Tom Hedrick, spokesperson for Partnership for a Drug Free America, says he worries that the uptick in such depictions makes the behavior appear too normal, creating bad role models.
But a spike in cannabis use on-screen doesn't appear to mirror any social trend. If government statistics – which rely on self-reporting – and other surveys are accurate, marijuana use has declined modestly in recent years, especially among teens.
One consequence of those statistics: The media by and large hasn't focused on drug stories over the past five years, maintains Mr. Hedrick. "Interest in the issue wanes and then you start to see a rebounding in the sense that this is something that is OK to do."
Prior to now, only a few stoner movies, such as "Up in Smoke" (1978) and "Dude, Where's My Car?" (2000), made money during their theatrical run, thanks largely to low budgets. Others, such as "Half-Baked," "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," and "The Big Lebowski," were underachievers – much like their characters. But these initial flops scored big on home video, which explains why producers continue to invest in fare such as a "Harold and Kumar" sequel and November's little-seen "Smiley Face." Lately, though, a generation of comedy filmmakers who grew up watching Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" has incorporated tropes from stoner movies into frat-humor films targeted at a broader audience. Movies such as "Old School," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" have also featured characters who smoke marijuana.