Tag Archives: marijuana

A Brief, Paranoid History of Anti-Weed PSAs

For all the shifts in American television culture since the birth of the medium—from the way we make and consume news, to advertisements and the shows themselves—many folks raised by the boob tube likely share a common experience: scoff-laughing at anti-pot PSAs.

From trippy animations in the 1960s that tried to speak to the era's hep cats by labeling weed "the hoola-hoop of the jet generation," to this 2007 spot featuring a sadly judgmental dog, hokey ads trying to scare or shame teens away from the demon weed have been an eternal TV trope. Often relying on stilted scripts, logical fallacies, or blatant lies, these ads follow in a pre-TV tradition of anti-pot propaganda films as well. This unending wave of PSAs has basically become a sub-genre of ironic humor. You can waste an entire day perusing compilations of these relics.

Anti-pot PSAs didn't emerge through a slow process of social change, but in a rapid eruption of self-serving bigotry divorced from science or fact. The force of that paranoid thrust dulled over the years, but it was still a vital part of the DNA of most historic PSAs—and their humor. But in a mixed blessing to society (and a curse to comedy), paranoid anti-marijuana PSAs may be on their way out in favor of a new, more sober breed of ads made for the era of legalization.

No one's entirely sure when weed, which likely originated in Central Asia thousands of years
ago, made its way to the United States. Although the early colonies notoriously promoted hemp production in the 17th century, there's no evidence the intoxicating strain of the plant was ever grown. It seems most likely that cannabis came north in tiny spurts and sputters with immigrants from or folks who'd visited the Caribbean and several Central and South American countries, where it was brought over by Indian workers as part of their pre-existing culture. Colonizers also transported it here to inebriate enslaved Africans.

For centuries, the low-level presence of pot in ports and insular communities was a non-issue. It was used in 19th-century US patent medicines without concern, and at least one mid-century medical periodical described the effects of cannabis resin fairly accurately and bluntly as leading to "inebriation… of the most cheerful kind, causing the person to sing and dance, to eat food with great relish, and to seek aphrodisiac enjoyment," with no big side effects.

Things started to change around 1910 with the Mexican Revolution—a messy affair that would lead to decades of sporadic violence, forcing periodic and substantial waves of refugees into the American Southwest. As with today's refugees from the Middle East, these victims of war and instability were greeted with fear and quickly associated with violence and social disruption—especially toward the dawn of the Great Depression, which naturally called for a racial scapegoat.

Law officers and locals began to credit violent crimes to Mexicans' use of weed, which came north with them, painting it as a substance granting users great strength and sending them into murderous rages. Of course, these stories seem laughable. (Some historians note that we don't know exactly what these immigrants could have been mixing their weed with—but, also, come on.) By this time, marijuana was also firmly associated with port town underworlds and the (literally) dark subculture of jazz, taking on a broad sheen as an agent of general moral decay.

In 1914, the Texan town of El Paso passed the first laws against the sale or possession of marijuana, which had, prior to its Mexican association, been known simply as cannabis in much of the US. Numerous other cities and states—including Mexico itself—followed suit over the next couple of decades. Dark tales of the dank herb flowed from the border into a few early films, like the 1924 western Notch Number One in which a man turned into a murderer after smoking weed, or the 1932 romantic crime flick Jewel Robbery, in which a robber used pot to dupe his victims in a jewel heist.

But as Richard Stringer and Scott R. Maggard of Old Dominion University wrote in a paper last year on the media's effects on American attitudes toward weed throughout history, "Prior to 1936, concern over marijuana was mainly concentrated in a select few cities… Even Harry Anslinger, the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and 'the world expert' on drugs, regarded it as a nuisance, unworthy of his organization's time."

That year, though, Anslinger suddenly glommed onto weed, likely just because he needed a new drug scare to keep funding for his agency alive. Whether because he knew nothing and believed the hyped-up local stories, or because he was a shrewd and self-serving G-man, Anslinger perpetuated and expanded tales of weed directly causing violent crimes and the notion that bad (read: colored) people were pushing it on good (read: white) citizens. According to Stringer, this led Anslinger to not only author or push for articles spouting these views in papers like the New York Times, but to help in the production of what were arguably the earliest anti-pot PSAs.

