Why Haven’t Stoner Comedies Changed Marijuana Laws?


Fourteen out of fifty states in the USA have decriminalized the possession of marijuana (generally under one ounce). In 2005, the case of Gonzales v. Raich ruled that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution allowed Congress to trump state law and criminalize the production of cannabis, even for medical use. The fact is that, today, marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

And on Friday, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, the third in the stoner comedy series, arrives in theaters. While you won’t see it in the trailers, let me remind you of the foundation on which this franchise is built:


Yes, that’s Kumar a.k.a Kal Penn from the first Harold & Kumar, riding in a pedal boat lovingly embracing a giant, anthropomorphic bag of weed.

Cheech and Chong. Dazed and Confused. Half Baked. Pineapple Express. Hollywood has been hydroponically growing the pot comedy into its own subgenre since the ’70s, each generation having their own quintessential stoner flicks. Backlash is rare—for all the effort seemingly put into keeping marijuana out of the hands of the country’s citizens, each marijuana-infused film opens and closes with the box office equivalent of its cinematic competitors. No protests, no statements made, no ruckus. Everyone seems perfectly fine glorifying marijuana use if it’s in a movie.

To be fair, I don’t have the legal or medical knowledge to really debate whether cannabis should or shouldn’t be legalized. But in a landscape where stoner comedies have become a mainstay, where the smoking of weed on screen has evolved to the point that it can be simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking (in other words, honest) in a movie like 50/50, then what’s keeping legalized marijuana locked up in the federal legal system? In a Splitsider article from earlier this year (part of the site’s Your Highness “Stoner Week,” for the record), writer Erik Voss speculates that stoner comedies may be keeping legalization movement back from its full potential. It’s fascinating devil’s advocate work—are the movies too apathetic? too…funny?—but, in the end, even he admits the movies are really making audiences familiar and comfortable with cannabis use.

ALTLast month, Gallup polled US citizens on marijuana, and for the first time ever, 50% of Americans favored the legalization of cannabis That sounds like a familiarization to me. So why is the issue stagnate? Or better yet, why the lack of action against these movies from proponents of marijuana criminalization? For reasons unknown, it’s fine for Harold and Kumar to smoke weed (illegal) in an R-rated movie (a movie kids under 17 can see with parents), but a movie like the upcoming Shame, focused on the explicit sexual relationships and encounters of its main character (legal), is slapped with an NC-17 (restricting anyone under 17 from catching the film). That’s confusing logic.

I don’t want political pressure to put an end to Hollywood’s production of stoner comedies. They’re too funny to disappear. But either the people who insist marijuana should be illegal need to step up and stand against the movies (which would cause the opposition to react) or the pro-cannabis folks need to use the accepting attitude of their contenders as fuel.

Harold and Kumar, as insane as it sounds, are the face of a movement. People don’t seem to realize it—stoner or not.