With that recent poll that shows that 50% of Americans support legalizing weed, it's likely that within the next ten or twenty years we'll stop sending people to jail for carrying around a joint or causing old ladies with glaucoma to feel like a criminal when they have to go to the shady part of town to find a dispensary for their medicine. Politics aside, we can all probably agree that legalizing marijuana will at least be an economic boon for the U.S., what with not spending (for example) 12 million dollars investigating people who sell bongs, and the fact that we’ll be able to tax it. An economic boon, that is, for everyone except prison guard unions and people who make weed comedies.
The stoner comedy as a genre is a curiously unkillable one. They’ve migrated a bit from the “rolling down the street with smoke pouring out of your windows” absurdity of the old Cheech and Chong films, which are so bizarre that they almost feel like parodies of serious movies that were never made. Nowadays weed movies are at least plotted in some abstract way, with some goal to them other than simply getting high, even if that goal is as simple as getting to White Castle. As a genre, it’s actually had some remarkably decent entries over the last decade or so, with Harold and Kumar, Pineapple Express, Half-Baked, and How High all being relatively watchable, and even minor films like Smiley Face having their moments.I’m curious as to whether the genre would survive legalization, though.
Part of the pleasure of watching stoner comedies is being in on the joke, though, the feeling of witnessing illicit activities, and it’s far from uncommon for the consequences of being discovered with weed to act as a motivating factor behind their plots, whether that’s expulsion from Harvard or simply being arrested. If weed were theoretically to be legalized, would the justification for making a “stoner comedy” fade away? Or would weed simply morph into an extra ingredient in screwball comedies? You could argue that that’s what the Harold And Kumar movies really are: screwball comedies with an added dose of marijuana. The fact that the pair are stoners give the plots their jump-start, but it’s the crazy goings-on that they find themselves enmeshed in after they leave their house that are the real entertainment draw, which are often only tangentially related to their habit. You can compare and contrast those films with the boatload of movies that are driven by alcohol-fueled excesses, like The Hangover.
Other films, like Pineapple Express and Half-Baked, though, lean more heavily on the illegality of marijuana as a driving force for their plots, and these would seem to be the films that would likely be on the chopping block were marijuana to be legalized. Whether that’s a stunning blow to the artistic framework of American cinema or simply something to shrug your shoulders over is probably a matter of opinion. Although, given the success of Ken Burns' Prohibition, I suppose you could always simply set your stoner comedy in the 90's and pretend like it's still illegal. Obviously the alcohol-fueled genre of comedy is a timeless one, so perhaps legalizing weed will actually increase the amount of films that feature it as a plot element.
It is odd how the varying social reactions to drugs seem to govern their relation to film comedies. Weed, even though it’s illegal, has always been something that most Americans seem to regard as a fairly harmless substance, which is probably why weed comedies can skate by without people getting too up in arms over them. Cocaine is closer to the edge: it can be used as a comedic element, as in Horrible Bosses, but then there are also plenty of movies about how cocaine can destroy a life, e.g. Less Than Zero. The really nasty, addictive stuff seems to be too taboo even for indie films to mock: we’re unlikely to see any comedies that start with people getting methed up or shooting themselves up with heroin, and if we do I wouldn't be surprised to see a bit more protesting outside their premieres than, say, Your Highness might have faced. (Although, again, even horse can be used to comedic effect in movies like Wet Hot American Summer.)
What’s your opinion on stoner comedies? Does the illegality of the substance make them funnier, or is that just an adjunct to the hijinks the characters in them get up to? Will they still be made after weed is legalized, or will we move on to salvia movies (which are already pretty damn funny)?