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Marijuana Reefer Madness Redux: Who Let The Clowns Out?


Reefer MadnessBy Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel

The anti-marijuana zealots in this country have always been entertaining, but I have lately noticed the appearance of some new defenders of prohibition, making Reefer Madness claims reminiscent of the earliest years of prohibition.

Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, was the principal architect of the Reefer Madness strategy aimed at demonizing marijuana and marijuana smokers.

In the American Magazine in 1937, in an article entitled “Marijuana: Assassin of Youth,” he wrote:

“An entire family was murdered by a youthful addict in Florida. When officers arrived at the home, they found the youth staggering about in a human slaughterhouse. With an axe he had killed his father, mother, two brothers, and a sister. He seemed to be in a daze… He had no recollection of having committed the multiple crimes. The officers knew him ordinarily as a sane, rather quiet young man; now he was pitifully crazed. They sought the reason. The boy said that he had been in the habit of smoking something which youthful friends called ‘muggles’ a childish name for marijuana.”

While today we all laugh when we read those words, at the time the average citizen knew almost nothing about marijuana, nor did members of Congress, and it was with that absurd and uninformed mindset that Congress passed marijuana prohibition with little debate in 1937.

Today no rational person would treat those claims as serious or credible. Millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens smoke marijuana responsibly with no harm to themselves or anyone else, and the average citizen is far more familiar with marijuana and understand it is a mild intoxicant that is far less dangerous than alcohol, and should be similarly legalized and regulated.

Yet the clowns keep coming out of the circus car, one after another.

In one recent example, media curmudgeon Ben Stein published a column on the right-wing website The American Spectator, entitled “Marijuana Is A Cancer.” From that incredible start (ironic in light of research suggesting THC is helpful in treating several types of cancer), Stein describes a 27-year-old unnamed family friend whom he says has destroyed his life because of his marijuana smoking.

“Marijuana ate this young man’s soul. It was very much like that movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where space aliens invade the bodies of humans. I have never known any chronic user of the chronic whose ambitions and good sense have not been either demolished or very substantially lessened by the use of the weed. It is eating up the soul of the nation altogether.”

And in case anyone did not yet understand his views on marijuana, Stein added: “The most bitter enemies of the United States could not have imagined a more wicked attack on a society based on individual initiative than the mass use of marijuana. To think we have a President in favor of its legalization, a Mayor of Gotham who is a huge proponent of the poison, a rap culture that celebrates this vile poison, is heart breaking.”

How’s that for trying to out-do Anslinger!

But Stein is not the only alarmist resurrecting the Anslinger rhetoric.

In March of this year drug advisor and televangelist Pat Robertson opined on marijuana on his CBN program “The 700 Club,” saying marijuana smoking is “slavery to vegetables.” According to Robertson “Cocaine is the product of a vegetable, alcohol is the product of a vegetable, marijuana is a vegetable. … And yet, people are enslaved to vegetables,” adding God could set you free from this vegetable slavery.

Thank God we have the guidance of Robertson to help us fight this new scourge of vegetable addiction!

Apparently it is circus season, and we can only look forward to more of these clowns surprising us with their insightfulness on marijuana and marijuana policy. It almost makes me long for Kevin Sabet and his warnings about “big marijuana” taking over after legalization. At least Sabet recognizes his tired, exaggerated claims about the dangers of marijuana smoking are no longer effective, and he has decided to challenge the free market system.

Good luck with that, Kevin.

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Johnny Green


  1. “..While today we all laugh when we read those words, at the time the average citizen knew almost nothing about marijuana, nor did members of Congress, and it was with that absurd and uninformed mindset that Congress passed marijuana prohibition with little debate in 1937….” congress absolutely were being informed by doctors (AMA) that this was not the case-that m.j. did not cause crazy! they knew it was bullshit lies! they also knew they were protecting big biz from this far superior product for making many things-including energy for which we could fuel our lives-THAT was why they outlawed it-to keep big biz in biz! not because they believed this scare tactic completely. read the emperor wears no clothes by jack herer for the truth!

  2. In Arizona our prosecutors are running around the state spending RICO and taxpayer money to kill a voter initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol. They have even asked for an attorney general’s opinion to make sure that they do a legal job screwing Arizonans. They are worried that teens will lower their IQ’s and that everyone in the state will smoke marijuana if it is legal and regulated. They pretend that marijuana is not ALREADY available in every school and prison in the state. One has to imagine what they are on to come to the conclusion that an underground, unregulated system that sells other far more dangerous drugs is better for our kids than local and legal marijuana retailers that ask for ID’s. Legalize and regulate like alcohol in Arizona in 2016!

  3. Summer Hemphill on

    Let’s take all of “Ben Stein’s Money” & what we can’t force down his throat we can shove up his ass ! He’s not persuading anyone with his vile,baseless & ill-conceived propaganda,just reinforcing the view of a dwindling number of self-righteous simpletons who share his biased opinion & will never be swayed. Fortunately a growing number of Americans are no longer deceived by the lies,half truths,bogus cherry picked studies & anecdotal horror stories spewed from the pie holes of these repugnant bastards. I for one have had my fill of smug & condescending right-wing talking heads presenting their biased opinions as if they were facts & we must expose these prohibitionists real motives for misleading the electorate. They’re not trying to save our children or save us from ourselves,they hate us & our children because we’re not conservative enough to vote for the divinely delusional deity devotees they champion. Fuck em ! It’s “high time” we join together to fight “faith fomented foppery” whenever & wherever it appears & send these sanctimonious moral crusaders packing.

  4. Lawrence Goodwin on

    No worries, Mr. Stroup, because the Anti-Marihuana Tyranny is finally dying a slow death. The truth is getting out there. I doubt it will make 80 years old. We are blessed to have thousands of amazing ladies around the country working hard on this issue, deploying their superior analytical skills to persuade lawmakers at every level to change course. We have doctors, researchers, patients and investors joining forces in nearly every state. My man Steve DeAngelo in California also insists that we can defeat prohibitionist tyrants in part by using the plants’ scientific/botanical names: Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica, not “marijuana” (the other varieties of cannabis–ruderalis, etc.–are rarely used in the United States for recreation or medicine). Harry Anslinger is the man who actually popularized that Mexican Spanish slang term at the federal level, idiotically spelling it “marihuana”–a legal FRAUD still right there in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, and most state laws, to this day. It’s this maddening use of the term “marihuana” that has empowered federal, state and local officials for so long to prohibit cannabis growing of ANY kind, including cannabis hemp by our nation’s honorable farmers.

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