Anti-drug propaganda is nothing new. Cannabis has a history in America that began harmlessly enough, but became a method of discrimination in the early 1900’s and during The Great Depression. Ever since, it has been an easy tactic for politicians looking to demonize their political opponents without directly identifying them.
For a time, cannabis was available in many personal care products and medicines, but it was Mexican immigrants who brought “marihuana” to the United States as a recreational substance. Like opium in California and alcohol prohibition almost a century earlier, vilifying a particular group of people is made possible by targeting their cultural customs. With opium, the target was Chinese immigrants. With alcohol, it was non-Christians and African Americans. With marijuana, it was Mexican immigrants. Eventually, the Nixon Administration adopted this strategy in the War on Drugs that carried on into the 21st century.
The unofficial campaign to make marijuana taboo started to take shape in the early 1900’s. It was allegedly responsible for a variety of crimes perpetrated by Mexican immigrants. During the 1920’s, all sorts of deviant behavior was attributed to or caused by marijuana, legal or illegal, and targeted multiple social and ethnic groups.
In 1936, the film “Reefer Madness” hit theaters. Most telling was that major funding for the film’s first release came from a Christian group looking to make a morality film. It was later picked up by a producer and marketed as an exploitation film. The plot centers around a couple selling marijuana to impressionable youth.”Marijuana Menace” was another anti-pot propaganda film that centers around high school students experimenting with cannabis. Both films have been panned by critics and are usually referred to satirically in modern day.
Anti-pot books in the pulp fiction genre centered around women being victimized through their consumption of cannabis. Titles such as “The World’s Worst Women,” and “Marijuana Girl” describe women addicted to marijuana the subsequent sins they commit, ranging from promiscuity to outright crime. Typically, the female characters are either too weak to fight off their habit, or have turned to crime to maintain it. Portraying women as easily-persuaded, weak and changeful has been a tool used to promote racism, sexism and Anglo-Christian values. These stories were successful as propaganda because they reinforced prejudices already established in their readers.
Eventually, lawmakers started to legally prohibit marijuana by taxing it so high that it was effectively illegal. When that tax was deemed unconstitutional, it was replaced by the Controlled Substances Act. Despite multiple sources indicating that marijuana’s Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act is unnecessary and even harmful, the government has maintained its position that marijuana is a danger to the public.
Take a look below at some of the anti-marijuana propaganda.
image credit: theinfluence.org
Becca Williams isn’t a meek cannabis advocate. She doesn’t hide her identity or publish under a pseudonym. Nor is she a daring dabber posting lung-busting party videos to YouTube. Williams, a National Public Radio veteran, has reinvented her career — and life — by dedicating her efforts to producing a series of intelligent videos regarding her favorite topic: Cannabis.
In a career reboot magnific, Williams’ view of cannabis is embodied in her online video show Marijuana Straight Talk. This informative series, for which Williams serves as executive producer and host, is comprised of short, three to five minute episodes and infuses humor and a neighborly, relaxed tone that is reflective of cannabis itself.
Despite her tasteful and sometimes goofy sense of humor, Williams is nothing if not serious about being a catalyst for real change and defying nearly a century of stigma when it comes to this highly medicinal and therapeutic plant. Her show clearly reflects a theme of smart “edutainment.” Williams recently relocated to Denver to better position herself and gain the ability to feature a large number of quality guests and events on her show.
Education and Defying Stigma
Probably the two most significant aspects of Marijuana Straight Talk are its educational value and how it helps break down stigma. Williams herself clearly defies stereotypical images of the stoner culture. This middle-aged neo-hippy, replete with MacBook and her cute Jack Russell terrier, is dripping with sincerity. After only a few episodes, it became abundantly clear that Williams is determined to change the way Americans think about cannabis — be it for lifestyle enhancement or as a medicine. Said Williams:
“We are a very wounded culture around this plant. It’s been misrepresented to us; there’s been a misinformation campaign. We need to educate ourselves around it.”
