Keith Stroup, a marijuana smoker for more than 50 years and the founder of the advocacy group NORML in 1970, knows that the Cheech and Chong movies - and others like them - are parodies of cannabis culture. All of his friends who consume marijuana know this too. "We think those movies are hilarious," he told Civilized. "But no [marijuana] smokers believe they're true."
He and his friends know these stereotypes are false because they're mostly ordinary middle-class people with jobs, houses and families; they're not the caricature that makes them laugh - the unkempt, unemployed pot smoker in the hot-boxed VW van.
As it turns out, Stroup and his family and friends do, in fact, defy conventional stereotypes. In our inaugural Civilized Cannabis Culture Poll - an online survey of more than 1,000 Americans conducted by Environics Research Group - we discovered that most marijuana consumers are homeowners, employed full-time, and married with children.
We heard from a relatively high number of cannabis consumers in our survey of both users and non-users. Of the 1,050 poll respondents, 379 respondents (35 percent) self-identified as marijuana users. Overall, the poll reported strong support amongst users and non-users for legalization in some form.
Majority of poll respondents support legalization
Nearly 40 percent said they supported legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. Another 44 percent said they supported legalizing for both medical and recreational purposes. Only 13 percent said they were against legalization for any purposes.
Most of the non-users are a fascinating group with relatively progressive attitudes on cannabis (for example, a large number from prohibited states said they'd consume cannabis if and when it becomes legal) and we'll tell you more about their attitudes as more poll-related stories are released in the coming days.
Today, we're focusing on cannabis consumers themselves (it is 420 after all) and we are heartened, though not surprised, to see that the typical consumer doesn't match popular culture portrayals that the general public views in a negative way.
Here are a few of the key findings that support the notion that most cannabis consumers are hard-working and successful people that defy the stereotype:
- Cannabis consumers are actually more likely to be employed (74 percent of our respondents) than non-users (46 percent) and former consumers (59 percent). They are also more likely to be employed full time (59 percent).
- Fifty-one percent of marijuana users are in supervisory or executive roles at work.
- A large number were high-income earners. More than half of the consumers we polled had an annual household income of $75,000 or more, versus 44 percent at this level for non-users.
- Education levels are also high. Fifty-two percent of cannabis consumers have completed college or university-level education programs.
- They are more likely to be homeowners (66 percent).
- More than half of them (51 percent) are family people with children under 13 years old; another 27 percent have children between 13-17 years of age.
So, not exactly the portrait of the wayward drifter; unemployed, perpetually high and loafing on a couch. And yet the stereotypes live on in the minds of non-consumers, and Stoup says this is lamentable, though understandable.
Stroup says media outlets "can't let go of the stereotype." They enjoy the caricature too much so it lives on in their feature and news coverage of cannabis culture.
Tom Angell - a writer, advocate and founder of Marijuana Majority - told Civilized this is such an entrenched viewpoint, a reporter can think it's noteworthy to come upon an advocate or activist who is well put together.
"[O]ne time when I was at a protest back in college, I was described in a local newspaper as well-scrubbed, as if that was notable that I wasn't some dirty hippy who hasn't taken a shower. That I was wearing a suit. They described me as articulate and well-scrubbed."
This kind of media stereotyping is not an issue for most people who smoke marijuana because they know the truth, says Stroup. But he says the "vast majority" of cannabis consumers are largely "invisible" to non-users, so the latter group accepts the largely negative characterization of consumers advanced in the mainstream media outlets.
So why are most consumers 'invisible' to the general public?
Stroup says most marijuana users are still in the "cannabis closet," a claim backed up by our own survey that showed 73 percent hid their consumption from family members, friends, or work colleagues. "Most middle-class consumers cannot come out of the closet because they're afraid to lose their jobs," he said.
And rightly so, says Stroup, because they can still be fired for being cannabis consumers, under federal laws, even if they live in legal states.
The end result: these people remain hidden from view, which Angell says reinforces the misconceptions.
"A lot of people don't understand that people who use marijuana are just like them," says Angell. "They just have a different habit. As a result, the image of the marijuana consumer is shaped by popular culture and films, many of which present a rather simplistic, some might say a humorous view of who marijuana consumers are. Now that legalization is moving forward people can be more comfortable coming forward without being ashamed."
But Stroup - a public interest attorney and NORML board member based in Washington, D.C. - is also optimistic that public perception, and the restrictive laws on cannabis use even in legal states, will shift over time.
"We will win this battle for totally fair treatment only when we improve the public perception of marijuana smokers," wrote Stroup in a recent Marijuana.com article. "We have to overcome the 'Cheech and Chong' stoner image of a pot smoker who sits on the sofa all day eating junk food."
With the advocacy work of people like Angell and Stroup, supported by the findings in studies like ours, we may be well on our way to doing just that.