Why I Love Weed but Hate Stoners

Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

I hate the word.

I hate the sound it makes, curling off the tongue in a hiss, ending on a harsh consonant.

I hate the nagging connotations that lurk behind its every utterance: images of drug rugs, glazed eyes, and Funyun-caked soul patches dancing through mainstream America’s head: a tie-dyed, outdated, overzealous community of burnouts who think marijuana is a panacea to the world’s every problem -- from creative slumps to cancer. A label given to many, deserved by few: stoner.

Here's the problem: I am anti-stoner, but pro-weed. If for some reason it was up to me, you’d be able to walk to 7/11 and pick up a pack of Marlboro Greens before you could say Afroman. And my generation (and the country at large) seems to agree with me.

But there’s one lumbering, patchouli-scented problem obstructing the highway to legalization -- and by default, represents the linchpin to true, mainstream acceptance: the "stoner." Am I really saying these supposed weed zealots are killing the very movement they desperately hope will succeed?

I don’t mean to harsh your mellow, dude, but yes I am.

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What is a stoner, anyway?

The definition of the word “stoner” isn’t just relegated to Urban Dictionary; it’s gone mainstream and made it to Merriam Webster’s, who succinctly lay it out as "a person who uses drugs frequently," or "a person who is often stoned on drugs (such as marijuana)."

The ethos of the stoner may originate around the stereotypes painted in Reefer Madness, around the time it was becoming embraced by jazz musicians and Beat artists. The term, in the abstract sense, was transposed to hippy culture before being sculpted, monetized, and packaged (like all counter-culture is bound to be) by people like Misters Cheech and Chong, and continued to be brought down to levels of brain-dead party caricatures who keep getting older while their life prospects remain as constant as the age of their romantic conquests.

In the ‘60s, the stoner was all about flower-power and expansion of the mind. In the 70s, it was jean jackets, Bad Company, and dragon-emblazoned vans. In the '80s, everyone was just doing blow and ‘ludes and had no time for herb (from what Martin Scorsese and my Uncle tell me). In the 1990s, our idea of the modern stoner was molded by the grunge movement, the image dulled and mutilated by rappers, rap-rockers, and everything to do with Insane Clown Posse.

Remember, this is a stereotype. And obviously, not all stereotypes are accurate. 


A roadblock to legalization

Reefer Madness was a 1936 film that pretty much equates to a  jazz-tastic version of D.A.R.E. PSAs for our grandparents. It presented the vision that marijuana would literally make you go insane -- Not Cyprus Hill insane, but legitimately "lose your mind and kill people" crazy. Now, it's a cult classic because of it's over-the-top acting and fear-mongering, but at the time the horrors put on display in the film were swallowed whole by the public, bringing the fear of marijuana (and perhaps most importantly, it falling into children's hands) to the forefront of American consciousness. 

But then Baby Boomers happened. So did Woodstock. The '70s happened, too. Bill Clinton "tried it but didn't inhale," Barack Obama "definitely inhaled," and I'm pretty sure W was stoned for most his two terms. Nowadays we are much more lax about marijuana use, thanks primarily to our parents' generation, who are currently running the world. 

But there is a decided limit to our acceptance. Twenty-three states (and Washington D.C.) have legalized marijuana, in some form. Alaska, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and D.C. have all made recreational use totally chill. Though this is light-years ahead of the "Just Say No" days of Reagan's reign, there is still significant pushback from portions of the public (recently, California and Ohio's attempts at broad legalization got shut down on ballots), despite the fact that more than half the country claims to be in favor of marijuana's legalization.
The general public has a tough time of differentiating the stoner from the modern pot smoker. This is the problem.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

The modern pot smoker, in reality

Let's put it this way: The disparity between a "stoner" and someone who smokes weed is as vast as Lindsay Lohan on a bender and the C-Class Exec who indulges in a glass of Spanish Red every Sunday night.

According to the United Nations, more than 158 million people worldwide smoke marijuana. And in the words of Michael Armstrong, manager and budtender at famous (and legal!) Colorado dispensary LiveGreen Cannabis, "You cant really put a 'type' on the people who come in here to purchase recreationally. Some look like the stereotypical stoner, sure -- but you have moms, businessmen, grandparents...pretty much people from all walks of life. I've seen them all. The stoner stereotype isn't the normal customer, anymore." 

I talked to several regular pot smokers I know that buck any conventional terms of the word stoner: a Wall Street broker, a laboratory chemist, and a 75-year-old woman. All three live in states where marijuana is still prohibited, so all requested to remain anonymous (a microcosm of the problem, at large). These are people with careers (not "jobs"), mortgages, children, crock pots, and library cards. They are what you would consider "successful." They all had unique outlooks on herb, and why the choose to use. 


Far from "Cheech," and definitely not "Chong"

The chemist, surprisingly, often finds weed as a gateway drug to inspiration. 

"I feel like normally, you'd consider professionals in creative fields -- like design, or writing -- using marijuana for work. I obviously never smoke while I'm on the clock. But I'll be looking at work on the weekends, and will smoke. It lets me look at problems in a different way, from a different perspective."

The broker, in his late 20s with a high-stress job that often leads colleagues to varying degrees of work-related burnout, finds marijuana as a safe outlet for blowing off steam and relieving stress. 

"People in my line of work wind-down in a lot of ways, and some of it is really self-destructive. Sex, alcohol, gambling -- all of those are really dangerous. My release is sitting at home and smoking a little bit and watching Netflix... maybe ordering a pizza. And I'm the one who's doing something illegal. That's kind of messed up, right?"

The 75-year-old, who (full-disclosure) is one of my friend's Nanas, says she uses weed as a way to ease some of her "achy joints," and frankly, because she "just enjoys it."

"I enjoyed it when I was younger. Now I'm old, and I'm retired. I want to enjoy it some more. I've earned this," she told me. I have to say I agree. 

The chemist is in his mid-30s, and has a wife and a two-year-old son. Still, he and his wife both use marijuana... responsibly. 

"Look, I never smoke with my son in the house. We get a sitter, and go to a friends place -- or even our own place, if he is somewhere else, and smoke then. I don't see it as any worse -- and probably better --  than a couple hiring a sitter, and going out (to) a night club, or whatever. This is how it is now. This is our new normal."

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Where do we go from here?

The eldest of the trio was particularly informative when it came to weed smoking's historical implications. In her opinion, weed is not more prevalent than it is now, people are just way more open to talking about it.

And it makes sense. The glowing LED equipped G-pens and Paxes we see lighting up rooftop parties now are just replacing the joints and bowls of yesteryear. And with our culture in general now more apt to celebrate our differences (as corny as that sounds), it only stands to reason the cloud around pot smoking is clearing, and people are beginning to see the (hopefully non-black) light.

But the key to leaping over the last hurdle, this final push before marijuana becomes a legalized commodity like alcohol, is getting over the mindset that all pot smokers are stoners. A simple word might be destroying an entire, logical argument. And the only way to diffuse it, is by ditching the term, and the fraudulent mindset, in one swoop. This can happen by understanding who is out there, really using marijuana, as opposed to just resting on fact that we probably know who is out there, using marijuana.

The three aforementioned examples, easily pulled from the my own iPhone contact list, are the faces of the new, modern marijuana user. And guess what: they are just normal people. And some of them don't even LIKE Funyuns.

So let's just agree to stop saying the word altogether. Cool? Cool.

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. Follow him @wilfulton.