With the public acceptance of marijuana on the rise and an increasing number of states legalizing the substance, information about the prejudiced incarceration rates of Black versus white users is becoming common knowledge. Despite the fact that Black and white people use marijuana at virtually the same rate, Black people are almost 4 times more likely to be arrested. Thankfully, there is more awareness surrounding this form of racism and the ongoing fight to make sure that Black people are not disproportionately targeted after the infamous war on drugs. Even though there is still a long way to go for the federal legalization and decriminalization of marijuana, there is a new battle emerging concerning the gentrification of weed- representation in the media.
Making weed more palatable for the “average” American
Past history has shown us that “stoner movies” like Pineapple Express or Dazed and Confused almost solely consist of white males who can carelessly enjoy marijuana for recreational purposes while people of color who use weed are confined to stereotypes like gang members and prisoners. More recently, a new genre of television shows about cooking with cannabis is making its way into the mainstream media. By combining America’s love of cooking shows with different strains of this herb, these programs are introducing a hot button issue through a lens that most Americans find very comforting: home cooking.
In the past few years, Netflix has introduced shows like Cooked with Cannabis and Cooking on High that makes weed more digestible for people who may not have personal experience with the drug. The Food Network is also joining this trend by creating Chopped 420, a version of its already popular cooking show. These programs take contestants through the familiar cooking competition format that viewers know and love. The only difference is that the contestants must use marijuana throughout their meals. These shows lack an awareness about the fact that they are profiting off of gourmet marijuana dishes while people of color are disproportionately sitting in jail for nonviolent marijuana charges. The juxtaposition of these two facts is unnerving and needs to be addressed.
A disconnect between online and IRL progress
With more than half of Americans watching cooking programs at home, cannabis cooking shows have a unique opportunity to create progress for the legalization and social acceptance of marijuana. These shows can potentially normalize weed and show viewers that their preconceptions of the drug may be biased or false. Americans who were previously fed stereotypes and false information about the subject are now able to witness everyday people like themselves engage with the substance in a wholesome and palatable way. The simple presence of cooking shows like these has the potential to change minds and truly make a difference.
Even though this could mean great progress for the legalization movement, it is hard to ignore the simultaneous irony. These networks profit from gourmet cooking shows and offer prize money for the competing contestants. Meanwhile, people of color are currently sitting in jail for marijuana charges, losing both opportunities and money. It is difficult to watch shows that use marijuana in cooking while baking weed brownies is still considered a crime.
A moral obligation for platforms to prioritize people over profits
While it is necessary to bring marijuana to the forefront of media in order to make progress, this cannot be done without the proper recognition and advocacy for those who unjustly remains in jail. The networks that produce these shows have a moral obligation to advocate for the cause they are profiting from. While Netflix has produced several documentaries about this subject, they also complied with demands for the removal of all of their drug-related content from Singapore’s streaming service, a country known for its harsh laws surrounding drug use. In regards to Food Network, this will be their first time bringing weed onto their platform and they have not made any attempts to educate their audience or make a statement about the legalization of marijuana.
It is important to reflect on this history and learn about the amount of discrimination that BIPOC communities have faced. Cooking shows that now incorporate cannabis should be doing more with the amount of outreach they have. These networks can make real change in the court of public opinion and possibly even in the actual court system. If they remain silent about the history and current reality of cannabis or bend to the will of others because of profits, they are benefitting from a racist narrative and aren’t making the progress they have the potential to create.