Don't call us potheads

Story highlights

  • Adam Eidinger: The "pothead" stereotype slanders some of the most creative people in our communities
  • He says the good news is that the stereotype is getting shattered; we need to end bias against cannabis users

Adam Eidinger, chairman of the DC Cannabis Campaign, is the proposer of Initiative 71, the successful ballot initiative that legalized personal home cultivation and possession of cannabis for Washington residents. He is also the social action director for Dr. Bronner's Soaps. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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(CNN)In the 1993 movie "True Romance," then 30-year-old actor Brad Pitt leaves an enduring impression as a cannabis user who can't seem to get off the couch. But if you look around today, Pitt's stoned obliviousness is more suitable for 1990s Hollywood than 2015 America.

Sorry to kill the laughs, but advancing the "pothead" stereotype slanders some of the most creative and active people in our communities. The good news is that the stereotype is getting shattered.
Adam Eidinger
Cannabis is at the center of a wave of social change. With a growing number of medical users benefiting from life-saving cannabis treatments, and a revolution taking place over police priorities when it comes to enforcement of archaic cannabis prohibition laws, cannabis legalization is a catalyst for moving this country toward increased civil rights.
    "Don't call me a ______" Sound familiar? Think feminists, minorities in leadership and same-sex marriage activists. All these people have made enormous social gains toward equality, thanks to their hard-fought rejection of outdated prejudices.
    Now it's time to end official and unofficial social bias against cannabis users, whether it be pre-employment marijuana drug testing or electing those who openly use the plant.
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    In fairness to Pitt, he wasn't the first to portray a stereotype of a pothead as a lethargic, perplexed, opaque, chip-munching and endlessly TV-watching unemployed dolt. The stereotype of the dazed and confused pothead may have emerged in 1970s Cheech and Chong comedies.
    But an accurate portrayal of cannabis users today is more like the short-lived six-episode 2011 Discovery TV network reality show "Weed Wars."
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    In "Weed Wars," cannabis consumers ranged from cancer afflicted senior citizens to parents of very young children seeking life-saving treatments for their kid's epilepsy. There are numerous creative tech types, ambitious manager types, green thumb types and spiritual types in the show. Sure, the central figure, Steve DeAngelo, admits he uses cannabis to relax at times, but he is no slacker, and if you mess up at work you will be held accountable. Watching DeAngelo energetically run Harborside Health Center, his multimillion-dollar cannabis dispensary, while mobilizing political support in Oakland, California, and nationally, you come to wonder if cannabis users actually have an edge dealing with stress.
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    Besides DeAngelo, evidence of cannabis users being highly productive can be seen throughout the government and business world. The CEO of the top-selling Dr. Bronner's Soaps, David Bronner, uses cannabis most evenings before bed. Since he took over the family business in 2000, it has grown from a $5 million a year business to one expected to top $100 million in sales this year. With more than 120 employees, all earning a living wage or better, he, along with his brother, have generated a tenfold increase in staff, making the fifth generation soap maker nothing short of an American manufacturing success.
    President Barack Obama, comedian Bill Maher, billionaire Richard Branson, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, director Oliver Stone, basketball coach Phil Jackson, scientist Carl Sagan, visionary Steve Jobs, countless accomplished musicians and many regular moms and dads have used marijuana with no measurable adverse effect on their ability to succeed in life.
    If any of the aforementioned personalities were unlucky to be caught with marijuana, say in Alabama, it would mean a huge disruption to their lives. Possession of as little as 2 ounces can get one a jail term, fines and probation. No one deserves to be a criminal for using marijuana.
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    Generally, people under 35 years of age get the injustice of marijuana prohibition. Children of President Ronald Reagan's "Just Say No" generation are coming to militantly reject baseless propaganda about marijuana's "dangers," and see the war on its users as a ridiculous denial of freedom.
    Evidence that younger Americans are taking political action on this issue can be seen in the dramatic increase of under-35 voter turnout in Washington's local election last November, in which Initiative 71 was on the ballot to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older. These young voters increased in turnout by 30% over the prior midterm election and legalization passed by a whopping 70.1%.
    D.C.'s November 2014 election, for the first time, saw younger voters outnumbering senior citizens. Had voters bought into an offensive pothead stereotype about people like myself who use cannabis and ran the campaign, things could have gone differently. Changing marijuana law was the right thing to do in the minds of most voters to improve civil rights for young black men in the capital city who suffered the highest rates for marijuana arrests in America.
    For minorities, who make up most of the tens of millions of Americans with a marijuana possession conviction since "True Romance" was in movie theaters, a lifetime of denied opportunities is the result of bad drug policies. "Weed Wars" was dropped by Discovery precisely because it didn't feed into a dated, yet popular stereotype to generate ratings. Recently, CNN aired "Weed 3: The Marijuana Revolution," featuring Dr. Sanjay Gupta advocating legalization of medical marijuana. I encourage people to study Gupta's exceptional reporting that begs the question: If "pothead" is being used in the media, who are they talking about?
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