From Miss USA to HBO – Medical Cannabis is Having a ‘Moment’
By Dr. Jean Talleyrand
The Miss USA Pageant is about as mainstream and American as apple pie and Barbie dolls. Little girls tune in to see the most beautiful and community-minded young women compete for the annual title. Each year, the runners-up are asked the same questions: how would they end war, starvation, and what do they want to ‘be’ when they graduate from college? Clearly this was a banner year for trick questions from pageant officials,when they asked Los Angeles, California native, Allyssa Campenella her views on legalizing cannabis. A trick question indeed, and a ‘third rail’ topic for lesser contestants, and although it could have cost her the crown, she stood up, took the mic and delivered the quote heard ‘round the world:
“Well, I understand why that question would be asked, especially with today’s economy, but I also understand that medical marijuana is very important to help those who need it medically,” she said during the pageant.
“I’m not sure if it should be legalized, if it would really affect, with the drug war,” she said. “I mean, it’s abused today, unfortunately, so that’s the only reason why I would kind of be a little bit against it, but medically it’s OK.”
Miss USA has launched a cultural missile into the safety and normalcy of the American mindset, skewering a time-honored tradition, but also upholding what it means to be American: the right to free speech. Paradigm shifts such as these are necessary for smashing pre-conceived notions of seemingly ‘taboo’ subjects; sunlight is the best antiseptic to bring issues and common sense to light.
Remember, if you can, when homosexuality was sequestered into the doorways and backrooms of ‘certain’ parts of town, in ‘special bars,’ and entire lives were lived behind closed doors. Nowadays, every other lifestyle show on Bravo, Food Network or HGTV has yet another fabulously talented gay host, educating us in matters of taste. TV shows such as Queer as Folk, The L Word, and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, broke new ground (as well as stereotypes); entertaining and enlightening us about a life that we may not live, but should in all fairness, respect. Gay programming became the new norm, Ellen DeGeneres got her own show, gay marriage is legal in increasingly more states, and coming out and living openly gay is more widely accepted in under a decade.
The cultural Zeitgeist has flexed it’s muscle and there is increased pressure on the White House to legalize gay marriage, keep the government out of our bedrooms, and better fund AIDS research. This is testament to the power of myth busting through social trends and cultural shifts in perception. Many times this is achieved through entertainment vehicles and collectivization on social networks, not legislation. Once an issue is ‘on-trend’ becomes synonymous with what’s hip, cool, and an indicator of ‘the new mind set.’ So what does the gay experience in popular culture have to do with medical cannabis and cannabis?
Because in the same way that gay programming and conversations became a part of the cultural Diaspora, cannabis is having a similar cultural ‘moment’ right now:
• First to market shows such as Showtime’s Weeds, which focuses on dealer/grower culture, was racy in the sense that it showcased a shadow industry that many of us knew nothing about. It should be noted that although most medical cannabis doctors might find this show entertaining, the reality is, that we are traditionally trained doctors who see patients in offices, (not back alleys), and make evaluations based on patient conditions. We are about as far away from the Weeds scenario as your local school principal!
• New shows such as FX’s lighthearted Wilfred, with Elijah Wood features a troubled young man who used medical cannabis for depression and anxiety accompanied by a life-sized dog who teases him relentlessly. The show advisor is a cancer survivor who used medical cannabis and wanted to get the tone right.
• The Big C on Showtime stars award winning Laura Linney, who plays Cathy, a stage-4 cancer sufferer who has decided to throw caution to the wind and enjoy what’s left of her life with an insouciant attitude towards the little things that vexed her previously. The show has broken new ground: it’s a ‘cancer comedy’ of sorts, and Cathy uses cannabis from time to time to deal with her chemo.
• Bill Maher of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher never wastes an opportunity to speak of the ‘miracle drug that is cannabis’ – bringing Representatives Barney Frank and Ron Paul together at last. On a recent show, in response to these ‘odd bedfellow’s’ agreeing on such a thing, Maher stated, “Marijuana, [cannabis] is there anything you cannot do?”
Change starts with a shift in perception, and the changing of hearts and minds – the media is a huge part of that. When Cold War-era Senator Joe McCarthy erroneously targeted and black listed several Hollywood celebrities (and other public figures) as members of the Communist Party in a flagrant abuse of power, ruining careers and reputations. Although some actors and citizens stood up, many were too scared to suffer the consequences of the tide of fear-based public opinion and remained silent. Also, communication was more one-directional (and dimensional), there were less homes with television sets, radio was relied upon heavily, and of course, there was no Internet.
Today, news and entertainment media team up with social media to spread ideas, concepts and points of view. Although there is much more noise to reckon with than back in the day, one thing is sure: news and ideas travel fast, and outmoded concepts are dismantled as quickly as Egypt’s corrupt leaders.
To quote Russ Belville of Alternet.com
We don’t know his or her name, but somewhere in one of sixteen states and the District of Columbia is America’s 1,000,000th legal medical marijuana patient. We estimate the United States reached the million-patients mark sometime between the beginning of the year to when Arizona began issuing patient registry identification cards online in April 2011.
We sense a paradigm shift afoot: in our society, culture and healthcare system. Medical cannabis is a wonder drug with myriad uses. Is medical cannabis ‘having a moment in the mainstream?’ We certainly hope so! Maybe it will take a half a dozen popular TV shows to bring this truth to light, but at the end of the day, medical cannabis – a safe, natural, medicine – will be at the center of many conversations, and if we have anything to do with it, effective treatment plans.
Yours in health