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Hazy screens: Is Hollywood pushing marijuana?

A raft of films has some observers citing a generational shift among filmmakers.

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"I think movies have a weird line to walk," says Wesley Morris, a film critic at The Boston Globe. "They derive a lot of entertainment from drug use and yet, at the same time, they go only so far in endorsing it. 'Harold and Kumar' … doesn't have anything to say negatively about drug use, but, at the same time, there is a stigma attached." In "Knocked Up," a lead character has to stop smoking marijuana because it gets in the way of him becoming a good father.

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Producers can land financing for stoner films if they depict the users as out-of-it slackers for comedic effect, some observers say. "If they were to portray it in any other light, they would likely not get the financing; they would get nothing but grief from rating boards and other entities," says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "It is safe."

Legalization advocates argue that signs of societal tolerance, including decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana, hint that casual pot use is widespread – something filmmakers are increasingly less afraid to portray.

"I have to take responsibility for the 'Cheech and Chong' image … but the truth is that marijuana is used in every block of society," says Tommy Chong, who was jailed for nine months for selling drug paraphernalia in 2003. He points to Michael Douglas's role as a pot-smoking college professor in 2000's "Wonder Boys" as one example. Recreational pot use by professional types has popped up in films as disparate as "Eyes Wide Shut" and "Charlie Wilson's War."

But antidrug campaigners say it's time for Hollywood to tighten up.

"Is this the beginning of a major new reflection and glamorization in popular culture?" asks Hedrick. "I think it's too early to tell, but it worries us because it tends to portend, potentially, a return to attitudes that lead to more kids trying, and more kids using."

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