In 1936, a film titled “Reefer Madness” hit the silver screen. Originally titled “Tell Your Children,” the black & white cinema explored the “dangers” of smoking weed through a tale of a young, WASP-y boy who dabbles in the devil’s lettuce. After one puff of a “marihuana cigarette” the protagonist, Bill, descends from a model citizen into a frenzied sex addict and a violent criminal, bringing his friends down with him in his fall from grace.
This type of movie, or more accurately, propaganda, was a precursor to conservative America’s War on Drugs movement, which was largely perpetuated by the Nixon Administration in the 1970’s and the Reagan Administration in the 1980’s. Nancy Reagan, as First Lady, traveled to elementary and middle schools across the country with her slogan, “Just Say No,” encouraging children to dismiss any interaction with drugs, to keep the “innocence” of America’s children strong.
Henry Anslinger, the former head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics under the presidencies of Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy, utilized fear, racism, anti-immigrant sentiment and yellow journalism (sound familiar?) to strike panic in the hearts of Americans regarding weed usage. Anslinger blamed “jazz culture,” a racist dog whistle for “Black culture,” for the uptick in cannabis usage in America’s suburbs. When American singer and songwriter Billie Holiday refused to stop performing her song “Strange Fruit,” a haunting and sobering potrayal of lynching in the American South, Anslinger targeted and threatened her. As Holiday lay dying in 1959, Anslinger handcuffed her to her hospital bed on charges of drug use and possession.
“Marijuana is taken by musicians,” Anslinger