Recreational marijuana is now legal in Washington, D.C. and four states, a multi-million dollar legal industry is emerging, and marijuana’s mainstreaming is the topic of dozens of daily news stories, but there are very few photos that reflect this changing environment. To combat the outdated (yet still predominant) stereotypic images of people who use marijuana, and encourage news outlets to instead run photos that reflect real modern-day marijuana consumers, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is releasing new stock photos today. These brand new images are available open license and free of charge for non-commercial editorial purposes.
“Marijuana is being covered by the media in an increasingly sophisticated and nuanced way now that the laws are changing and more people are ‘out’ as marijuana users,” said Sharda Sekaran, DPA’s managing director of communications. “We all know that many marijuana smokers look more like your Aunt Bettie or your accountant than The Dude from The Big Lebowski; but most images in the public sphere still do not reflect this.”
The 64 high-quality photos, shot last month in Boulder, Colorado, (where marijuana is legal for recreational purposes), feature marijuana users in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, doing a variety of “typical” activities, including cooking, typing at the computer, enjoying games with friends, having a BBQ, playing music, watching a movie, practicing yoga, relaxing in bed with a lover, or sitting quietly on the front porch. They show people consuming marijuana from joints, bubblers, vaporizers, pens and tinctures.
“We know some people may find these images amusing because they are so different from what you typically see in the media, but with a marijuana arrest still taking place every 45 seconds in this country due to misguided and unfair drug policies, this issue is very serious,” said Sekaran. “Many journalists — even well-meaning ones — still often use offensive, cartoonish or just plain absurd photos that would be considered unthinkable when covering any other issue.”
The recreational use of marijuana is now legal in Washington, D.C. and four states, including: Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska; and is sure to be on the ballot in other states in 2016. Medical marijuana is legal in Washington, DC and twenty-three states, including: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Despite this progress, there are still more arrests for marijuana possession every year than for all violent crimes combined. According to the FBI, nearly 700,000 people were arrested for marijuana law violations in 2013 – comprising almost half (45 percent) of all drug arrests in the U.S. These arrests are disproportionally in Latino and African American communities, despite the fact that these groups are no more likely than white people to use or sell marijuana. These arrests create permanent criminal records that can result in loss of employment, financial aid, housing and child custody.
Last year DPA released an initial set of stock photos featuring California medical marijuana patients that have since been used by news outlets worldwide. Both sets of images can be used by the media for stories about marijuana legalization, patients who use marijuana to relieve debilitating pain, or people losing their homes and their jobs because of a marijuana arrest, for example.
Next, DPA will be creating B-Roll video footage of the modern-day marijuana user for TV and online coverage of related issues.