The Cannabis Industry Wants You To Ditch The Word "Stoner"

By Kelly Burch 09/20/18

A new ad campaign is pushing to end marijuana-related stigma.

a man lighting a joint

The word “stoner” brings to mind a specific stereotype: a low achiever clouded in smoke and looking for a snack. Now, a retail pot company in California has launched a $2 million advertising campaign trying to convince the public to let the world "stoner" go up in smoke.

“That word can be used to negatively stereotype people,” Daniel Yi, senior vice president of communications at MedMen, which operates 14 retail pot stores, told The Los Angeles Times. “We want to take that stigma away. We want to make marijuana mainstream.”

The ads feature actors dressed as police officers, nurses, teachers and other professionals. Next to the individual is the word “stoner” with a slash through it. Yi said the ads are meant to address the stigma that still exists around smoking pot, even in states like California where adult use is legal. 

Yi said that the recent controversy over Elon Musk smoking marijuana during an interview shows that there is still a long way to go before cannabis is accepted as mainstream. 

“The Stephen Colbert show (on CBS) does this thing where Colbert takes shots of tequila with some of his guests,” Yi said. “That doesn’t show up on the front page of the LA Times. But Musk smokes one blunt on The Joe Rogan Experience and it gets lots of press coverage. Alcohol is acceptable, marijuana isn’t.”

MedMen’s ads are just one way that the marijuana industry is trying to rebrand smoking cannabis. Other retailers won’t use the term “pot.”

“It’s legal now,” said Brooke Brun, cofounder of Kb Pure Essentials, a company that makes CBD products marketed for health and wellness. “People don’t feel so bad about asking for it, or being seen at a CBD booth.” 

Industry insiders predict that the stigma will naturally subside as marijuana becomes legalized in more places. 

“The negative prophecies didn’t come true,” said Dallin Young, executive director of the Association of Cannabis Professionals in San Diego. “California hasn’t turned into some Mad Max world.” 

While some people took issue with the ads, other residents of San Diego—where some of the billboards are located—said the campaign is really nothing new. 

“The alcohol industry has for eons shown advertisements of imbibers in all professions appearing to lead normal, healthy lives,” Don Paret of San Diego said. “Why (shouldn’t) the pot industry do the same? MedMen’s attempt to create a more legitimate image of pot users is no different than the alcohol industry portraying a similar image.” 

Others weren’t sure that people would be able to stop using the word "stoner." 

“While ‘stoner’ may conjure images of a permanently buzzed Jeff Spicoli type [from Fast Times at Ridgemont High], I think trying to stop people from using it is a pointless and losing battle,” said California resident Gary Deacon. “Either embrace and reclaim the epithet by showing that ‘stoners’ can be productive contributors to society, or promote an alternate term for people to use.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.