The GOOD Guide to Cannabis Culture

The Cultural Evolution of the Stoner

by Tasbeeh Herwees

November 2, 2016

1800s – Exotic Hashish Eaters of Arabia

Napoleonic military exploits brought back to the West lurid tales of Egyptian “Moslems” who indulged in hashish. These tropes were reproduced in Orientalist translations of 1001 Arabian Nights, a bestseller in France for decades.


1840s – High Intellectuals

The drug became associated with French intellectuals after Parisian poets and playwrights—including Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, and Charles Baudelaire—formed the Club des Hashischins (The Hashish Club) to experiment with and evangelize a potent, hallucination-inducing hashish mixture.


1910s – Mexican Menace

During a wave of immigration to the U.S. after the Mexican Revolution began in 1910, newspapers instructed parents to protect their children from predatory Mexican dealers, warning that smoking “marihuana” might induce a “lust for blood.”


1920s – Reefer Men

Cannabis was popular among black artists during the Jazz Age—think Ella Fitzgerald singing, “When I get low, I get high,” or Cab Calloway’s hit song, “Reefer Man.” In response, the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics kept files on musicians known to partake and waged a campaign villainizing jazz culture.


1930s – Crazed White Kids

Prohibition-era moral hysteria gave rise to propaganda films like Assassins of Youth and the late cult classic Reefer Madness, in which cannabis is cast as detrimental to suburban prosperity and makes upstanding white adolescents prone to sex and violence.


1960s – Rebels and Hippies

Socially acceptable cannabis use among the counterculture filtered into popular culture: Films like Easy Rider; I Love You, Alice B. Toklas; and Alice’s Restaurant featured causal drug use that, for the most part, didn’t produce tragic consequences.


1970s-2000s – Male Stoner Comedies

Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong ushered in the stoner buddy comedy, a genre dominated by men cast as lazy, incompetent, and comically foolish. See also Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Half Baked, and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.


2000s – Suburban Parents

As legalization efforts gathered steam, cannabis began appearing as a cure for suburban malaise. See Broken Flowers, a movie in which dads Bill Murray and Jeffrey Wright lackadaisically share “cannabis sativa,” or Weeds, a TV show in which Mary-Louise Parker plays an unhappy mom who starts dealing to pay the bills.


2010s – Independent Women

Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson debuted in 2014 as two reckless potheads in the breakout hit Broad City—a tradition carved by comedian Sarah Silverman and That ‘70s Show’s female characters. These women are as flawed and feckless as their dude counterparts, owing to the rise of women in writers’ rooms.   

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The Cultural Evolution of the Stoner