We revisit some of the funniest anti-cannabis propaganda of the past, as the War on Drugs comes to an end.
In recent years, the cannabis industry has become increasingly legitimate. 11 U.S. states have legalized the plant, with early-mover states like Colorado already generating over USD $1bn since legalizing the plant in 2012. Moreover, as the plant moves out of the depths of illegality, medical benefits surrounding cannabis continue to emerge with it.
The FDA has approved cannabinoid-derived drugs, early studies are showing that CBD use can help with smoking cessation, and some believe that soon we will see a "Big Cannabis" alongside "Big Tobacco," "Big Pharma" and "Big Alcohol."
However, as we outlined yesterday, the perception of cannabis that exists today is very divergent from the one that existed decades ago, when President Nixon declared drugs such as cannabis as "public enemy number one."
In fact, if you continue going back until the '30s, the propaganda surrounding cannabis moves consistently further from reality.
Though as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, and with a little bit of hindsight under our belts, we can now look upon old cannabis propaganda campaigns and appreciate the outlandish and unintended humour found within them. Without further ado, let's take a dive into some classic anti-pot propaganda of the past.
1. Reefer Madness
Of course, Reefer Madness is on everyone's list, and for good reason. Released in 1936 under the guidance of the architect of the War on Drugs, Harry Anslinger, 'Reefer Madness' details some of the horrors that will follow if one consumes "reefer."
Upon smoking a joint, the narrator describes the depravity which follows; listed as "debauchery, violence, murder, suicide and the ultimate end of the marijuana addicts; helpless insanity."
As many will know, Reefer Madness has since gone on to become a cult classic, despite being rather uneventful at the box office at the time. The real humour in the video comes from the depiction of cannabis being propagated at the time, which we now know to be entirely false. Cannabis doesn't lead to violence, or debauchery, or murder, or suicide, as know with places like Colorado, who have had legal cannabis available for close to a decade with no noticeable spike in any of these phenomena.
2. The Dangers of Marijuana Addiction
Fifteen years after 'Reefer Madness' was released, 'The Dangers of Marijuana' came out. As we can see in the video, anti-cannabis propaganda had remained relatively the same. Admittedly, the video was a little lighter on the alleged "murderous effects" that followed marijuana consumption, though there are a few classic lines in this short film, such as:
"The [marijuana addicts] only goal in life is to keep the deadening chemicals forever in their hearts blood."
The short film depicts a group of young men who, out of a desire to fit in, consume cannabis, and proceed to smash beer bottles, drink out of them, and cut their mouths on the glass. The protagonist of the film, Marty, then begins to steal from worksites in order to sustain his "vicious" cannabis habit. This habit is then said to deprive "not only one's body, but the soul as well."
Slowly, we can see the anti-pot propaganda moving further away from the murderous and violent effects of the drug, and more towards the "silly" side of things.
3. Narcotic 1967
Another 16 years after 'The Dangers of Marijuana' was released in 1951, came 'Narcotic 1967.'
Again, we can see the evolution of anti-cannabis propaganda when we compare this campaign to the previous one, as even the minor mishaps that occurred in the prior campaign are no longer included in this one.
Instead, we see what is, in many ways, a fairly accurate representation of a group of people smoking weed, with elements of peer pressure introduced. Everyone in the video is accustomed to smoking cannabis, excluding "John" the protagonist, who succumbs to the peer pressure and smokes a joint. The funny thing about this video is that while the narrator describes the act of smoking marijuana as "stupidity," the experience actually looks rather positive.
Instead of choking on glass, or committing heinous acts of violence as had been previously depicted in anti-pot propaganda, the nervous protagonist 'John' begins to laugh upon smoking the joint, and becomes noticeably more relaxed afterward.
Admittedly, he then goes to school and fails an exam shortly after, but again, we can see the propaganda becoming more diluted as we progress through time, and likely as more people's experiences with cannabis didn't match up to prior propaganda.
4. Flat Campaign
As we continue moving to more recent anti-cannabis campaigns, the humor only increases further. In this particular campaign, the featured stoner is Sarah, who is depicted literally melting into the couch, deflated. Her friend then tells the narrator that Sarah can't answer any questions because she's "started smoking pot."
This ad, fittingly titled the 'Flat' campaign, isn't hugely off the mark for a lot of people, who do become quieter and more complacent while smoking weed. As the idea that stoners were violent proved to be false, advertisers needed to approach anti-cannabis campaigns with a new angle – one which aligns more closely with reality.
However, the ad is also very exaggerated and fails to acknowledge the host of economic benefits that cannabis legalization can bring about, such as increased job creation and tax revenue. Not only that, but the humorous nature of the ad also fails to send a message that really hits home. Instead, people commenting on the video often jokingly remark that they'll "have what she's having."
5. Stoner Sloth Campaign
The fifth and final campaign in our top five anti-cannabis campaigns is one that's a little closer to home; an Australian campaign entitled 'Stoner Sloth.'
The Stoner Sloth campaign shows a class of students, and a sloth, all completing their exams. When the sloth fails to put its pen down after the teacher asks, the teacher picks up the sloths exam to find it's completely empty. Seeing this, two girls behind the sloth scoff to one another, saying "stoner sloth."
The stoner sloth campaign similarly misses the mark in the same way that the 'Flat' campaign does, it's highly humorous and is unlikely to dissuade someone from trying marijuana. Though this isn't the only downfall of the campaign. Memes began to emerge following the release of the campaign, almost of all of which ridiculed the stoner sloth ad, while appropriating the sloth to become a mascot for marijuana.
The ad was considered an enormous failure, and many believe it backfired, acting as somewhat of an advertisement in favor of cannabis rather than against it.
As we can see, anti-cannabis propaganda has evolved throughout the ages, to match the prevailing sentiments surrounding the drug at the time each ad was released. Initially, cannabis was seen as a drug that would lead to murder or suicide, before being seen as a drug that would lead to reckless and unthinking behavior.
Finally, cannabis was portrayed as a drug that would make one lethargic or lazy, though as the industry continues to generate enormous revenue in each state or country that legalizes it, even these ads are growing untenable.
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