News & Politics

The High Art of Pot Puns at the Washington Post

In the newspaper’s headlines, it’s always refer madness.

Bad advice via Shutterstock.

Last year, the Washington Post’s “The Fix” blog lit up the Internet with a list of “weed wordplay.” Unfortunately, that story barely sifted in any of the Post’s own homegrown headline humor.

The paper has hit the bong beat since at least 1883, when it quoted a New York Tribune story about an American who tried hashish in India. Those early stories had headlines like “THE TERRORS OF A NIGHT: Strange Hallucinations Produced by Swallowing a Pellet of Hashish” or “HEMP EATERS’ ORGIES,” which promised “Scenes at the Sacred Dance That Surpass the Wildest Ecstacy [sic] of Any Opium Dream—It Occurs at the Time of the Full Moon and Is a Strange Spectacle—Women Join in the Ceremony, Which Develops Into a Regular Saturnalia in Time.”

In the late ’70s, the Post began running headlines like “Pot Luck” (1979) and “The Mellowing of ‘Mister Marijuana’” (1978). Then, in the mid-’90s, its newsroom developed a regular regimen of pot groaners. And as the District headed toward legalized weed, even more pun headlines bubbled up.

We can divide most of these headlines—all in print, unless otherwise noted—into a few basic strains. Below, a guide to how the Post likes to roll.

Pot, Seeds, Growing, Buds, and Weed


April 17, 1998

“San Francisco’s Political Potboiler: In Fight Over Marijuana as Medicine, Sheriff Backs Growers”

by William Claiborne

December 7, 1996

“Taking the Cover Off Pot”


February 15, 1981

“Marijuana: A Pot of Gold In Latest Crop”

by Jerry Knight

August 23, 2013

“At White House, questions go to pot”

by David Nakamura

October 1, 2006

“In Calif., Modest Suburbs Go to Pot”

by Don Thompson


March 27, 2015

“Seeding District’s era of legal pot”

by Aaron Davis, Perry Stein

May 4, 2010

“As D.C. votes on marijuana, seeds already firmly planted”

by Paul Schwartzman and Annys Shin

November 29, 2009

“Medical marijuana is the seed of a new industry in Michigan”

by Dawson Bell

November 19, 1996

“Marijuana Initiatives Sow Seeds of Conflict”

by Susan Okie

• Growing

March 16, 2015

“In D.C., that’s grow biz”

by Perry Stein

March 26, 2013

“In Colo., a growing industry is a federal crime”

by T.W. Farnam

• Buds

March 1, 2015

“Budding pot moguls cruise D.C.’s first expo”

by John Woodrow Cox

March 20, 2012

“How Romney can make Ron Paul’s backers his buds”

by Al Kamen


May 7, 2014

“Federal funding is really getting into the weeds”

by Al Kamen and Colby Itkowitz

March 8, 2011

“D.C.’s cannabis capitalists prepare for weeding out”

by Paul Schwartzman

April 30, 1999

“Ex-Spy Lobbying on Weed-to-Know Basis: Woolsey Represents Hemp in Uphill Fight”

by David Segal

Smoke, fire, haze, and clouds

• Smoke

March 31, 2015

“The pot lobby nixes Tommy Chong to better appeal to ‘conservative’ Congress, report says: Actor Tommy Chong’s role to lobby for The National Cannabis Industry Association on the Hill has gone up in smoke, a news report says”

by Erin C.J. Robertson

November 12, 2014

“Will D.C.’s nightlife go up in a cloud of pot smoke?” [There was an even better headline online: “For D.C. night life, marijuana brings on a hazy cloud of what-ifs”)

by Lavanya Ramanathan

May 10, 2012

“Group’s push for license goes up in smoke”

by Anny Shin

March 20, 2007

“Up in Smoke at the High Court”

by Dana Milbank

November 7, 1987

“Up in Smoke: Marijuana in America: The ‘60s Catch Up With Ginsburg”

by Henry Allen

July 21, 2007

“On Pot Question, Cabinet Doesn’t Blow Smoke”

by Mary Jordan

January 26, 1997

“Where There’s Smoke, There’s Trouble”

by Bob Marshall

• Fire

February 27, 2015

“A deal with pot advocates lighted way to D.C. law”

by Mike DeBonis

August 28, 2014

“Ballot initiatives fire up 2014 races”

by Reid Wilson and Niraj Chokshi

October 27, 2009

“With medical marijuana on the back burner, what do we know?”

(Unsigned Q&A)

November 3, 1996

“Marijuana a Burning Issue in California”

by William Claiborne


March 29, 2015

“In former arrest hubs, positions on pot are hazy”

by Paul Schwartzman

October 12, 2014

“Simple vote on legalizing marijuana in D.C. is not so simple: In the hazy world of marijuana law, nothing is as simple as a yes or no vote on Initiative 71”

by Marc Fisher (Web-only)

January 16. 2014

“The clouded marijuana debate”

Headline for a selection of letters to the editor

August 9, 1997

“Marijuana Medically Useful but Issue Still Hazy, NIH Says”

by David Brown

Cultural Reeferences

That one Brewer & Shipley song

January 11, 2013

“Is that guest going one toke over the line?”

by Kyle Spencer

February 4, 2009

“One Toke Over the Line”

by Kathleen Parker

April 5, 1992

“One Toke Over the Line”

by Tony Kornheiser

• Hendrix/Radiohead references

March 11, 2015

“Through the purple haze: Marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles”

by Nicole Crowder (blog)