In 1936 and 1937, Anslinger had a hand in the production or dissemination anti-pot propaganda films like Assassin of Youth, Marihuana, and most famously, Reefer Madness, the latter of which ridiculously presented weed as a substance that could turn a young girl into a reckless harlot and, in just one puff, trigger actions that could leave scores dead. This media blitz coincided with the push to pass the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which was the first national effective pot ban.

As Stringer points out, the depictions in those films represented most US citizens' first introduction to weed, fueling the idea that it could steal away young people's' innocence. Egged on by Anslinger's blunt rejection of science in favor of scare tactics, dire warnings about the imminent physical risks of weed kept coming: The Devil's Harvest (1942) sold audiences on the tagline "a fifth column sowing destruction in the youth of America," while the poster for 1949's She Shoulda Said "No"! advertised "pain & anguish… hopped-up harlots… psychotic dope fiends."

As white upper-middle-class baby boomers got into weed in the 1960s, the racially biased reputation of the drug faded, as folks largely became aware that the anti-weed films of the past point had been spouting some utter bullshit. (As Stringer put it to me in conversation, after someone's tried pot, they "would not believe that marijuana will cause someone to kill their family with an ax.") So the ads shifted toward a groovier feel, admitting that weed itself wasn't a deadly substance—but still took every opportunity to try to convince kids that pot could fuck over their lives, pushing the risk of bad experiences while using the drug as well as potential dependency, while advancing the narrative of weed as a "gateway drug." This copasetic and understanding—yet fallacious and menacing—push was what led to Sonny Bono explaining the dangers of a little toke to the era's youths in a 32-minute 1968 feature.

This strain of gentler, albeit still hyperbolic, PSA got a massive boost with Richard Nixon's war on drugs in the 1970s, and after a brief lull under Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, the PSAs persisted for the rest of the century. From the late 80s into the 90s, coalitions of anti-drug advocacy groups, willing advertising firms, and media companies annually pumped out hundreds of millions of dollars worth of PSAs that largely built on the faux-hipness and specious arguments that folks like Bono spewed decades earlier. In 1998, the federal government consolidated these efforts into a central program, the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign (which targeted other substances as well), with hundreds of millions of dollars in its war chest.

In the early 2000s, researchers finally got around to testing how effective these fear-mongering ads really were at reducing teen drug use—and the results were not inspiring. The federally backed campaigns were not only largely unsuccessful, but they could actually lead teens to believe that drugs were more prevalent than they actually were, thereby increasing the desire to see what using them was actually like.

The feds tried to shift their tone around 2005, focusing on bids like the Above the Influence campaign to stress the value of overcoming peer pressure and building an independent identity—but as the aforementioned 2007 ad with the talking dog suggested, strains of the paranoid exaggerations of the 1930s still shone through. These ads often played on the fear of social stigma—of one's status being forever diminished by weed—and painted pot as oddly potent implicitly as psychedelic. The ads got better practical results than what preceded them, but a combination of insufficient impact and changing federal priorities caused the government to ax the program in 2012, while its collaborators slowed their efforts as well.

The rapid escalation of legalization efforts and the concurrent mainstreaming of the drug have simultaneously been eroding the social patience for the scare tactics of the past. Case in point: The Colorado Department of Public Health tried to launch a Don't Be a Lab Rat campaign to convince teens that smoking pot would damage their young brains in 2014—two years after recreational legalization. The campaign bombed hard and faded fast. The following year saw the state adopting a value- and drama-free campaign, Good to Know, focusing on basic facts of real value for sensible and informed usage.

Stringer predicts that "increases in legalization are going to lead to more media attention about the responsible use of marijuana" in the near future—but the ill-informed and fear-based moralistic ads of the past are unlikely to vanish completely. In 2014, there was an anti-medical marijuana campaign in Florida with ads echoing the paranoid tones of the 1930s, including a poster suggesting edibles could become a widespread tool for date rape. Folks who were nursed on a steady drip of Reefer Madness–style moral paranoia are still in positions of power, too: Most notably, there's Attorney General Jeff Sessions's hatred of marijuana as a moral evil, as well as his vigor for a new drug war.

