Article written by Richard Cowan, former NORML National Director and co-founder of Blue Ribbon Hemp For Seniors.
Any history of marijuana and the movies has to begin with the 1936 film Reefer Madness. Wikipedia has a great article about it for all you cinephiles, but it is a classic example of several things.
First, it was an excellent example of a movie so bad that it was unintentionally hilarious. It wasn’t the first, and it certainly wasn’t the last.
Second, it was made by a ¨religious¨ group that thought that it was serving a moral purpose and in a very ironic twist, they succeeded.
A personal note, I saw it in 1973 - through a cloud of smoke - at the first conference of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of the Marijuana Laws, in Washington, DC.
Keith Stroup, NORML´s founder had discovered that it wasn’t copyrighted, so he bought a copy and began using it as a fundraising tool, and ¨Reefer Madness¨ entered the language to describe the excesses of prohibitionist propaganda. Frankly, I can’t imagine anyone watching it without being stoned.
Fortunately, there are lots of really great movies with more realistic scenes that were intentionally funny, and did not require self-medication to enjoy. Also, there are bits of Hollywood history that most young people have never heard, like the movie star whose career was helped by going to jail for a joint.
Richard Cowan is a former NORML National Director and co-founder of Blue Ribbon Hemp For Seniors.