Throughout the educational system, students are told that marijuana use leads to bad life choices. The federal government gave roughly $1.3 billion annually to this effort alone, via the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, before discontinuing its funding in 1998.
Sympathetic corporations and foundations have ensured that the program lives on. And so do the stereotyped messages, with help from media at large. Just look at how hard Hollywood hits the stoner clichés.
In Colorado, advocates have worked for a decade to reframe cannabis as a viable form of medicine. But this November threatens to complicate things further, with Colorado voters deciding whether or not to decriminalize, and regulate, it in a manner similar to alcohol.
If passed, Amendment 64 would allow adults age 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Additionally, the amendment would eliminate any legal penalties for that one-ounce-or-less possession, and create a 15 percent tax on the plant (assuming the success of a resulting vote).
Besides the obvious upsides for supporters, Tanya Garduno says this law would allow for the end of what she sees as needless prosecution of sick medical-marijuana patients like Bob Crouse, a retiree with leukemia who was last year charged with two felonies that resulted from paperwork problems with the state of Colorado. But in an industry that's constantly fighting back against the stereotype created by an age-old public relations campaign, image really can be everything.
"We make sure that when we go to City Council we're not dressed with big leaves all over, and that kind of thing," says Garduno, the president of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council. "When we wanna be taken seriously, as professionals, we have to act as such."
It's for this reason that people like Dustin Rose have drawn a little bit of heat. Rose and co-owner Jason Bennett run Weed Pimp Clothing, a local "lifestyle" brand that's for "anybody who is out there bettering their lives, or bettering somebody else's life, with the use of cannabis," says Rose. Sample apparel includes shirts for women that say "Ganja Girl" on the front, and ask "Can You Smell My Bush?" on the back.
Rose says the company is actually helping the plant's image by promoting activism through representation, and won't hurt the efforts of the MMJ industry to gain legitimacy. Or, for that matter, the coming decriminalization vote.
"It really depends if people know who we are, and what we're doing, and what we stand for," says Rose. "We're helping put on the 4/20 Fest [in Colorado Springs]; we're in every single nonprofit event to help patients; we're helping with scholarships; helping people pay for their doctor's fees, their state fees ..."
Either way, the folks behind Amendment 64 aren't yet stressing about an anti- campaign, let alone divergent messages from within the pro-marijuana community. Or, for that matter, other ballot initiatives from within that community; the decriminalization effort has a couple rivals, though both currently lack enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
For now, Amendment 64 campaign co-director Mason Tvert says he's only expecting anti-marijuana messages from underfunded law enforcement groups. Promotional ads from his own group have already hit the streets.