Straight edge is a movement that was born out of the early ‘80s punk movement and the loss of several in the community due to various vices. Such losses included punk musicians Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols and The Germs’ Darby Crash.
In response, many in the emerging hardcore punk scene created an offshoot that extends beyond music. Their anti-consumption lifestyle and art would go on to be dubbed straight edge.
Minor Threat frontman Ian MacKaye is credited with coining the phrase from a 46-second anti-vice song. The band also receive credit for setting up the rules in their song “Out of Step.” The track’s lyrics include “I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t fuck.”
The lifestyle continues to this day as a genre of music, art and life in general. Vice‘s i-D platform noted back in 2017 that the movement was back on the rise.
Back in the 80s, cannabis was still widely demonized by communities of numerous kinds. The plant was deemed a drug is now too is on its way back to being a medicinal option.
So, how does a community steeped in anti-consumption feel about a plant both used in therapeutic and recreational uses?
Dimitri Oster grew up as a teen in the ’90s heavily involved in New York City’s straight edge hardcore scene, continuing to today. He is also a credentialed addictions counselor, licensed clinical social worker and serves as the Program Director of a Brooklyn-based outpatient treatment program.
He explained that straight edge is much more than being drug-free. “It starts there, but goes much further,” Oster said. “Straight edge has always been about challenging the dominant and popular cultural stereotypes, that mainly serve to reinforce the order of our increasingly dysfunctional society.”
Several reasons convince Oster that cannabis is a drug not worth consumption. He said that he still considers the plant a mood and mind-altering drug that remains listed as a controlled substance in the U.S.
What may be the most concerning to Oster, however, is the potential adverse mental health effects. “I have seen countless instances of teenagers and young adults “experimenting” with marijuana, which had direct and serious negative effects on their mental health. I have personally witnessed some marijuana users actually have psychotic breaks and lose contact with external reality.” This happens more often with those predisposed to mental illness and are not even aware of it, according to Oster.
There is some shifting sentiment in the community. Ryan, a moderator for Reddit’s straight edge subreddit said that the view will vary by the person, while also noting that marijuana use still qualifies as an “edge break.”
That said, he has witnessed a change in the sXe, the genre’s often used moniker, community. The moderator noted criminal justice serving as a prime driver in the shift. “Generally speaking, I’ve noticed a large shift over the years from a total disregard for it to some of us, including me, voting for legalization and expunging records of people convicted of marijuana violations.”
Chris, a 30-something tattoo artist in New York City, has been straight edge his entire life. He acknowledged a clear distinction between synthetic drugs and marijuana. He still has no interest in consuming it himself despite many in his circle using it for a variety of reasons.
“The majority of my friends use cannabis for a variety of reasons, and I have no problem with it. I am pro-legalization. The war on drugs has essentially been a war on the poor and minorities, and would love to see that end.”
Chris gave his take on the current community sentiment towards cannabis as well. “While there are certainly hardline straight edge individuals today, most of those I know have a much softer perspective towards marijuana use.” He added, “I think once you understand why it was made illegal, as well as it’s benefits, it becomes insane to think that alcohol is legal while cannabis is not.”
Andrew Clark is straight edge and shares similar beliefs around the war on drugs. The marketing strategist opined, “Out of all the drugs in this world, cannabis is pretty mild and does not often lead to people committing acts of violence like we see with alcohol or opioids.”
Clark went on to say that legalization has helped bring cannabis into the mainstream. He believes that this begets more regulation and responsible use as opposed to keeping it in the shadows.
Others differentiated between CBD and THC. Francois Mathieu previously lived a straight edge lifestyle. He believes that CBD is a “completely different story than THC” due to its inability to alter minds and is thought to be nonaddictive. The Toronto-based green tea business owner said, “I believe that in many cases, it actually helps people avoid certain prescription drugs that would be addictive with nasty side effects.”
Meanwhile, others have accepted cannabis but not for any sort of personal use. Noah Bolanowski describes himself as “very anti-drug,” and calls the shift on cannabis less about acceptance and more commodification.
“Many of my peers in the corporate space are investing in the industry at an alarming rate. If not THC then they’re definitely investing in CBD.” He said that those that have acquired cannabis businesses continue to not partake but promote its use.
Bolanowski added, “To me, it’s become a tolerable commodity with a lot of room for growth. But its nothing more than that – a commodity.”
Some have “broken edge” with cannabis for medical reasons. Krysia Hepatica once experimented with cannabis as a college undergrad but had since turned away from its use. That changed three years ago when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
She said the results were incredible, but came at a loss away from her health. “I have found there is a price. I have lost other straight edge friends because of my personal choices.” Despite the loss of some in her circle, Hepatica said those she considers true friends continue to support her use to address her symptoms.