I love funny memes and jokes, but when it comes to stoner stereotypes, we must recognize the role of implicit bias in fostering prejudice and discrimination. I’m embarrassed to admit that I dropped out of my first college course because I didn’t know if arguing for legalization was an appropriate essay topic. I was afraid of being labeled an idiot and judged for my use of cannabis. That was twenty years ago in Colorado, and I almost proved the stereotype right.
I eventually went on to receive two college degrees, but I know from my training as a medical scientist that paranoia is a valid response to the costs and consequences of prohibition, which include social stigma, loss of income and wealth, police violence and criminal prosecution. Stereotypes are “overgeneralized attributes associated with the members of a social group.” Here’s the truth behind some of the most common stoner stereotypes out there.
- Lazy and addicted to drugs. Successful people in all industries use cannabis in their free time whether it is for health, relaxation, or recreation. In 2018, at least 43.5 million people in the United States reported using marijuana in the past year. Of those, only 10 percent were found to have some form of addiction, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. While substance abuse is a serious medical issue worthy of our time and attention, we should avoid making sweeping generalizations about the individual health and wellness of cannabis consumers in the U.S.
- Dumb and dumber. The effects of cannabis on the brain have yet to be fully understood, but it does not appear to be neurotoxic at doses appropriate for human consumption. On the contrary, cannabis use helps rid the body of unhealthy brain cells (apoptosis), while protecting healthy brain cells from fatty acid build-ups that have been linked to Alzheirmer’s disease, dementia, and other neurodegenerative disorders. Health benefits like these are one of the reasons medical scientists have increasingly turned their attention to cannabis and its relationship to our endocannabinoid system.
- Black, brown and dangerous. Minnesotans of African, Latino, and Native descent use cannabis at rates on par with their European American counterparts. Yet law enforcement officers in Minnesota have been shown to target Black and Brown neighborhoods in North Minneapolis at rates 6x higher than their White suburban peers. We know from recent experience that the most dangerous thing about cannabis is getting caught with it by the police. The police officer who shot and killed Philando Castille in July 2016 tried to justify his use of lethal force by saying: “I thought I was gonna die, and I thought, if he has the guts, and the audacity, to smoke marijuana in front of his five-year-old girl, and risk her her life, then what care does he give about me?”
The best way to reverse these harmful stereotypes is to elect leaders from our communities who pledge to put an end to these unjust and inhumane policies. It’s on all of us to debunk the common myths that stand in the way of full legalization, which is vital to achieving social, racial and economic justice.