August 28, 1999

“Drought Leaves Marijuana Growers High and Dry”

by Steven Gray


October 21, 2009

“Reefer sanity: The marijuana lobby goes mainstream”

by Kathleen Parker

January 27, 2002

“Reefer Madness: Marijuana Advocates Tom Crosslin and Rollie Rohm Sensed the Government Was Out To Get Them. And Then They Were Dead. Was Rainbow Farm Another Waco?”

by Peter Carlson

January 5, 1997

“Splendor in the Grass?”

by John Mintz

• Kellogg’s Rice Krispies

February 13, 2009

“Snap, Crackle, Pot”

by Kathleen Parker

• Aesop’s Fables

August 1, 2008

“Slow and Steady Gets the Bust As Turtle’s Trail Leads to Drugs”

by Paul Duggan

• Sally Jenkins writing about Michael Phelps

February 3, 2009

“Big Bong Theory”

by Sally Jenkins

February 3, 2009

“Sally Jenkins on Michael Phelps’s Tokin’ Effort”

by Sally Jenkins (online chat transcript)

High, Bust, Half-Baked, Mellow, Buzz, Blunt, Hit, and Joint


February 25, 2015

“D.C.’s limits on legal marijuana possession are twice as high as anywhere else”

by Niraj Chokshi (blog)

October 15, 2014

“Colorado marijuana revenues hit a new high”

by Christopher Ingraham (blog)

December 1, 2011

“New reality shows: High, but not so mighty” [A review of two marijuana-related reality shows.]

by Hank Stuever

February 28, 2010

“For aging boomers, a high point of life” [marijuana use increases among seniors]

by Matt Sedensky

August 3, 2005

“The Rock Journalist At a High Point In Music History” [Appreciation of the late Al Aronowitz, the pop music writer who in 1964 introduced the Beatles to pot.]

by David Segal

August 22, 2001

“Afroman, High On Success: An Obscure Performer Unfazed by Sudden Fame”

by Lisa Allen-Agostini

October 18, 1998

“Fallen Star: Chris Webber Came to Washington Amid High Hopes. He Left With Unrealized Dreams” [Unintentional? The profile came out soon after Webber was charged with possession of marijuana.]

by Bill Brubaker

January 21, 1997

“At This Club, the Third Floor Is High: Dispensing ‘California Green’ May Again Become Sticky for Medical Marijuana Group” by William Booth


November 28, 2004

“Dutch Pot Program Looks Like a Bust: Cannabis by Prescription Gets Few Takers”

by Maria Lokshin


March 8, 2015

“Half-baked tales from D.C.-born reggae fixture”

by Mark Jenkins

October 24, 2014

“Colorado’s marijuana experiment has a bitter aftertaste: The system still seems a little half-baked”

by Charles Lane (blog)

June 9, 2014

“Half-baked story in Colorado”

by Radley Balko


March 4, 2015

“Mayor harshes a pot advocate’s mellow”

by Courtland Milloy

November 5, 2014

“The high may be mellow, but the ballot push isn’t”

by Jessica Contrera

September 3, 2009

“Medical Marijuana Finds a Mellow Audience in Md.”

by Dan Morse

April 10, 1978

“The Mellowing of ‘Mister Marijuana’ “

by Paul Hendrickson


August 15, 2014

“Public support for medical marijuana is reaching new highs. Why do Republican 2016 hopefuls find the idea a buzzkill?”

by Sean Sullivan and Scott Clement (blog)

January 14, 2013

“Changes in cannabis laws create a new buzz for hemp”

by Juliet Eilperin


July 30, 2014

“Blunt forces: How marijuana is changing America”

by Danielle Paquette and Steven Rich (blog)

April 21, 2012

“Colorado University takes action to blunt pot celebration”

by Rema Rahman


April 11, 2014

“Half a hit”


May 13, 2012

“Marijuana market takes a hit in California’s Emerald Triangle”

by Peter Hecht


September 13, 2009

“Some Potent Arguments for Legalizing Marijuana”

by Robert McCartney


November 26, 1994

“In Minnesota, Joint Return Takes On a New Meaning”

by David Brauer

Hybrid Strains of Pot Puns

June 20, 2010

“The pot thickens: One kind of marijuana won’t get you high, but it’s creating a buzz”

by Karl Vick

November 12, 2006

“The Buzzer Means Your Buzz Is Here: N.Y. Dial-a-Doobie Services Offer Home-Delivered Pot”

by Tom Hays

October 26, 2006

“A Toke of Their Esteem: Few Stars at High Times’ Awards Show, but the Joint Is Buzzing”

by David Segal

March 18, 2006

“High Crimes, or A Tokin’ Figure?: Canadians Find the ‘Prince of Pot’ Harmless. The DEA Begs to Differ”

by Doug Struck

January 4, 2005

“Exhale, Stage Left: At 61, Longtime Marijuana Lobby Leader Keith Stroup Is Finally Leaving the Joint”

by Peter Carlson

August 28, 2000

“Potent Pot Rolling Up Sales: Dealers Cash In on Crack’s Violent Stigma in D.C.”

by Serge F. Kovaleski

May 31, 1995

“A Fashionable Joint Venture: Marijuana May Be Illegal, but Use of Hemp Fiber Is Growing Like a Weed”

by Danny Hakim

Harrison Smith

Harrison Smith (@harrisondsmith on Twitter) has contributed to the Washington Post and Chicago magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].