Legalized Weed Blazing New Trails For Stoner Films

Cheech and Chong. Harold and Kumar. Jay and Silent Bob.

Historically, the characters in classic stoner films were portrayed as societal outcasts, delinquents and dropouts. The genre itself stems from decades-long prohibition and criminalization. It reflects a rebellious culture thumbing its nose at the man.

But the times, they are a changin.’

With more than half of all U.S. states legalizing it in some form (and more likely to follow suit), cannabis is quickly becoming the new normal. And that begs the question, “Will stoner films ever be the same?”

Cannabis editor and evangelist Michael Miller doesn’t think so. He sees a cultural shift in the portrayal of the plant on big screen.

“Now the weed is the story itself, or it’s in the background,” says Miller who hosts CannaBusiness Hour on the digital broadcasting platform Dash Radio. “It’s not so sexy on the rebellious side anymore.”

Shane Wahlund, a filmmaker and production associate for the SPLIFF Film Fest agrees that increased general knowledge and public acceptance of cannabis is shifting stereotypes in life and in media.

“The lines have blurred between what defines a stoner movie from a movie in which weed is merely prevalent and simply treated as a routine part of life,” says Wahlund. “Overall, while still dealing in a lot of stereotypes and still embracing a lot of the outmoded ones, the genre has just become more sophisticated.”

A broader definition

The SPLIFF film festival debuted earlier this year for thousands of cannabis enthusiasts in Seattle, Portland, Denver and San Francisco with the goal to create a program that captures the broader definition of the stoner genre. SPLIFF is the brainchild of HUMP! film festival founder Dan Savage.

“We solicited filmmakers from all over the world to create films for SPLIFF that are not just about cannabis culture, but ones that a stoned audience would simply love watching on a giant movie screen,” says Wahlund, who grew up in Humboldt County. “Our hope was to inspire filmmakers to push the boundaries of what a stoner film is.”

He describes the results as entertaining, diverse and surprising. Standout films included comedies like the festival’s Best in Show winner Smokescreen, the alien comedy Grandpa Joe and an instructional video on how to roll a magical blunt, BBHMM Blunt. The stop-motion Joint Heights was a highlight of the animated films. Wahlund’s personal favorite and Funniest award winner is the “wonderfully weird” ASMR crafting trip Candy Sandwich.

“Folks have just loved it,” he says of SPLIFF. “They laughed their asses off, gasped and squealed, hooted and hollered, and sat in contemplation and even awe. There is some really great filmmaking on display.”

Dead or outdated?

While SPLIFF bills itself as a festival made by the stoned for the stoned, Miller believes the word “stoner” will eventually fade away.

“I think it’s going to be a historic term that’s associated with an illegal cannabis world,” he says, noting that the word perpetuates an outdated stigma.

“The new user, the fastest-growing user, is the opposite of a stoner,” he explains. “Now it’s another form of medicine, it’s one or two puffs … to get through the day.”

Filmmaker Windy Borman hopes the genre also becomes more inclusive. In her view, the flower in typical stoner films has been seen through the male gaze; the plant and the women are often sexualized in the same way.

Creator of cannabis documentary, Mary Janes: The Women of Weed, Borman urges media makers to move away from these sexist stereotypes and normalize the use of cannabis among men, women, people of color and the LGBTQ community.

“If you want to talk to consumers you need to show cannabis as a health and wellness product…show that this is a legitimate industry,” she says. “That’s, in my opinion, how the cannabis industry takes it to the next level.”

As for the classic stoner film genre, Miller doesn’t think it’s dead, just outdated.

“It used to be the culture now it’s becoming the subculture,” he says.

Top stoner films

Miller names The Big Lebowski (1998), Pineapple Express (2008) and Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke (1978) as the Top 3 stoner films.

“They kind of created the genre,” he says of Cheech and Chong, “so from a film history and culture history perspective they have to be at the top.”

Wahlund agrees that Cheech and Chong “pretty much defined the genre” along with Friday (1995) and its two follow-ups. Still, he believes an overall characterization of stoner films is personal, subjective and generational.

“Some might define it by movies that are specifically about weed and weed culture,” he says. “Some people might be inclined to watch something really wild and colorful and kinetic. Others might prefer more cerebral and intellectually expansive films.”

Along with those he named above, Wahlund lists Easy Rider (1969), Dazed and Confused (1993), Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004), Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Don’t Be a Menace (1996) and Super Troopers (2001) among the most influential stoner films.

He also includes propaganda and scare films like Reefer Madness (1936), Marijuana (1968) and Assassin of Youth (1937).

“These are iconic because they represent the onscreen depiction of cannabis for their times,” he says. “Despite them actually being harmful, as far as I’m concerned, we can laugh at them today because they are such ludicrously batshit and blatant propaganda.”

“Say, man, you got a joint?”

Aloft has put together our own list of stoner films (Check out Aloft’s top 50 film picks here). Ours includes 50 of our favorite stoner films as well as those we love to watch when we’re consuming cannabis. Be sure to check it out and let us know what you think.

Did we miss any of your favorites?

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