics, was not lost on her many critics.
While prejudice against cannabis smokers may still be strong, and even come from seemingly-neutral corners, it is inevitable that it will diminish over time, as societal acceptance of cannabis grows apace. Further, while no individual should feel obliged to take action to disprove such an unfair stereotype, increasing numbers of hard-working, successful and healthy ‘stoners’ are prepared to stand up and be counted. We are certain to see great changes in the public perception of the average cannabis user in the very near future.