The Drug Policy Alliance just released a bunch of stock photos of everyday, harmless, “normcore” people consuming marijuana. The internet responded with applause, amusement, gratitude, and a wave of colorful comments.
Today is April 20 or 4/20, the unofficial national holiday celebrated by marijuana enthusiasts. This might be the year that the people who love marijuana have more to rejoice about than ever. The once-vilified plant (it’s not easy being green) – and the battle to end its disastrous prohibition – is now leaping into the mainstream of both culture and politics.
CNN can’t seem to stop talking about it. Four states and the District of Columbia have made it legal and the majority of Americans seem to think this is a good idea. And everyone from Barack Obama to Martha Stewart has admitted to inhaling.
Yet, somehow the images typically used by news media when they cover stories about marijuana look like throwbacks to stoner stereotypes from four decades ago.
Nearly half (49%) of Americans say they have tried marijuana. That’s a lot of people. They can’t possibly all look like The Dude from The Big Lebowski (no disrespect to The Dude). Many of them probably look like regular folks with mortgages, jobs, non-tie dye articles of clothing and the like. Still many journalists – even well-meaning ones – often use offensive, cartoonish or just plain absurd photos that would be considered unthinkable when covering any other issue.
Take for instance, this recent story about a Canadian yoga studio that starts off each class with a bit of marijuana consumption for relaxation. (You might chuckle but marijuana combined with yoga is apparently a thing.) Instead of featuring a photo of a person who looks like they might be doing yoga, the photo editor chose a picture of a young woman with bags under her eyes puffing on a joint who looks like she just woke up in her college dorm room after three days of partying without sleep.
Well, we decided to give the media the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they don’t mean to imply that everyone who likes marijuana and everyone in favor of legalizing it looks like a cliché but it’s just hard to find people willing to be photographed in the act of consuming marijuana. After all it isn’t fully legal yet.
That’s why we commissioned a series of stock photos of people who look pretty regular, doing everyday activities (including yoga) while enjoying marijuana. Last week, we released 64 of the photos, which are free, open license, and available for anyone’s non-commercial use. We hope they help portray a more realistic, humanized and accurate image of marijuana use.
Despite all the cultural and political mainstreaming of weed, the war on marijuana and prohibition is actually still going strong. Marijuana arrests comprise nearly half of all drug arrests. Someone is arrested for marijuana in this country every 45 seconds. Black and Latino people bear the brunt of aggressive marijuana policing. Black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people despite similar usage rates.
There is a natural amount of chuckles to be expected from the sight of grown-up-looking people, who might have otherwise looked normal in a Sears catalogue, taking a few tokes and playing a game of Jenga.
But the wasteful and destructive war on marijuana is no laughing matter, and we still have a way to go until it has finally become a strange but long-gone chapter of history.
Sharda Sekaran is the managing director of communications for the Drug Policy Alliance.