Drug Policy Alliance’s Stock Photos Dispel Stereotypes

Goodbye to the tie-dye T-shirts and other stereotypical “stoner” images in cannabis-related news, or at least that is the goal of Drug Policy Alliance’s recently released marijuana user stock photos.

The images are open license, free to use for non-commercial editorial purposes and must be credited. They depict every day Americans consuming cannabis.

“Millions of Americans consume marijuana for medical or recreational purposes in states where legal,” said Sharda Sekaran, DPA’s managing director of communications. “Yet, when we see news stories about the industry and policy-related news, the people depicted will look like a young, textbook stoner. These photos are completely out of step with the professionalism of the content, and it discredits the industry.”

The new stock images include an older white male using a cannabis tincture in his home; a middle-aged white male smoking marijuana through a water pipe at home; a younger white female and younger African American male smoking marijuana together with a water pipe; and an older male smoking marijuana and doing yoga, among others.


Darrin Harris Frisby/Drug Policy Alliance

Darrin Harris Frisby/Drug Policy Alliance.


The new images follow the alliance’s release last year of photos depicting California medical marijuana patients, which have been used by news outlets worldwide.

The new photos represent a broad range of diversity among cannabis consumers, which was not without challenges. “The reality of marijuana prohibition is that lives are destroyed every day because of drug arrests and enforcements, which disproportionally impacts people from communities of color,” Sekaran said. “We wanted to make sure we show people of color participating in harmless marijuana consumption. It was hard to recruit models because of possible repercussions. We had to go the extra step to make sure we got what we wanted.”

The photos were released right before 4/20, the unofficial holiday of cannabis enthusiasts—a strategy meant to ensure real depictions of cannabis consumers were used in corresponding news coverage. “The response has been awesome. They have been getting all over the place,” Sekaran said, noting coverage in outlets like The Huffington Post.

Typically, the go-to images for media outlets include those taken at marijuana events and festivals. “It’s hard to get images when it is not legal at a federal level,” she said, noting the need to represent regular people consuming cannabis.

Ultimately, the images reflect a major shift in perceptions regarding cannabis use—one the media sometimes struggle to reflect. Gone are the days of Reefer Madness, she said, adding that DPA is also working on B-roll footage of Americans consuming cannabis for media outlets’ use. “These images are very impactful, and make a big difference,” she said. “Even in states where legal, people can still lose their jobs. There are consequences to marijuana use that people still face.”

Seeing depictions of every day Americans, from a variety of backgrounds, plays a key role in normalizing cannabis consumption and educating the broader public about its use and benefits.

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