Watching TV from inside Colorado’s borders, there’s a disconnect on the subject of pot.
From here, in 2015, the medium’s propriety on the portrayal of marijuana feels antiquated. The presumed outlaw status of marijuana users and growers is outdated, blunting (pardon the expression) the joke.
In recent months TV comedy and drama series have included references to weed more often since medicinal use became legal in more states.
Still, the act of inhaling is still defined as illicit activity, the subject of weed a tittering punchline, the cultivation of pot plants a less-than-respectable line of work, especially on network TV.
Sure, depictions proliferate on cable: “Weeds” was a daring first on Showtime, more recently the working women on Showtime’s “Episodes” share a joint in an upscale Hollywood kitchen; the quasi-outlaw on FX’s “Justified” asserts his plan to make a fortune growing the product; the babes on Comedy Central’s “Broad City” smoke in the street. The Web series “High Maintenance” centers on a pot dealer known only as “the guy.” The illegal status of weed is part of the joke.
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In Colorado, where cannabis caterers, pot-sushi pairings and pot etiquette are subjects for exploration in the local media, where classes on pairing hash with craft beer are a thing, where a flood of camera crews recorded the historic legalization of recreational marijuana on Jan. 1, 2014, where dispensaries vie for real estate and lobby for banking privileges, TV’s tiptoeing on the subject feels almost retro.
The culture gap may be bridged by NBC next year when “Buds,” a comedy set in a Denver pot dispensary, is likely to be picked up by the network. While documentaries and reality shows have tackled pot before, mostly on cable, this will be the first mainstream, prime-time broadcast network scripted series to tackle legal pot head on.
Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation,” “Party Down”) and his producer-wife, Naomi Scott, have a first-look deal with Universal Television for “Buds” under their production company, Gettin’ Rad Productions.
“Buds” has been purchased as a concept by the network — there’s no script yet. The project is being developed by Scott and fellow “Parks & Recreation” writer (and occasional actor) Joe Mande. Once the script is submitted, assuming there is a pilot order, it’s uncertain how much exterior shooting would be done in Denver.
Still, the ethos of the show would do much to align TV’s version of marijuana culture with the present Colorado legal reality.
Medical marijuana is now legal in 23 states, and recreational use for adults is legal in two states, Colorado and Washington. Alaska and Oregon are due to become the third and fourth states to legalize recreational use this year, and voters in Washington, D.C., recently approved an initiative to allow recreational use.
The drug remains illegal on the federal level, but the continuing reform of state marijuana laws is eroding the drug’s outlaw status. According to a Gallup poll, 51 percent of Americans favor legalization.
Among Colorado voters, a Quinnipiac University poll found most “still think it was a good move to legalize recreational marijuana, but few admit to joining the ranks of new ‘imbibers.’ ” With noticeable gender and age gaps, Colorado voters support legalized recreational marijuana 58 to 38 percent (males more than females and younger rather than older respondents being more in favor).
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While no breakout hit on the order of “Duck Dynasty” has materialized, like other fringe activities (i.e. duck hunting), pot has benefited from the media’s normalizing effect. The more the financials, medical uses and statistics are explored on TV, the more authorities chime in to validate the practice, the more the public is aware of the pot culture. One year later in Colorado, the sky has not fallen and public awareness of weed has grown.
The numerous documentary series about Colorado’s experiment may have softened the stance of some worried onlookers. The media have been looking for signs of disaster, increased crime statistics, DUIs and more, but Coloradans have not complied.
“Pot Barons of Colorado,” which aired on MSNBC, a series called “Marijuana Country: The Cannabis Boom” on CNBC including Harry’s Smith’s take on the “green rush,” CNN’s specials “Weed” with Sanjay Gupta and “High Profits,” about local ganjepreneurs who aim to be the CostCo of pot, and NatGeo’s “Drugs Inc.” all have probed the Rocky Mountain high (and left no pot pun unturned). Most took a skeptical approach but found little evidence of harm. Al Jazeera’s one-year-after legalization retrospective and a “60 Minutes” interview with Gov. John Hickenlooper expressing optimism about the effects of legalization in the state also suggested it’s been a rather smooth transition.
Still, the leap to a broadcast network in the form of an ongoing comedy about day-to-day life at a dispensary — “Buds” on NBC expected in the 2015-16 development season — will mark a major turn in marijuana’s evolving profile. If scripts, casting and production proceed as expected, the soonest “Buds” could get on the air is 2016.
Might marijuana advertising be the next hurdle? Bear in mind that the tobacco industry is not allowed to advertise on TV and alcohol ads are relatively new to television. (The broadcast industry honored a self-imposed ban from 1948 to 1996.)
That’s a debate for the future. Pot will slip into the nation’s media diet in comedy form long before it eases into commercials.
Joanne Ostrow: 303-954-1830, email@example.com or twitter.com/ostrowdp