Reefer Madness Redux: Who Let the Clowns Out?

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel June 10, 2015

    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.

    38 responses to “Reefer Madness Redux: Who Let the Clowns Out?”

    1. TheOracle says:

      Hear, hear. Well said.

      I wonder how the word “muggles” might be connected to Harry Potter books.

      The boy said that he had been in the habit of smoking something which youthful friends called ‘muggles’ a childish name for marijuana.”

      In the Harry Potter book series, a Muggle is a person who lacks any sort of magical ability and was not born into the magical world. Muggles also do not have any magical blood.


      In all my days I’ve never heard it referred to as muggles. I don’t believe in magic.

      Any Peter Coyote musical potumentaries about the sane use of reefer in before cannabis prohibition. He narrated Prohibition by Ken Burns. Now let’s see Ken Burns make a series about cannabis use in the 1920s through 1940s. I heard tell of people smoking joints during World War II because cigarettes were rationed. No getting around jazz musicians said to carry pot plants with them which is where the term pot is supposed to come from.



      Limit the stuff about snake oils that had stuff to do with cannabis, mixed with alcohol or heroin or who knows what else. Make Jack Herer proud. I like the Youtube video adaptation of his book.


      Lot of talking and people reading. Ken or somebody tell it a lot more imagery. History Channel, PBS, some foundation funding it. Deeper than History or H2 or whoever went into that aspect of cannabis during that time, different stuff, may have a bit of overlap. This too.

      Anybody remake Reefer Madness change the scenes and dialog to how people really used, get high and sit around and listen to music, have sex, go for a stroll and other normal things people do safely while high. If there’s something out there like that already let me know. I want to watch it.

      Spoof that as American Speculator. Conjecture just conjured up without further examination is a generalization that all cannabis users are that way, and all the millions of people who have ever used cannabis peacefully who never did anything heinous disprove it.

      Prohibitionists, just legalize now.

    2. Closetsmoker says:

      Grab your favorite beverage, and a big ol’ bag of popcorn, Anslinger’s ghost is here to entertain us some more!

    3. Galileo Galilei says:

      I read about Ben Stein’s disdain of climate change science in ‘Scientific American’ He came off as arrogant, ignorant and self-absorbed. He literally believes that somehow his ideological preferences trump science.

      It not surprising his attitude toward marijuana is the same. He says, “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”.

      The lines are being drawn for the 2016 election.

      Mr. Robertson should know that I like vegetables. I have a less favorable opinion of deities, with their mysterious ways and infinite wisdom.

    4. E D says:

      Ben Stein spoke at my undergraduate graduation ceremony. He discussed many issues in society, some relevant, with a capitalist tone throughout his speech. He finished by jokingly and indirectly thanking college students for being the #1 consumers of the clear eyes product. In the next breathe he simply described it as harmless.

      He is obviously not a spokesperson for clear eyes anymore. His behavior and opinion is purely motivated and contingent upon who is paying him. Talk about affective flattening.

    5. Miles says:

      There will always be stupid people. Fortunately, only the stupidest among us will fall for the prohibitionist idiocy. Hopefully, they are in the minority but sometimes, when I’m driving in traffic, I wonder if there are more idiots than not… It is utterly amazing to me that our Federal Govt has had their head stuck in the 1930s reefer propaganda for so long. Now that Michelle Leonhart (of the DEA) has been fired that should finally start changing for the better 🙂

    6. Wounded says:

      Its unfortunate that so many people that claim to be intelligent live in self imposed ignorance.

    7. Matthew says:

      Excellent cheer-me-up essay, Keith! I particularly appreciate the sucinct analysis of Sabet. However, I was only incensed when I first saw Stein’s headline: I believe he was being entirelty facetious. High Times took it literally, too. Do you really think, for instance, that Stein adores Civil War music? Are you kidding? Sure, and his guest never heard, “Dixie” . . .
      Stein’s whole article was a hilarious farce, reminding me more of something from a Mel Brooks movie.

    8. Julian says:

      Ben Stein? The hypocrite sold Clear Eyes for Crissake; more marijuana consumers kept that in their cars than people who wear CONTACTS! …, and now HE is the spokesman for prohibition? Who are they gonna think of next; The bearded guy on the cover of Zig-Zags?

    9. Julian says:

      Oh, when we legalize
      We don’t need Clear Eyes
      We already found a surprizer

      An’ if its red eye you fear
      So cops can see clear
      Well its called a vaporizer

      You know Ben;
      You remember when
      You outsold Visine?

      You were an important man
      A Veteran
      With the clearest eyes you’d seen

      But then one day
      The fear went away
      For a bloodshot disguise

      Its called a vaporizer
      No smoke disguiser
      Don’t need no bottle of Clear Eyes…

      No I don’t need the bottle…
      … Of Clear Eeeeeeeyes…

      Aint got no contacts or smoke…
      For my veins to disguise…

      If Prohibition is ridin…
      On Ben Steeeeeein…

      Open your eyes…
      And look within…
      We’ll get high
      And see clear again

      And soooon we’ll all be feelin fiiiiiine…

      (Ben Stein: Doesn’t ANYbody want to buy more Clear Eyes??!! $&#%!)

    10. Matthew says:

      Stein’s use of the archaic term, “muggles,” is one of the rather countless hints of his, at his ‘parody’. I think that our misunderstanding does diminish his esteem, of us. Yet, he knows that we are the good guys. Stein’s citation of the guest’s repeated dinner-breaks, to smoke more, is also a funny parody-joke. It’s high browed, ‘reverse psych / devil’s advocate’ parody. I think that Stein only thought that really clueless, stodgy old folks would miss the forest for the trees, and take the article at superficial face value. “Muggles,” indeed – Stein isn’t old enough, to remember when that word was contemporary! Like, Civil War music makes him feel young, again. Please, discern, and laugh in the right direction. Stein’s article convinces me that he’s on our side!