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Reefer Madness: Then and Now

By Amanda Ferron

Reefer Madness”…

The term both brings humor and annoyance to the Cannabis community.

Humor because we have come so far, and we can now look back at the ridiculous propaganda that was “Reefer Madness” and laugh…

Annoyance because we are still dealing with willful ignorance when it comes to Cannabis. 

(Mostly from Politicians… But I digress…)

You’ve seen the posters, once meant to instill fear in teenagers, now satirically hung alongside “Devils Harvest” posters in dispensaries, smoke shops, and Cannabis offices nationwide. This 1930’s propaganda film turned cult classic has had a huge effect on the Cannabis community. Both legally and culturally. Effects we are still feeling today.

Could be YOURS! 

In 1936, Louis J. Gasnier released the motion picture: Reefer Madness. The film tells the cautionary tale of a group of high school kids who were lured into using Cannabis. It begins with a written warning set to dramatically somber background music:

“The motion picture you are about to watch may startle you. It would not have been possible, otherwise, to emphasize the frightful toll of the new drug menace which is destroying the youth of America. Marihuana (in bright bold letters and spelled exactly like that…) is that drug. A violent narcotic. An unspeakable scourge. The Real Public Enemy Number One!”

In the movie, some teenagers are lured to a dealers house. They smoke a couple doobies, become hopelessly addicted, and chaos ensues. Literal insanity, murder, attempted rape, jail time, and even suicide… All thanks to Cannabis. It ends with the High School principal lecturing parents at a PTA meeting about how “the next tragedy could be that of your daughter, or your son, or yours, or yours…” Finally, staring and pointing into the camera, exclaiming “OR YOURS!” to the viewer.

“Scary” stuff, right? 

More Than a Movie

Though we may scoff at the idea of Cannabis being responsible for the scenarios that were played out in the movie, the fear it instilled was very real. Many states had already started to pass anti-cannabis legislation since the early 1900’s. But one short year after “Reefer Madness” was released in 1936, the federal government effectively banned the sale of Cannabis in the US by passing the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.

Though the movie can’t be blamed for the passing of this legislation, the closeness in time has to be noted. In reality, its passing had more to do with people like William Randolf Hurst, the Du Pont family, and their interests in lumber, and the development of nylon. Hemp becoming illegal gave competing industries a major leg up. (Always follow the money…)

The legality of Cannabis has been a hot button issue ever since. In 1969, parts of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 were called into question. In the case of Leary v. United States, it was argued that the Act violated hemp farmers 5th Amendment rights. At the time, the government was granting a very small number of farmers in the US to apply for “tax stamps”, allowing them to cultivate hemp. But, applying for these stamps would also be admitting to cultivating hemp, which was illegal until you obtained a stamp. See the problem? 

With that, the Marijuana Tax Act was repealed, and replaced with the Controlled Substances Act as Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. Since then, Cannabis activists have been fighting to get the plant OFF the Controlled Substances Schedule. A battle that we are still fighting today… Largely because “Reefer Madness”, and ignorance involving the Cannabis plant, are still alive and well. 

The Ignorance is REAL…

Thankfully, more people are starting to believe in both the therapeutic benefits of Cannabis, and the fact that it is a safe and effective way for adults to relax. States across the country are showing this by passing both medical and “adult use” (recreational) Cannabis laws. But some states are still reluctant to pass legislation loosening the reins when it comes to Cannabis. Take Florida, for example…

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has stated multiple times that he hesitates to pass recreational Cannabis laws. Making statements about how todays weed is much stronger than that of past generations. “I think what’s happened is this stuff is very potent now. I think it’s a lot different than stuff that people were using 30, 40 years ago.” The funny thing is, he is right. Cultivation has progressed by leaps and bounds. The Cannabis on the market today is stronger. It’s also less moldy, and more closely studied during the plants life-span, thus making getting the proper dose much easier, and these “stronger” plants less harmful.

And though Mr. DeSantis also loves to cite the fear of “fentanyl laced” Cannabis, a regulated market fixes that “problem” as well. States with legal Cannabis have stringent testing, watching for pesticides, metals, and other harmful substances in the product. Which, in turn, eliminates the “threat” of someone purchasing laced products through a legal market. Plus, they will have Cannabinoid, and sometimes terpene, percentages clearly labeled for the consumer. If they are on the legal market, they have been tested, and those test results are available to the public. You know the exact strength and testing history of the Cannabis you are ingesting. 

But alas… Ignorant politicians will continue to cite things like “Cannabis strength” and the supposed threat of “laced” products as excuses to keep Cannabis criminal. A modern form of “Reefer Madness”.

Successful Stoners

As it becomes more socially acceptable, more people are “coming out” about their Cannabis use. And it’s showing one thing:


From celebrated Olympic athletes, to Doctors, Lawyers, and the like… People around the World are being more open and honest about their Cannabis use. And the more people that do so, the more it shows that the “lazy” or “violent” stoner stigma is so far from the truth, it’s laughable. 

So if you are a “successful stoner”, help us END that stigma! Show the world that you are proof that you can be successful AND consume Cannabis. The two are not mutually exclusive. The more we prove that, the closer we can get to ending “Reefer Madness”.