Did CNN help or hurt cannabis on New Year’s Eve?

by | Jan 10, 2018

News networks certainly have, um, creative ways to cover the calendar change from 2017 to 2018. That lead-up to the stroke of midnight is filled with performances, news recaps, ridiculous man on the street interviews and plenty of awkward moments. News crews often want something “different” to cover among the ball drop prep and midnight check-ins around the world, and CNN certainly found something different to cover.

Sandwiched in between banter from Anderson Cooper & Andy Cohen and a bizarre interview where John Mayer not once, but twice, declared that he would mandate wipes in bathrooms if he were president, was CNN anchor Randi Kaye, donning leaf-shaped earrings and holding a joint, interviewing people in between massive hits from gas masks and huge bongs at a “puff, puff paint” party in Colorado.

The segment was certainly… something, and the cannabis community quickly took note. It was clearly a party to excess — after all, it was New Year’s Eve, where being not sober is pretty much the norm — but was it a good idea to portray such excess to millions of people who may not know the most basic information on what cannabis is and what it does? The conversation around the broadcast has driven some fascinating commentary on the subject of cannabis in the public eye, proper education and the need for intelligent discussion and marketing around the plant.

Some celebrated the open visibility of cannabis on a mainstream news source. For a major cable network to dedicate time to showcasing how cannabis is used in a similar way to alcohol (after all, how is puff, puff, paint any different from paint-and-sip parties?) was a victory in itself. Millions of people got to see that cannabis isn’t about drug dealers or lazy unemployed pizza-gobblers, but that it’s used simply to relax and unwind with friends in the same way as having a beer. The segment, therefore, was simply “normalizing” cannabis in the public eye.

Others are calling out CNN for what could be perceived as mishandling of a delicate and complicated subject. In an environment where rampant social stigma is still at the center of the mainstream conversation, was it really a good idea to show gas masks on TV? While shock value is certainly desired to keep eyeballs fixated on the channel, doing so was at the expense of many who continue to fight for access, employment and civil liberties.

At CannaContent, our staff took positions on opposite ends of the spectrum. Here’s what we had to say:

“It’s important to destigmatize cannabis”

“I’m with the ‘glad cannabis is on TV’ group for sure. It’s important to destigmatize as much as possible, to shine light on the benefits rather than the common misconceptions. That includes showing all sides of the community. For those tweeting against the segment, I feel that those people would say that cannabis is destroying America’s youth no matter what the segment showed.

From an overall branding perspective, the pot leaf earrings were not only a fashion monstrosity, but I know I would’ve taken her more seriously if she’d have nixed them altogether.”

-Brie, Creative Director

“It enforced the stereotype of the lazy stoner”

“I saw this live on New Year’s Eve and I couldn’t believe what I saw, yet I’m not surprised. The subject of cannabis is so nuanced and complicated, and by reducing the subject to heavy recreational participants using gas masks, CNN further enforced the stereotype of the lazy, useless, good-for-nothing burden on society so often associated with adults who consume cannabis for recreation. I don’t think the average Joe needs affirmation of their preconceived notions of what cannabis is and how it’s used.

And take off those leaf earrings. They look ridiculous.”

-Stella, CEO & Content Strategist

“Good — within limits”

“This segment is a mixed bag. On one hand, this type of normalization is good across the board — for business, society, patients and more. However, showing it in a revelry-type atmosphere, pot leaf earrings included, without defining it as a safe, adults-only party does a disservice to the serious discussions and business propositions which have arisen around legal recreational cannabis. It could also inadvertently contribute to existing stigmas around people who use cannabis as medicine or for recreation.”

-Adam, Director of Content Development

Normalizing cannabis at the heart of the discussion

No matter which side of the debate you fall on, it’s important to note that normalization is an important element of the discussion around cannabis and it should include an accurate portrayal of both the industry and the people who partake in cannabis products. However, decades of bad messaging have created an image of “stoner culture,” much of which was on full display during the CNN segment. There’s really no wrong answer, and just like any industry or community, there are differing opinions with valid points in each camp.

At CannaContent, we did find common ground on one thing, though: Randi Kaye, puh-leeze don’t wear those earrings again.