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