In 2015, Williams’ charming show achieved a significant milestone in terms of viewers reached. After only two pilot episodes, Marijuana Straight Talk was the second most popular weekly current affairs program on the Free Speech TV network. The big deal? The show, which is slated to begin weekly production in summer of 2016, is distributed by DISH Network and DirecTV, making it available to more than 40 million TV households (and about 100 million people).
With respect to audience size and meaningful impact (number of humans educated), Williams may very well become one of the country’s leading cannabis legalization advocates, with a sharp focus on gently teaching viewers without putting them to sleep. With 10 states considering adult use legalization this year alone, the education of voters is critical if the current wave of legalization is to be sustained. In response to the success of the first couple of pilot episodes of her full-length show, Williams said, “It goes to show how hungry we Americans are for information and education about cannabis.”
This determined advocate’s attitude toward the cannabis plant is embodied in the Values Statement of Marijuana Straight Talk. The first line reads: “We believe in the Cannabis Plant’s extraordinary power to heal body, mind, and spirit — and our natural world.” “Body, mind, and spirit.” It’s an enlightening and holistic framework from which to approach this healing herb and, in the overarching effort of Williams, to recast the plant with an intelligent, science-based, and inclusive culture for the 21st century.
Becca Williams Interview
Gooey Rabinski: When did you first consume cannabis and not simply enjoy it, but realize that it might change your life?
Becca Williams: I fell in love with the creative life, how it amplified my perspective and offered an elevated awareness of my surrounding and others. I think that happened from the get-go, the first time. What’s morphed over the years is my relationship with the Plant and how I interact with her. Early on, it was a very social experience, passing a joint with a group of friends. Or strangers. Who cares…right? For concerts, it was usually about getting as baked as I could and surrendering to the music. It was a great time!
It’s a long story, but when I was about 30, it became clear to me what an emotional mess I was from a really challenging, abusive childhood. As an adult, I was living with lots of trauma and panic at every turn, often paralyzed with fear in settings where I felt I had to make an impression or make others like me. I experienced envy, like feeling others were so much better than me, and had a lot of self-worth issues.
It was at this point that I realized what a balm cannabis was for my nervous system, in scientific terms, and for my “emotional body,” if you wanna go down the spiritual path. It stroked my soul. It continues to do so, even more so. Over the last few years, I’ve become a serious student of marijuana as a plant spirit medicine. She is a powerful ally.
I’m more drawn than ever to communing with the Plant in solitude, going inward. I believe it’s because I’ve done so much personal growth work with her as a guide. Sure, I still love the communal experience. Now, at this point in my life, getting together with others and partaking is much more intentional. What I mean by that is coming together, two or more of us, lifted by the plant in order to explore our deepest selves within a field of trust. That may scare the shit out of some people, but for others it’s where the magic happens.
GR: How has regular cannabis consumption improved your life and career?
BW: I have one word for you: Healing. Cannabis has helped me heal my core wounds that catalyzed all those difficult, heavy emotions plaguing me for so many years. To quote a beloved album, what a long strange trip it’s been. The Plant’s spirit medicine has been vital to my personal evolution.
GR: What do you consider the two biggest problems facing the cannabis legalization movement in the United States?
BW: Ok, I’m gonna answer this not from a place of really being in the know with all the legalization and political machinations, but from my own knowledge. Instead of problems, I think in terms of opportunities that we want to embrace at a macro level, over the long haul.
What do we want? The most important one, the way I see it, is to create and promote a “cannabis economy” that transcends the inevitable march toward making this Plant just another commodity. On our website, we have Marijuana Straight Talk‘s “Values Statement” (what we believe) and if you put all the points together, it’s a recipe for creating culture around this Plant. Two of the stand-outs are “We trust that the Cannabis business world can be a force to serve the greater good” and “We support the sovereign right to embrace the Cannabis Plant in our lives — in the many ways we choose.”
If we, as citizens and business people, focus our intention on what we want — as opposed to what we don’t want — the force will be with us! Ask any Jedi master.
