This was an American propaganda film directed by Louis J. Gasnier. With a young, relatively unknown cast and a multitude of anti-cannabis slogans, Reefer Madness became quite the topic among the average US population.
Originally released in the mid-1930s, Reefer Madness aka “Tell Your Children” was an educational film – you guessed it – against cannabis use. It was designed to elaborate on the moral ills of using cannabis and why, as was asserted by the film, it was causing society to implode.
Before Reefer Madness
In the 1930s, the church maintained a heavy influence on American society and during the great depression, society often felt like everything was falling apart, and topics such as cannabis use became increasingly important to churchgoers. They were searching for an easy sin to blame for societies struggles, and the unknowns of cannabis use became a prevalent issue. It was an easy connection to make and has quite a bit of support among religious folk in the early to mid-1930s.
Louis J. Gasnier was asked to put together a comprehensive film on the ills of cannabis use and its detrimental impact on American society.
The Premise of Reefer Madness
Reefer Madness took place in a high school where unsuspecting students were lured into using and abusing cannabis. They drew a direct connection between cannabis use and many anti-social activities such as attempted rape, suicide, manslaughter, and declining mental health. Cannabis was responsible for altering young minds and sending them to the proverbial abyss!
Contrary to popular belief, Louis J. Gasnier did not receive any funding from the US government, nor from any traditional US production houses, to make Reefer Madness. He actually received money from a church group called “Tell Your Children” (the movie’s secondary name). However, while the film was produced with those funds, it was never released under the “Tell Your Children’s” group name. Instead, it was purchased by a man named Dwain Esper, who took the opportunity to redesign the film, and have it distributed to the masses in 1938, and Reefer Madness remained a popular film well into the 1950s.
By the end of the 1950’s, Reefer Madness had faded into the American cultural background, but after America saw their kids “turn on, tune in, and drop out” throughout the 60’s, the cannabis debate came to the forefront again in the early 1970’s. American society wanted a scapegoat! Reefer Madness began making the rounds again, but not always had it had been intended. A version of the film was created that completely satirized the entire message of the film, and was often dubbed the “worst movie ever made”.
Critics and Their Opinions
As mentioned above, Reefer Madness had an unintentional satirical revival in the 1970s. It became the laughingstock of its time and was often referred to a straight up propaganda film. It became a traditional midnight movie (ie. Like Rocky Horror Picture Show), watched for its unintentional comedy. This made sure it remained popular throughout the 1970s and worked wonders in promoting cannabis use among the masses. Poor Louis!
The 80’s and Nancy Reghan’s “War on Drugs” created their own versions of ‘Reefer Madness’, many of which were not any less ridiculous or amusing, but still accomplished their goal of setting back cannabis legalization another 30 years.
Reefer Madness is forever going to be remembered for its uniquely hilarious production value, odd scenes, and the misinterpreted use of cannabis. Everything about the movie was built on propaganda with absolutely no scientific backing for any of the accusations it made about anti-social behaviours caused by cannabis use.
In its current state, as marijuana use becomes legalized in many parts of the world, ‘Reefer Madness’ remains a reminder of all the lies, manipulation, and deceit carried out by the cultural elites of their time in order to push an agenda to the detriment of minorities (through incarceration and scapegoating), recreational and medical users, and society at large. Imagining a world where soldiers returning from WWII could have accessed the medical cannabis that has changed the lives of so many PTSD sufferers in the armed forces, we would have a generation of people that would not have turned solely to alcohol to deal with shell shock and the horrors of war.
As many countries continue to lean towards promoting and/or legalizing the use of marijuana, Reefer Madness remains a fascinating talking point about the plant’s history. Albeit not a very positive one, let’s not let history repeat itself!
Jimmy’s cannabis loves to talk history, so stay tuned for more from us in our “History of Cannabis” series.
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Source: Buds Dispensary https://www.budsltd.com/detailed-history-on-reefer-madness/