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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Marijuana is not just for dopes anymore, at least not in Hollywood.
Thirty years after comedians Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong popularized the myth of stoners as amiable goofballs in "Up In Smoke," film and television producers are instead portraying pot smokers as regular folks from all walks of life.
On TV, there is "Weeds," which became a hit on cable network Showtime following its 2005 debut. It revolves around a widowed mom who deals dope to make ends meet.
Among movies, the "Harold & Kumar" movies center on a stoner investment banker and medical school candidate. In the art-house film "The Wackness," Sir Ben Kingsley plays a pot-smoking psychiatrist and, in the upcoming comedy "Pineapple Express," Seth Rogen portrays a sky-high legal process server.
Some culture watchers say these new portrayals promote use of the illegal drug use among children, while the film and TV producers argue they simply reflect a change in society.
Many say these relatively recent depictions would have been harder to present in the past with U.S. administrations backing the "war on drugs" that dates to the early 1970s, including the Reagan White House's "Just Say No" campaign of the 1980s.
"Political climates and cultural climates kind of go together. That was a more conservative era in lots of ways," said Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project which advocates decriminalization of the drug.
A 2005 study by California-based Rand Corp found government's anti-drug campaign had not led to "substantial decreases in the severity of America's drug-related problems."
World Health Organization researchers last month released a study saying Americans lead the world in marijuana use with more than 42 percent of U.S. citizens acknowledging having tried cannabis. That amounts to just over 125 million Americans, based on a population of roughly 300 million.
Roberto Benabib, an executive producer of "Weeds," said he was high on the program's prospects when it premiered in 2005.
"We felt that it was kind of one of the last untouched subjects -- that, kind of, sex had been done on HBO on various shows and that drugs had kind of been left alone because it was the last taboo," Benabib said.
With "Pineapple Express," which opens in U.S. theaters on August 6, the so-called "stoner film" has evolved into an action-packed comedy. The idea about a pair of potheads on the run from police came from the mind of producer Judd Apatow, who also was behind the hit comedy "Knocked Up."
"He had this notion of a weed-action movie," said Rogen, who also co-wrote the script. "I thought 'That could be rad."'
But it is not a cool concept to the conservative Parents Television Council, which has noticed the growth in marijuana-themed TV shows and movies and worries the portrayals will boost dope smoking by children.
"If kids can be influenced to smoke cigarettes, which are illegal to sell to minors, why should we believe that a child would not be as inclined to smoke marijuana, which is not legal?" said Melissa Henson, a spokeswoman for the group.
Hollywood players say their portrayal of marijuana use is not meant to encourage anyone to smoke pot. They just want to make it part of storylines to reflect today's society.
In "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" and its 2008 sequel "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay," the key characters are of Asian and Indian descent. The filmmakers wanted, in part, to break the stereotype that those ethnic groups are too rule-bound, said writer and director Jon Hurwitz.
Even Tommy Chong, 70, and Cheech Marin, 62, who were a top comedy team of the 1970s, said marijuana movies these days differ from their brand of pot humor.
"Ours is more primitive, theirs are more sophisticated," Chong told Reuters.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte