Written by Alyson Zetta Williams
As someone who inhaled Bill Clinton-style for the front half of their weed-smoking journey, being called a “stoner” was just one of life’s joys I was sure to miss out on. It wasn’t until I rolled up to a friend’s place, high for one of the first times in my life, that I heard it:
“OMG, you’re such a stoner now!”
The comment caught me off-guard. Not only had I just discovered my lungs (and how to actually smoke up), but I was also what my friends had loved to call a One Hit Wonder, considering a single hit was enough to take me out. Even in my state, I had to ponder: is this really all it took to be initiated into Stoner Society?
The word “stoner” is likely to have been derived from the Italian word “stonato”, meaning “bewildered, confused, or dazed”. Although, as website Jane Street points out, “stoner” could just be another word in a history of inebriated vocabulary that denotes bodily harm, such as “wasted”, “hammered”, or “trashed”. My favorite theory, however, is simply that a stoned person’s demeanor mimics that of, yes, a stone - unmoving and passive.
Now, there are about as many “stoner” stereotypes as there are hypotheses as to where to word came from. You have your college dorm stoners (hi), your CEO stoners, your Hot Cheetos-on-the-couch stoners, and even housewife stoners. As exemplified by HBO’s High Maintenance, smoking weed is prevalent across generations, races, socioeconomic standings, and lifestyles.Because of this diversification of the stoner brand, the word might not carry as much judgemental weight as it used to.
“Honestly, I don’t think anyone really uses ‘stoner’ anymore,” says Jackie, a music industry professional in her early twenties. “Being ‘stoned’ is still very much a thing. But calling someone a ‘stoner’ … I haven’t heard that in a while. Maybe because being a ‘stoner’ no longer means just smoking up in the garage.”
Though the name has worn itself thin, there remain “marijuana activists” who support the cancellation of the word “stoner” and even “weed”, itself. In an article titled “Is It Offensive To Call Someone A Stoner?”, VICE writer Manisha Krishnan discovers the side of the cannabis world that would very much say so. “My issue is your use of 'stoner' as a rather pejorative term, whether derogatory or not …. painting all enjoyers with the abuser paint brush and setting back the legalization movement,” one reader emailed Krishnan. Cannabis advocate Dana Larsen echoes this, pointing out that “We don't see regular beer drinkers being called 'drunkards' or wine drinkers being called 'winos' in media stories, but cannabis users get called 'stoners' and 'potheads' regularly.”
Further, cancelling the word “stoner” might help to relieve racial minorities - a group more often criminalized for marijuana use - of some of the stigma surrounding marijuana use. “It is more difficult for some groups to ‘come out green’ and shake stoner stigma than others,” says writer Michelle Janikian. “Blacks and Latinos are still arrested at higher rates for cannabis than Whites, and so anti-stoner stigma can still be strong in those communities. It’s a way to keep a target off the backs of young minorities.”
In early 2017, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) launched a series of advertisements centered around the newly diverse smoking population, hiring veterans and businesspeople to appear in their ads, which read “I am the cannabis industry.” The ads, which appear in Washington D.C., were created to “tell [the] stories” of those in the industry providing “compassionate care for patients, responsible education for consumers, and cutting-edge innovation for safety and quality,” says the NCIA. New profiles continue to be posted as part of the movement at WeAreTheCannabisIndustry.com.
Although being deemed a “stoner” was initially a shock, I look back on the moment as more novel than anything. Recognizing the privilege I have in novelizing such a moment, I have to wonder if that is the first and last time I’ll ever be labelled as such. With the movement towards legalization pushing forward, is it better to leave “stoner” behind?