We’re not very far removed from the days when the only mention of fragrant greenery you’d be likely to catch on television would be through the judgey lens of an after school special or news report. As recently as the early 2000s, cannabis was still finding its way onto the small screen as anything other than a cautionary tale; while it was dealt with in a lighthearted manner in “the circle” of That 70s Show fame, shows like Freaks and Geeks treated cannabis use as a potentially life destroying mistake.
But the realm of the socially acceptable has been expanding for some time, and 2016 is the year in which cannabis has finally broken out big time in television entertainment.
By this point, pretty much anybody who has even heard the words “web series” has probably watched High Maintenance. The Ben Sinclair and Katja Blitchfeld created series, which debuted on Vimeo in 2012, is made of up of character vignettes loosely connected through their relation to “The Guy”, an unnamed Brooklyn weed deliveryman.
With High Maintenance recent move to HBO, the show has expanded beyond the short – typically under ten minute – vignettes to deeper explorations of the diversity of the contemporary Brooklyn experience, from swinging married couples to a young South Asian Muslim immigrant trying to navigate life – and score – under her aunt and uncle’s watchful eyes.
High Maintenance is a slow, contemplative journey that may appeal to a niche audience. MTV’s new Mary + Jane, however, is a broad spectrum sitcom replete with rap video vibes and relentlessly millennial outlook. Following the lives of two young women selling cannabis in Los Angeles, the show rarely ventures far beyond disposable sitcom tropes and demonstrates an almost comic unawareness of what actually weed dealing is like. Although it’s created with careful flourish that reward the attentive viewer – a subtitled dog may be the highlight of the show and visual jokes like a douchey guy reading “Backup Drummer Magazine” are a nice touch – Mary + Jane is light on substance.
But what makes both of these videos remarkable is just how irrelevant the occupation of their protagonists is. Sure, Mary + Jane occasionally plays up the two-cute-white-girls-selling-weed angle, but the last time we saw a cute white girl selling weed – Showtime’s Weeds – the entire conceit of the show was built upon the idea that Mary Louise Parker would never in a million years push a little piff.
In the 2016 crop, by contrast, nobody blinks twice at the fact that rather than a swarthy man in a dark alley, our most prominent television representations of cannabis sellers are young white hipsters in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.
The biggest deal about marijuana in television today is that it isn’t a big deal. Sitting here in Oregon, that might not seem like much of a change. But things are different out on this coast. And as we push the envelope forward, changing representations of what it means to push product will guide the conversation across the country.