Reefer Madness: America’s Propagandist Classic

By Manny C.
If you never seen the original, you're missing out on some funny stuff! But it wasn't always so humorous....

National-- As of August of this year, 61% of Americans support legalizing cannabis nationwide and ending the prohibition according to the most recent Quinnipiac University polls. This the highest number of Americans in support of cannabis since the pre-prohibition Anslinger era.

Anslinger, who is known amongst cannabis activist as the driving force behind the cannabis prohibition, was a major figure in ensuring that cannabis became public enemy number one and launched a major smear campaign against cannabis consumers and producers.


Scene from the original Reefer Madness propaganda film

One of the most successful propaganda campaigns ever launched in the war against cannabis was Reefer Madness, which has become not only a major focal point of the legalization movement but also an American cult classic. Reefer Madness was first released in 1936 the film quickly gained popularity and helped to ignite social panic around cannabis consumption.

The melodramatic and often exaggerated film was used to create some of the most powerful social stigmas surrounding cannabis consumption that still exist today despite the growing supportive trends.


Reefer Madness propaganda poster

In Reefer Madness, Jack Perry and Mae Coleman are the main characters. The couple lives together in a mediocre apartment and often sell and consume marijuana, Jack distastefully sells cannabis to teenage consumers, and both are joined by psycho, former student and fellow dealer Ralph, and Blanche who assist Jack in selling to college age students.

The pair decides to host a party where all kinds of weird things ensue. Affairs, attempted rape, a psychotic break complete with some powerful hallucinations, and even a murder. After a cover up and framing attempt, one member of the group loses their marbles completely, confesses to the whole thing and rats out everyone else who was in the house.


Scene from the original Reefer Madness propaganda film

The plot itself in all of it’s over the top representations of cannabis consumers is laughable to many, but for others it created a sense of intense fear and unpredictability concerning cannabis consumers. The characters personalities were clearly designed with the concepts of lower economic status citizens being crazed and focused on escaping the dire straits of their impoverished and un-lavish surroundings while freeing their primal madness and degenerative behaviors.

These portrayals have begun to fade as increased research shows the connections between cannabis consumption and aggressive behaviors simply does not exist  leaving the implications of Reefer Madness not only baseless but somehow such a train wreck that it’s almost entertaining. Almost…

Have you seen the original Reefer Madness?

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About the author: Manny C.

Cannabis Activist, industry blogger, and founding member of Illinois Citizens Responsible Regulation.