GR: What is the goal of your show Marijuana Straight Talk? What is the direction of the series?
BW: It’s simple. Marijuana Straight Talk‘s assignment is to find and showcase the voices that most effectively articulate the best directions for an emerging cannabis culture. We love stories about regular people being inspired by cannabis’ many facets and how their passions translate to being good stewards of the plant. In the business world, we want to shine a light on conscious business practices within the industry. They are the ones who will be leading the way in supporting quality growing, manufacturing, and fair labor practices, along with fair prices and availability. This is so much fun!
GR: Literally hundreds of communities throughout Oregon, Washington, and Colorado have or are in the process of banning sales of cannabis — even medical sales. How would this scenario change if citizens were more educated?
BW: You know, I don’t think it’s about ignorance actually. I think it’s about the fear that’s velcro-ed to images of…oh, off the top of my head…good for nothins, raids, Reefer Madness, debauchery. Too much of a good thing doesn’t square with our puritanical images of “clean living.” These wounds — from nearly 80 years of our government making the Plant forbidden — cut deep.
Like recovering from the abuse in my childhood, it’s about finding ways to heal our culture and set a course for the future. And the best way to do that is by redefining how we interact with this remarkable Plant. We must encourage and nurture each other to leverage our strengths as citizens to accomplish that.
GR: What does the future hold for Becca Williams?
BW: Dinner and a movie? Oh, you mean long range….
It’s gonna sound way out of left field, but one of my fondest desires would be to join our strengths with others to help support the development of an infrastructure around the growing of hemp. And especially as it relates to creating cooperatives where the employees own and jointly run the business, including the farmers growing the hemp. There are some great examples of this in Europe, like Mondragon in Spain.
I think this would be an excellent start to bringing into the picture all those who suffered so mightily under the jack boot of U.S. law enforcement. Imagine large hemp processing plants that employ people of color and those who emerge from prisons haunted by the stigma of possession charges.
What does media have to do with this? Hell, Marijuana Straight Talk would cover this, as we say in the news business, like red on rash. Somebody starts a project like this, we’ll be all over it. This is a grass-roots economy creation at its best. I wanna shout it from the rooftops. Big Pot, as the New York Times calls it, is going to emerge, for sure. But let’s invite them to a seat at the table in helping to craft this new paradigm. Despite all the naysaying, they may surprise us.
The Marijuana Policy Project of Maine has sparked some controversy over the Reefer Madness themed, pro-marijuana message depicted on a mobile billboard that will be driving around Lewiston through the end of the week.
The ad reads “Marijuana: Less toxic! Less addictive! Less scary than alcohol! Vote yes on Question 2!” It is targeting registered voters in the city of Lewiston who will have the opportunity to vote to legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults, aged twenty-one and older, on election day. This is only a city-wide referendum that does not alter state law.
The billboard caused controversy for the volunteer director of Maine Smart Approaches to Marijuana, Scott Ganon. He reported to WCHS 6 that he thinks the Reefer Madness themed billboard looks like a joke, and does not take it seriously. Ganon is worried that the public may not trust the Marijuana Policy Project to responsibly draft regulations for legal marijuana legislation after taking a humorous approach with this billboard, which mocks the fear mongering movie released in cahoots with marijuana prohibition during the late 1930s.
David Boyer, Marijuana Policy Project assured WCHS 6 that the organization just aims to educate voters and draw attention to the fact that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol, and therefore should be legalized and regulated similarly. During the interview, Boyer pointed out,
“Having responsible education about that [marijuana] and making sure people are safe while they do it, is the better alternative to scaring people into not doing it. Because that doesn’t work.”
They expect this approach to encourage residents of Lewiston to exercise the right to vote. A similar referendum is on the ballot fifty-five miles away, in South Portland, and one was approved by voters on election day in Portland last year.
David Boyer is the same Marijuana Policy Project team member who challenged the chief of the South Portland Police Department to a hit for shot, weed vs. booze challenge, earlier this month to prove that marijuana is safer than alcohol.
Photo credit: WCHS6