Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
May 20, 2015

Editorial Skunk Weed: TIME's Pot Smoking Portraits Misfire

After you’ve clicked through TIME’s fifteen photo slideshow introducing us to Denver pot smokers, can you tell me if you notice anything off about it? (The portraits accompany this week’s cover story on marijuana.)

Just for starters, aren’t the demographics a little curious? Or, is it possible that people of color would rather not tempt fate toking up in a national magazine? Also, is it possible everybody over 35 is somehow missing out on Colorado’s ganga wave? Then, is it true that bongs are still that prevalent, or are these pictures– with the printed fabrics tacked to the wall, and the tie-die, and Hendrix, and the pot flags, and the gum ball machines — meant as some kind of anachronistic throwback?

The portraits are more stereotypical than that, though. What with marijuana well on its way to legalization and for decades now, identified far less with vice than with lifestyle, what is so distinctive or informative about fifteen-out-of-fifteen photos dedicated just ingestion? Unless the intention here was to reinforce the antiquated notion of pot smoking as taboo, these photos are hardly more informative than scenes of different ways and places people ingest alcohol. I mean, if there is something revelatory about this edit, it’s that the media, demonstrating a Victorian reflex, seems intent on feigning a naive attitude about that popular neighbor, Mary Jane.

So, what would be a more contemporary way to re-work this assignment?

Oh, I don’t know. How about some scenes of those sleek, tiny baking devices that have not only removed smoking and burning from the equation but have largely liberated the act of ingestion from what is represented in the slideshow as a still-surreptitious backyard, front porch, closed door or “out in nature” activity?

How about at least one practical view of actual medical use?

What about some scenes that represent all people (tens, maybe hundreds of thousands, maybe more?) who rely on weed to get through increasingly mind-numbing, low wage jobs without, in fact, losing their minds?

How about a scene or two reflecting the boom in the use of non-psychoactive CBD strains for either serious illnesses or just “garden variety” physical and emotional ills?

And, if you really wanted to sell a few magazines, how about a photo of some kids tossing their Ritalin in the garbage in favor of CBD creams? Or, would that (perhaps being the hang-up here) send the pharmaceutical advertisers into a paranoid freak out?

(photo: Danielle Levitt for TIME. caption: Samantha Gonzales, 23, from Michigan originally used medical marijuana there. I got a job in a dispensary when I turned 18. I really learned about how the plant could help you in so many ways. When I heard that Colorado was opening up recreational marijuana, I moved to Colorado so I could start my career path here.)

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