Why I Believe Celebrities Are a Key Piece in the Battle for Cannabis Legalization

Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.

Taxes, job creation, potential medical treatment for seizures and veterans with PTSD, ending the racist War on Drugs and mass incarceration from pot possession arrests, developing rational control over pot products — these are all excellent and relevant reasons to support cannabis legalization, which more than 90% of Americans do.

The stigma is lifting. But, how? Why now?

Is it the result of the arduous and years-long work of legalization advocates and groups like NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project, along with the legal work of the ACLU?

Yes, but now there’s another undercurrent of influence making itself felt: soft power.

Soft Power And Its Impact

Political scientist Joseph Nye coined the term “soft power” some 30 years ago. It refers to the ability to persuade others to do something “without force or coercion.” But where does soft power fit into cannabis policy reform?

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Celebrity Endorsements

While cheered by advocates, celebrity endorsements of cannabis legalization, in the beginning, were often undervalued or dismissed as frivolous. That is no longer the case despite the many “who cares?” I receive from cynical readers when I publish a celebrity interview. Many ask: Why is Martha Stewart’s opinion important? What does Snoop Dogg really know? Why is DJ Khaled even talking about this? How are Elon Musk or Conan O’Brien lighting up noteworthy events?

Although rhetorical, these questions deserve an answer. Celebrities who have crept out of the closet in support of cannabis legalization (and all that it implies) are no small deal. It’s no secret that celebrities influence their millions of followers. A simple “give CBD a try, I personally love it” from the right icon could lead thousands of parents and grandparents to reevaluate their long-standing opinions.

Studies have analyzed the impact of celebrity endorsements and declarations on public opinion, foreign policy, health-related issues, and consumption habits. And one thing is clear: They matter. A recent poll showed that roughly 36 percent of Gen Zers, 32 percent of Millennials, 24 percent of Gen Xers and, 19 percent of Baby Boomers admitted that, “celebrity opinions on political and social issues are effective in influencing their midterm vote.”

And now, it seems, cannabis could be getting a boost for the same reason.

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The Star Factor

Jane Fonda never failed to move the needle when she got behind a cause. Whether it was to stop a war or demand civil, Native American, LGBTQIA+, and abortion rights, or decry global warming, Jane was never irrelevant.

In a recent interview I conducted with Jane Fonda for Forbes, Fonda touched on cannabis, its role as her new sleep aid and the need for its re-legalization. As the media picked up the story and news of Fonda’s new sleep aid traveled far and wide, dozens of readers emailed me to share their change-of-heart stories, having been influenced by Fonda’s dignified honesty. Indeed, an increasing number of the country’s largest demographic, Baby Boomers, are turning to cannabis.

And this was not the first time celebrities have backed cannabis.

DJ Khaled, the well-known musician and entrepreneur, recently launched a CBD brand, citing a personal wellness journey as the inspiration. Carlos Santana launched a cannabis brand that honors his heritage, citing his belief that there is a nuanced difference between “medicine” and “drugs,” and that cannabis falls under the former.

When Snoop Dogg connected cannabis consumption and plant-based eating, his young fans took a hard look at their nutrition habits. Martha Stewart has openly discussed her CBD use and her inspiration for launching her own cannabis brand, which incidentally was her long-time friend Snoop Dogg. When Nicole Kidman endorsed a cannabis brand, people took notice given her considerable acting career, meaning her message has reached many people across America.

When Magic Johnson and Megan Rapinoe came out in defense of cannabis-derived products for athletic recovery, their health-conscious followers likely reacted accordingly.

And the list goes on, and on, and on.

Leveling The Playing Field

Some sports legends have pushed for changing cannabis policy in their professional leagues too.

Super Bowl champion Marvin Washington has repeatedly argued for making NFL policy more cannabis-friendly. He is currently involved in a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s stance on cannabis and its continued Schedule I status as a controlled substance.

An athlete’s influence over cannabis policy can also occur unintentionally. We saw this with the disqualification of record-breaking sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson from the Tokyo Olympics after she was found to have cannabis in her system, albeit while in a marijuana-legal state when she was not competing. Support for the fastest woman in the world was widespread and swift. The debate gripped the country, from the White House, anti-doping agencies, Congress, and the media.

Meanwhile, amid all the noise, cannabis pushed further into the “accepted” column of American society. After all, one of the world’s richest men and former host of the “Tonight Show” both smoked a joint on live TV.

The stigma of weed is lifting, which begs a question: Are celebrities leading the way? Perhaps. Either way, more power to them.

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