How a nìnearly 100 year old propaganda film still shapes cannabis prohibition

    There is an old saying that what is past is prologue. Even though we think of ourselves as living in the “modern world”, the ghosts of the past haunt us and shape our world every day. For a concrete example of this, you need look no further than the film “Reefer Madness”.

    This movie made its debut in 1936, under its original title “Tell Your Children”. It was produced by a religious group and it had a clear goal: to warn parents of the potential dangers of cannabis use. It told a sordid tale of otherwise “good” people whose lives began to unravel because of cannabis use. One by one, the main characters became promiscuous, mentally unstable or even violent due to their exposure to cannabis.

    The film climaxed with one of the main characters being killed, and another arrested after for the murder. It had a very clear message: Your life will be utterly ruined if you use cannabis.

    Rights to the film were purchased by another movie producer who aired it all over the country under different names, such as “The Burning Question” and “Doped Youth”. However, it was the New England title “Reefer Madness” that became infamous. 

    Even though it was pure propaganda and had no basis in fact, the film came out at a time when the movie-going public was very susceptible to the power of on-screen images. It also happened to coincide with a determined effort by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics to criminalize cannabis possession. The Bureau, which eventually became the Drug Enforcement Administration, passed the movie off as fact. Less than a year after Reefer Madness was released, cannabis became illegal. 

    It shaped the viewpoints of many Americans who saw the film and began the hardening of their attitudes against cannabis use. Some of those people ended up in law enforcement and legislative positions within the US government. They carried those prejudices into their positions of power and shaped America’s prohibition policy. In fact, many of today’s older lawmakers are the children of the American generation who thought this propaganda film was fact based and believed it fully.

    Un Cartel de la película Reefer Madness

    Although many cannabis users now see Reefer Madness as a “cult classic” film, the sad truth is that this “funny” movie from the 1930’s is a large part of why they can’t enjoy cannabis in peace to this very day. It was perhaps one of the first examples of how “fake news” can captivate people’s minds and become accepted as fact. It’s still important for cannabis users to publicize the potential benefits of this plant. 

    One can’t help but wonder if the opioid crisis that is gripping much of the United States would be happening if people had been able to use or grow cannabis legally.

    G13 Club is a private social club for medical and recreational cannabis users based in Barcelona. It is also a space for musical and artistic development that promotes a multitude of activities focused on the expression and exhibition of urban, hip hop, reggae and skate culture.

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