31/07/2013 10:47 BST | Updated 25/09/2013 06:12 BST

Should TV Cut Back on Cannabis?


Thursday night saw the popular sitcom PhoneShop return to our screens for a third series. The geniuses behind the script came up with the storyline: everyone in the shop (and two policemen) eats cakes without realising that they have cannabis in. Comedy ensues.

Drugs being normalised on prime time television, you could argue, is harmless. It might not be original, but it's funny, and loads of people smoke cannabis, anyway. On the other hand, you may think it dangerously perpetuates the myths that drug use is entertaining, harmless and that it's no big deal.

Call me a prude, but I think it's irresponsible. It's not just E4's PhoneShop that's guilty, though - it seems that an increasing number of films and television programmes are using drugs to get laughs, including last year's blockbusters Ted and Bachelorette. It's the new alcohol, apparently.

PhoneShop should not only be criticised for the irresponsibleness of relying on the use of drugs for laughs, but because it's such an easy, mindless move to make. Having the characters take a mind-altering substance means that anything can happen without having to justify it or make it believable. Anyone could have written the script for Thursday's episode. The Metro said in a review:

"You didn't have to be under the influence of any class B subtance [sic] to enjoy the return of fitfully engaging comedy PhoneShop (E4) but it probably would have helped.

Because essentially it involved the entire cast doing a drama workshop spin on 'what it's like when you're under the influence of weed'. That's taken over from acting drunk at drama school. Some pulled it off rather more convincingly than others."

The creator of PhoneShop, Phil Bowker, was interviewed prior to the first episode airing. He said that comedy means reflecting the audience of a show, not its makers, and that it needs to touch on the 'real world'.

In the real world, some people do take drugs. But how many of them watch PhoneShop? Statistics published this morning from the Home Office reveal that, shockingly, not everyone uses cannabis.

Watching a programme that quite obviously tries really hard to appear cool and reflective of today's youth can mean two things if you aren't a drug user. It might make you think, 'that looks like fun', or, if you're anything like me, you might worry that you're a bit uncool for getting annoyed about it.

Content like the first episode of PhoneShop doesn't help the common perception that cannabis is no big deal, and that it's something that everyone does. It shouldn't be used as a default in films and television programmes that can't come up with anything better. There's new data almost every week on the harmful effects of cannabis - it isn't just something that can turn a mundane day at work into something mildly funny.

The makers of PhoneShop may think their responsibility to make people laugh is more important than their responsibility to produce content that is morally responsible. But the truth is, episodes like last night are not reflective of 'the real world' for everyone. More of us could have empathised if the cakes just consisted of sugar and butter, and the characters encountered a bit of bloating and a tinge of guilt.