Weed PSAs (Photo)

Some television shows in years past presented an unfriendly image of cannabis use, Oct. 17, 2018.

There’s nothing better than kicking back after a long day, sparking up a couple tokes of the good green and throwing on the television to see what the night’s entertainment outlets have to offer. Weed-induced couch lock has become a staple of contemporary television, linked to the popularity of stoner shows like Workaholics, Weeds, Rick and Morty and Broad City. 

However, the pot plots weren’t always as positive as they are in the age of Canadian legalization. During the war on drugs in the '80s and '90s, some family-centric sitcoms had one or two episodes focused entirely on anti-marijuana messages. According to a 2000 Salon investigative piece, under former United States general Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, TV series like Home Improvement, ER and Beverly Hills, 90210 had “filled their episodes with anti-drug pitches to cash in on a complex government advertising subsidy,” putting propaganda at the forefront of prime-time television.  

"Just say no" with some of these anti-marijuana ads, and while you're at it, pass the bong.

Home Improvement, “What a Drag” 

Since Tim Allen first blustered about power tools during the show’s premiere in 1991, it was clear that the family-friendly series was defiantly formulaic, with simplistic plots usually centering on Tim’s near-fatal manliness. Although, one of the show's most glorious moments is when Allen finds a hidden bag of Kush stashed away in his backyard in “What a Drag.”

Shocked to find out the baggie belongs to their son Brad, Allen and his wife, Jill, sit him down for a serious talk. Allen flusters around the kitchen table like a first-time drill sergeant, getting all Beyond Scared Straight on Brad with a mix of scare tactics and marijuana puns to assert his family-friendly opinion on drugs. It gets unequivocally more intense when Jill reminisces on the time she got stoned at a Led Zeppelin concert with laced weed, which incidentally led to an emergency room visit and, eventually, her arrest. What are the chances?

It's worth noting that Tim Allen was arrested for the possession of over 650 grams of cocaine in 1978, and he subsequently pleaded guilty to drug-trafficking charges.

Saved by the Bell, “There's No Hope with Dope”

In the Saved by the Bell universe, the line between smoking a joint and shooting up heroin is blurred. When the gang gets roped into doing a theatrical anti-drug PSA with heartthrob D-list actor Johnny Dakota, they become enchanted by his celebrity status and are starstruck when they get invited to a party at his house.  

What starts off as an innocent, PG get-together with a hyper masculine Zack Morris flirting with a duo of girls, quickly turns into a drug-induced haze when the show's female protagonist, Kelly, is peer-pressured into taking a hoot off of Dakota’s joint. 

“Come on, Kelly, it’s only pot,” says Dakota, after taking a drag of what appears to be smokeless prop-joint. Dakota’s actions lead him into hot water when Zack tells the actor to call the commercial off because, as he describes it, it’s wrong to smoke pot and claim others shouldn’t. The wholesome gang backs out of the commercial altogether due to Dakota’s hypocritical actions, and everyone lives happily ever after.

To be clear, if teenagers are smart enough to see past the bad acting, wooden dialogue and the impotent dramatic tension of Saved by the Bell, there’s a good chance they'll also realize how bloated and uncool this message is.

Dinosaurs, “A New Leaf”

ABC’s anthropomorphic show Dinosaurs is notorious for its bizarre and surprisingly smart satirical comedy, but one weed-centric episode that encourages drug experimentation while simultaneously acting as an anti-drug episode takes the crown for the most frightening — but realistic — prime-time PSA episode. 

When teen dinosaur Robbie, his father, Earl, and his sister, Charlene, eat a plant found growing in the woods, they gain a stellar euphoric high that they enjoy responsibly in moderation during the start of the episode. But it begins to take a toll on their personalities and work ethic as they start overusing the herb. The entire family — except for the straight-edge mother — becomes a heaping pile of what is known in the stoner community as “vegetables”: brain-dead couch potatoes. The dinos stop going to school and give up on work, becoming forgetful and careless. One of the best scenes is when Earl’s boss, Mr. Richfield, catches wind of the new leaf and does a stoned impression of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”

While the scenes in this episode may seem frightening, it provides a much more realistic take on marijuana use in comparison to other PSA sitcom episodes through the leaf analogy: in moderation, it’s fine to consume.

Freaks and Geeks, “Chokin’ and Tokin’ ”

The vast majority of teenagers who experiment with ganja will just get a buzz and have some fun, and there’s a good chance they’ll use it less as they age. Although, that first hit of the bong might lead to paranoia and anxiety in others. 

After a few unsuccessful attempts at rolling a joint, Freaks and Geeks protagonist, Lindsay, manages to get it right, toke up for the first time and immediately be reminded by her oblivious father that she has to babysit that evening. She then proceeds to read up on all of the side effects of pot before leaving the house, which only increases her paranoia. With some major assistance from a sober friend who disapproves of drug use, a glaze-eyed Lindsay runs over to the kids she has to babysit and continues in her paranoid slump.

“What if all of this is a dream?” asks Lindsay, talking to her sober friend, Millie, philosophically. 

“And it’s not even our dream: it’s that dog’s dream,” she says, pointing to a sleeping basset hound. 

This high depiction is accurate: it shows the happy-go-lucky side of smoking pot while also displaying how the drug may take users down a bad trip. The episode is not as preachy as Home Improvement and Saved by the Bell, but also not as metaphorical as Dinosaurs. It’s the perfect combination to show viewers some of the realities of smoking, neither encouraging or discouraging its use. 


Most of Carmen's time is spent in the Western Gazette newsroom, where he reports on student issues, London trends, and local events. He is currently in his fourth-year of Honours Specialization in Media, Information and Technoculture.

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