This week, the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, DC-based non-profit dedicated to pushing legislation in support of marijuana policy reform and reduce penalties for the use of the drug, published a list of the top 50 “influential” marijuana users. A combination of quotes indicating that nearly every famous person you’ve heard of — from entertainers to politicians — has tried pot at one point in their lives, the list is not at all surprising. On the one hand, it proves that many politicians who have blocked marijuana reform actually smoked it sometime in their youth, and there are plenty of artists who are more open about their frequent use. But the list isn’t as effective as it seems.
Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, gave some insight into the list’s goals in a statement to AlterNet (for a post republished on Salon). “The goal here is to dispel the myth that marijuana users are ‘losers’ who lack motivation and highlight the fact that they are typically productive and oftentimes quite successful,” Tvert said. “As this list demonstrates, many of our nation’s most successful citizens have used marijuana.” The list certainly includes many motivated people — there are three presidents, several actors and writers, and musicians.
Taking inspiration from Out‘s annual list of powerful members of the LGBT community, the list’s creators explained how they determined this list of influencers:
In order to have qualified for the list, each individual must (1) have tried marijuana at least once, (2) be alive, and (3) be living in the U.S. or be a U.S. citizen. To create the list, we adopted the criteria used by Out Magazine to select their “Power 50” list of LGBT Americans. That means our choices are based on “power to influence cultural and social attitudes, political clout, individual wealth, and a person’s media profile” — not just on popularity or support for marijuana policy reform. Fortunately, many of them have expressed support, but there are some “bad guys” on there, too.
The “bad guys” include a few surprising names — Sarah Palin and Clarence Thomas, for example — and a few that are not so shocking (Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton have all publicly and famously admitted to “experimentation”). And while there are a few cases of famous folks who enthusiastically expressed their appreciation for weed (Jon Stewart, for one, is quoted as saying, “Do you know how many movies I wrote when I was high?”), most of the quotes on the list — those that are actually directly from the celebrities themselves and not, as in the cases of Ted Turner and George Clooney, casual mentions of pot smoking from an acquaintance — are pretty sheepish and self-deprecatory admissions of guilt.
Oprah Winfrey says she last smoked pot in 1982. Sarah Palin claims she never inhaled. Tom Brokaw experimented and “walked away.” Angelina Jolie hates the way it makes her feel “silly and giggly.” Michael Phelps, despite being photographed smoking weed, vehemently denied using it. Justin Bieber apologized for it. And all of these people are used as examples to dispel a myth that pot is OK?
While the intentions of the list are clear — pretty much everyone has smoked pot, and it’s fine — it ends up proving that there’s still much stigma attached to marijuana use, evident in the particularly apologetic tone most of these influential marijuana users adopt when admitting they’ve smoked it once or twice. One would think that highlighting hypocrites and embarrassed pot smokers would be counterproductive for a marijuana policy reform movement that’s trying to make the case that it’s nothing one should really be ashamed about.