According to Gregg Schigiel:

“I distinctly remember asking one of the guys in the Marvel bullpen to describe what a bowl might look like and worked up some sketches as he pointed out what looked right or wrong, and almost like a police sketch artist, I worked up the bowl that Sam Exmore is so very attached to in the story.

There were very specific notations on the scripts that we couldn’t show Sam, or anyone, actually smoking. Smoke, pot leaves, holding the bowl, those were all fine, but no visual representations of actual smoking/inhaling. So you’ll notice there’s plenty of smoke, but no smoking.”

Illustrating smoke but “not smoking” was just one of the few nonsensical rules the White House gave Marvel concerning Spider-Man: Fastlane. Other rules included no punches (literally, no violence at all, despite Spider-Man having a showdown with Mysterio) and no signature cigar smoking for Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson. Mike Thomas, Head of Marvel Creative Services at the time, revealed that the White House was so politically correct, that dialog had to be changed concerning a truck driver who was yelling out of his window in one panel, to prevent the stereotyping of truck drivers.

Anything that could be deemed as scantly offensive was avoided for the sake of a clean, safe anti-marijuana PSA.

Of course, these rules aided in forming Fastlane’s terrible story. The comic follows Peter Parker and two new interns at the Daily Bugle, Toni Harris and Sam Exmore, as we watch Exmore track down his hero Zane Whelan for an interview, simply because he’s such a cool guy. Whelan is depicted as a Hollywood hot-shot who always wears a t-shirt with a cannabis leaf.

Hollywood’s Inconsistent Stoners and the “Cool Guy” Effect

(Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

Exmore’s character is a stoner teen who smokes pot only because Zane Whelan makes it look cool. However, Whelan’s pot smoking isn’t really depicted on any pages at all, and aside from his t-shirt, we’re not even led to believe Whelan smokes regularly.

Furthermore, adding to the story’s bizarre, loosely consistent beats, Mysterio seems to be the main bad guy in Fastlane, and his entire purpose in the comic is to eliminate those “who flaunt the image of Zane Whelan,” and Whelan himself.

In one scene, Mysterio grabs a Daily Bugle van with a crane, as the van shows Zane Whelan’s face displaying an advertisement for his new film Fastlane. The crane dangles the van in the air, and Peter Parker, Sam Exmore, and Toni Harris are within, terrified.

Readers are led to believe that smoking weed caused this over-the-top act.

Exmore almost falls to his death before Peter Parker manages to shoot some web fluid to catch him (without anyone seeing), but Exmore isn’t concerned with dying. He’s actually more concerned about losing his pipe—a pipe that looks more related to a crack pipe than a glass cannabis/tobacco pipe.

Later, when Exmore finally meets Whelan, Exmore is let down by the actor’s facade. Sam is upset that during Whelan’s music video shoot (the entire comic leads you to believe Whelan is a movie star, only to lead up to him shooting a music video for Fastlane, not an actual movie titled Fastlane) Whelan isn’t doing his own stunt work. This angers Exmore, who now believes his Hollywood hero is a fake.

Exmore tells off Whelan for being a phony who is just promoting an image for money.

Living On The Edge After the Exhale

(Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

Exmore then runs off the set and into the Daily Bugle van to smoke a ton of weed. “I can get that far out on the edge—even if the real Zane can’t!,” Exmore exclaims, hallucinating (seriously) from how much he’s smoked. He drives to the Brooklyn Bridge, gets out of the van, and begins walking along the edge of the bridge to “live dangerously.”

Readers are led to believe that smoking weed caused this over-the-top act. Almost immediately, Exmore gets back into the van and is hit by a truck that explodes, causing Sam to almost fall to his death before Spidey, and—comically—most of the Marvel Universe’s heroes, saves the day.
Of course, this type of ridiculous government propaganda doesn’t really exist in 2018, but Spider-Man: Fastlane serves as an interesting scope of anti-cannabis PSAs from a not-too-distant past. The comic seems to be forgotten (mostly) by time, aside from Chris Sims’ oral history on the arc.

Since its original publication in 1999, Spider-Man: Fastlane has been featured in the collection, Spider-Man Fights Substance Abuse. It’s also been featured in the Reefer Madness Museum.