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Marijuana's new high life

Cannabis is moving into the mainstream, with fashion, films, TV and politicians acknowledging it's here to stay.

August 30, 2009|Adam Tschorn

In June, an estimated 25,000 people attended the inaugural THC Expo hemp and art show in downtown Los Angeles, an event that pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy -- including a $22,400 payment directly to the city of Los Angeles for use of its convention center.

Barneys New York in Beverly Hills is celebrating the Woodstock spirit by selling $78 "Hashish" candles in Jonathan Adler pots with bas-relief marijuana leaves; Hickey offers $75 linen pocket squares or $120 custom polo shirts bearing the five-part leaf; and French designer Lucien Pellat-Finet is serving up white-gold and diamond custom pot-leaf-emblazoned wristwatches for $49,000 and belt buckles for $56,000.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, September 02, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Pot culture: An article in Sunday's Image section about marijuana in the mainstream referred to "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" as a 2001 movie. It was released in 2004.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, September 06, 2009 Home Edition Image Part P Page 2 Features Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Pot culture: An article about marijuana in the mainstream in the Aug. 30 Image section referred to "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" as a 2001 movie. It was released in 2004.

Earlier this year, Season 5 of Showtime's "Weeds" kicked off with promotional materials plastered on bus shelters, buses and billboards throughout the city. Last year, just across from the tourist-packed Farmers Market at 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue, a "Pineapple Express" billboard belched faux pot smoke into the air. Even the '70s slacker-stoner comedy duo Cheech and Chong are back. After recently concluding an international tour, they say they are working on another movie, voicing an animated version of themselves and even batting around the idea of staging a Cheech and Chong Broadway musical.

After decades of bubbling up around the edges of so-called civilized society, marijuana seems to be marching mainstream at a fairly rapid pace. At least in urban areas such as Los Angeles, cannabis culture is coming out of the closet.

At fashion-insider parties, joints are passed nearly as freely as hors d'oeuvres. Traces of the acrid smoke waft from restaurant patios, car windows and passing pedestrians on the city streets -- in broad daylight. Even the art of name-dropping in casual conversation -- once limited to celebrity sightings and designer shoe purchases -- now includes the occasional boast of recently discovered weed strains such as "Strawberry Cough" and "Purple Kush."

Public sentiment is more than anecdotal; earlier this year, a California Field Poll found that 56% of California voters supported legalizing and taxing marijuana. Last month, voters in Oakland overwhelmingly approved a tax increase on medical marijuana sales, the first of its kind in the country, and Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn has proposed something similar for the City of Angels. "In this current economic crisis, we need to get creative about how we raise funds," Hahn said in a statement.

Smoking pot used to be the kind of personal conduct that could sink a U.S. Supreme Court nomination (Douglas H. Ginsburg in 1987) and embarrass a presidential candidate (Bill Clinton in 1992). Today, it seems to be a non-issue for the current inhabitant of the Oval Office; Barack Obama issued his marijuana mea culpa in a 1995 memoir.

California Field PollDrug references in popular music have multiplied like, well, weeds in the last three decades. Marijuana's presence on TV and in the movies has moved from the harbinger of bad things including murderous rage ("Reefer Madness" in 1936) to full-scale hauntings ("Poltergeist" in 1982) and burger runs gone awry ("Harold & Kumar go to White Castle" in 2001) to being just another fixture in the pop-culture firmament. Cannabis crops up on shows such as "Entourage," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "True Blood" and "Desperate Housewives," and even on animated shows such as "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy."

To date, none is as pot-centric as Showtime's "Weeds," which follows the adventures of widowed soccer mom turned pot dealer Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker), though the show's creator, Jenji Kohan, says there are TV shows in development that are set against the backdrop of medical marijuana clinics.

Richard Laermer, a media and pop culture trend watcher and author of several books, including "2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade," points to Bill Maher as a bellwether of change. "Ten years ago, he would have been taken off the air." ("Real Time With Bill Maher" airs on HBO.) Now, he's "a totally mainstream comic who consistently talks about how much pot he smokes."

Marijuana's role on TV and in the movies is no surprise, says Robert Thompson, a professor of television and pop culture at the University of Syracuse S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. "The people who are making movies and television shows, from the scriptwriters to the director and the producers -- a very large chunk of those are probably people who grew up not only much more comfortable with marijuana's presence in society, but probably as consumers themselves of it.

"As a result," Thompson said, "it's almost switched with alcohol. Think back to Dean Martin and Foster Brooks -- their whole comedy act was the fact that they were in the bag -- that now is seen a lot less often. The stoner is the new drunk."

There's one hitch

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