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How ‘Pineapple Express’ Changed the Stoner Comedy and Weed Culture for Good

Re-watching the film 12 years later proves how far we’ve come with legalization

My first viewing of Pineapple Express was an affair. Two of my best friends and I were perched atop a cigarette-scented, beige wrap-around sofa in my older sister’s first apartment, having specifically requested that her boyfriend bootleg us a copy of the film. Right before watching the movie, I had to inform one of my friends that the man with whom we’d just shared raw cookie dough three days prior, my older sister’s own best friend, had since died of a heroin overdose. We were 12. 

This moment, the one that Pineapple Express represents more broadly, was the tipping point for drug culture. Both the opioid epidemic and the mainstreaming of marijuana snowballed from here, onto a path of near cultural hegemony that persists today. At least with Pineapple Express and what it did for weed, we can look at this optimistically. 

From a macro perspective, the film is a clunky parallel to the absurdity of the War on Drugs and the path toward legalization. It lacks the nuance with which we might discuss these issues today, particularly surrounding race and the ways in which marijuana drug enforcement was used as a tool of oppression. Nevertheless, it gets the basic point across: Criminalizing weed leads to violence and corruption. On an even more basic level, it makes the irrefutable point that criminalization is just stupid. 

It’s these latter messages that separate Pineapple Express from other movies of the buddy stoner comedy genre like Half Baked, the Harold & Kumar movies or anything pertaining to Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong. While Pineapple Express plays up the stoner antics and the dumb shit people do while high like the rest, it relies less upon parody and exaggeration. Ultimately, the fact that protagonists Dale Denton and Saul Silver smoke a ton of weed is simply a vehicle to a broader discourse surrounding legalization. The act of smoking weed gets them in trouble at various points in the film, but not as much as the illegal distribution of cannabis dominated by various criminal enterprises (with the cooperation of police) who rule by brute force and murder does. 

To that end, Pineapple Express marked a sort of final frontier for the theme of weed in film and television. It made the point that weed should be legal or at least decriminalized, and now for a significant portion of the American population, it is. Pineapple Express is not itself responsible for this shift, but it did contribute to the changes in cultural attitudes toward weed that allowed this to happen. 

At this point, creating a movie like Pineapple Express today — particularly in the state of California — would nearly be passé. Weed no longer needs to be the crux of a show or movie, relegated to a plotline focusing exclusively upon it. A show like Broad City, for example, can feature weed-smoking and stoner characters without itself being a stoner show. The failure of weed-centric series like Disjointed is further evidence of this. As of 2019, two-thirds of Americans agree that marijuana should be legal. We don’t really need a big-time movie to drive the point home anymore. 

Re-watching Pineapple Express, which has just landed on Netflix and Amazon Prime, is still enjoyable despite all this, even if just to mark how far we’ve come. At 12 years old, having never even smoked weed, it seemed obvious that some change needed to come. Now, another 12 years later, it’s dated-ness proves precisely how far we’ve progressed.