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Marijuana and the Movies: Cab Calloway And The Reefer Man


No history of marijuana and the movies would be complete without Cab Calloway, who is definitely one of the greatest African American entertainers of the Jazz era. 


Harry Anslinger, the Godfather of marijuana prohibition, made no effort to hide his racism, but he also tied it to his hatred of jazz.


See: How a racist hate-monger masterminded America’s War on Drugs


Harry Anslinger conflated drug use, race, and music to criminalize non-whiteness and create a prison-industrial complex. 


Certainly Cab Calloway was one he had in mind, because of one of Calloway’s biggest hits: “Reefer Man”, which is one of my favorites. Surprise. Surprise.


Calloway performed Reefer Man in The song in the 1933 film International House, with W. C. Fields, George Burns and Gracie Allen and Bela Lugosi. International House was made before the Hays Code, which banned everything fun.


Article written by Richard Cowan, former NORML National Director and syndicated author of the Marijuana Weekly News column. 

Calloway was also a master of “Scat” for which Louis Armstrong, another fan of marijuana, became famous.


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Happily, Calloway survived all that and had a great career, and lived long enough to star in the 1980 hit film The Blues Brothers, and play Minnie the Moocher in his classic white tails.


Aside from being lots of fun, Reefer Man is an important reminder about how racism played a major part in pushing marijuana prohibition, and vice versa.



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