5 Shows That Illustrate the Evolving Attitudes Toward Marijuana

As marijuana's stigma changes with its legalization, so does its representation in television.

Public opinion about marijuana has changed drastically over the years. As many states have legalized the drug, television has begun to be more open about it. Previously, marijuana was considered a dangerous drug, and it was often put into the same category as more intense substances, like cocaine and heroin. However, marijuana is now associated with alcohol and other recreational drugs, and it is recognized as something that can help ease pain, stress and anxiety.

Here are five television shows that have reflected the way society perceives marijuana.

1. “Friends” (1994-2004)

“Friends” is one of the most iconic sitcoms of all time, and its negative view of marijuana is not uncommon for the ’90s. Its perception of marijuana is evident in Season 1, Episode 15, “The One with the Stoned Guy,” when one of Phoebe’s friends is interviewing Monica.

Monica makes a fancy, complex meal for her interviewer. However, the man comes to her apartment stoned and acts rudely and inappropriately as a result of the drug.

Also, in Season 6, Episode 9 “The One Where Ross Got High,” the characters discuss the reason Monica and Ross’ parents don’t like Chandler — when Ross used drugs in college, he blamed Chandler for being the one who got high when they got caught. They blame Chandler for trying to get Ross into drugs.

Throughout the rest of the episode, Ross and Monica’s parents keep referring negatively to the incident, saying that Chandler’s strange behavior is because “he’s high again.” Monica reassures Ross that his parents won’t be angry that he smoked pot by saying, “Why does it matter. It’s not like you still do it.” This interaction portrays pot as something negative — a dumb mistake that people make in college.

2. “That 70s Show” (1998-2006)

Taking place in the ’70s, it’s no surprise that marijuana plays a big part in this show. It’s often implied that the main characters are smoking weed, but marijuana, joints, pipes, bongs or anything else related to smoking are never shown on screen.

The main characters also never refer to the drug they use as marijuana. Red, one of the main characters, refers to it as “dope” when he catches Eric and Hyde in the act. In Episode 21 of Season 1, Kitty blames drugs for Eric’s strange behavior, but it was actually Eric having seen his parents having sex that caused his disheveled, squirmy demeanor.

“That 70s Show” presents pot more openly than many other programs of its time. It alludes to marijuana and doesn’t try to pass it off as anything else, which is a big deal for the industry. Other shows would simply imply that marijuana was some other drug, mostly tobacco, or would never give enough information to know what the characters were smoking.

3. “How I Met Your Mother” (2005-2014)

This classic sitcom of our generation was the beginning of the change in marijuana representation. Even though the show doesn’t depict the drug on screen, it portrays marijuana as a fun, recreational drug rather than a dangerous substance.

Marijuana is also only referred to as “sandwiches” in the show. While this adds a funny spin and keeps things child-friendly, it also perpetuates the stigma that marijuana needs to be censored. Marijuana is a recreational drug, just like alcohol, so they should be portrayed similarly on screen.

“How I Met Your Mother” also makes marijuana seem like something only dumb college students do rather than something that can be beneficial.

This idea is sustained in Episode 10 of Season 7, when Marshal and Ted get high at a concert. The moral of the episode is that they are too old and responsible now to get high … yet they have no problem getting drunk every night.

4. “Grace and Frankie” (2015-present)

“Grace and Frankie” presents marijuana as a fun, recreational drug and shamelessly shows characters smoking from joints and pipes. Frankie often smokes with other characters, using pot as a way to relax when she gets stressed out.

The show portrays marijuana similarly to alcohol and other drugs. Screen time is offered to characters smoking, and viewers can see buds in the fridge and Frankie rolling joints. There’s no hiding behind allusions — “Grace and Frankie” doesn’t try to censor anything related to pot.

While this might seem like a small step, it shows how the industry is changing their views as the stigma around pot evolves. Netflix has taken big steps toward treating marijuana as a pharmaceutical and recreational drug rather than an illegal substance.

5. “Tales of the City” (2019)

While even the original “Tales of the City” showed joints and characters smoking pot, the 2019 season is even more open about showing characters smoking, growing and sharing marijuana. The owner of the house that the characters live in, Anna Madrigal, grows her own marijuana and rolls her own joints.

When she throws parties, she puts out a platter of joints and invites her guests to take one each. Whenever she needs to discuss something of importance with her tenants, she leaves a small note with a joint taped to it for them to enjoy.

In the show, marijuana is not only a recreational drug — it’s an active part of characters’ lives. They smoke as much as they drink alcohol on screen, which is an accurate representation of people who use marijuana often, and the characters who smoke become relaxed rather than super crazy or silly. While many people do smoke to get high, a large part of the population uses it for relaxation, stress relief, anti-anxiety and much more.

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