Why The Stoner Stereotype Keeps Shifting

Why The Stoner Stereotype Keeps Shifting
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Before Alex Berenson, there was Merle Haggard. And before cannabis was blamed for America’s mass-shooting epidemic, there was the lazy stoner stereotype.  Country music’s conservative retort to the 1960s counterculture movement, Haggard recorded a string of reactionary anthems in the early 1970s—part of the backlash to the Great Society and the civil-rights movement that then-President Richard Nixon deliberately stoked to eke out a narrow election in 1968. Haggard derided the use of drugs, including cannabis (“Okie from Muskogee”), as well as perceived shiftiness and the welfare state (“Workin’ Man Blues”). In so doing, Haggard also, as author Josiah Hesse documented in Runner’s High, fueled a then-innovative way to denigrate and marginalize cannabis use.  Helped along by other bleary-eyed, shifty representations in film and music, Merle Haggard helped create the myth of the lazy stoner. This is indeed a myth, as recent research shows. Yet it is one that refuses to die, despite repeated debunking. But hidden in the tired allusions to Cheech & Chong and Spiccoli (has anyone over the age of 40 actually seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High?) and slightly fresher Seth Rogen references is a secret of American political and cultural discourse. For at least a century, weed has been a handy weapon in the culture war. And it remains so. Instead of vanishing, anti-cannabis hysteria evolves with the times. Reefer madness’s evolution, from fears over “Indian hemp” printed in early 20th-century yellow journalism to lascivious women and violent men of color to aimless burnt-out hippies, suggests anti-cannabis sentiment is a mirror that reflects the fears and grievances of the time—not anything that the plant does per se.  Today, as legalization grows more popular than any politician, anti-cannabis sentiment appears to be shifting gears yet again. So, it’s worthwhile to review the full arc of history, in…

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