Regardless, in the future we're likely to see fewer PSAs shaming people for general pot usage and trumping up its inherent risks. Instead, Stringer suggests that "we can expect media attention and PSAs regarding marijuana to more closely resemble alcohol PSAs." Granted, PSAs about alcohol still often resort to social shaming tactics and focus on physical risks; but pot PSAs following in that vein will be a far cry from old messages of moral decay and character flaws in the "dope fiend." 

In Reefer Madness, Dr. Alfred Carroll (Josef Forte), a high school principal whose supposedly informative meeting with local parents frames the film, conjures visions of "A young boy… under the influence of [marijuana]… who killed his entire family with an ax." Compare that with Colorado's Good to Know campaign, which at its most fearful intones things like: "Brain development is not complete until age 25. For the best chance to reach their full potential, youth should not use retail marijuana." The horror, the horror—or, not quite.

Follow Mark Hay on Twitter.

How to Make Chai That’ll Get You High

Abdullah Saeed knows how important it is to chill. That's why VICE's resident weed expert came up with a way to infuse chai tea with weed, using a handful of spices and a bit of milk.

The Noun Project
Person Relaxing [This graphic has been modified]
By Delwar Hossain, BD

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Tea [This graphic has been modified]
By Setyo Ari Wibowo, ID

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By Gan Khoon Lay

The Noun Project
Tea [This graphic has been modified]
By Setyo Ari Wibowo, ID

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Cannabis Leaf [This graphic has been modified]
By Alice Noir

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Kitchen Timer
By Christopher Beach, US

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By Sixth Planet, UA

You Need to Watch These New Stoner Movie Classics

From The Big Lebowski to the Cheech and Chong franchise, from Half Baked to How High, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to 9 to 5: There is a long and storied history of stoner classics when it comes to film. What makes a stoner classic isn't that it's good to watch when you're high—arguably, everything is good to watch when you're high—but how specifically tailor-made the film in question seems to be to stoner sensibilities. From giggly humor to scenes of people toking to long shots and trippy visuals, it doesn't take much intuition to identify a stoner movie when you see it—you don't even have to be high to do so.

Just as tons of movies see release every year, many of those movies inevitably and often explicitly fall into the stoner subcategorization. Seth Rogen's profane animated feature Sausage Party is a decent (if excessively sophomoric) example of this, and so is Richard Linklater's excellent and lovingly languid Everybody Wants Some!!; Enter the Void and Spring Breakers were solid art-house stoner entries, and even Paul Thomas Anderson got into the giggly game with 2014's lovely, melancholy, and flat-out hilarious Inherent Vice.

This is to say that there are plenty of obvious stoner movies that have come out this decade—but for every no-brainer entry, there's another overlooked future stoner classic drifting in the pot-haze mist. Next time you sit down in front of the TV with some weed and a few bucks for an HD rental, here are ten movies that you should watch:

Embrace of the Serpent

Ciro Guerra's black-and-white journey into madness from 2015 is actually a bit of a callback to another stoner classic: Werner Herzog's harrowing 1972 epic Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Whereas Herzog's masterwork focused on one narrative, though—specifically, the titular Spanish soldier and the gold-hunting conquistadores that accompany him on his South American journey— Embrace of the Serpent jumps between two separate timelines involving Amazonian shaman Karamakate and his assisting foreign scientists looking for a rare plant with hallucinogenic properties. Sounds crazy, right? The patient pacing and gorgeous cinematography make for a visual feast, and the psychedelic blowout near its conclusion more than delivers. Watch this one with the lights off.

Get Out

Get Out might seem like a curious choice as a new stoner classic: Jordan Peele's instant-classic debut from earlier this year is a unnerving horror film on its surface as well as a deep, cutting critique on race relations and the black experience at large. It deserves your full attention, and some might argue that being under the influence could undercut your ability to give it just that. But Peele's sense of framing, as well as the visual spectacle that is the film's "Sunken Place" motif, is impossible to look away from even on repeated viewings. As long as you're not the easily distracted stoner type, it's the kind of film that gets even deeper than your typical bong.


French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villenueve's stellar career so far has been dotted with fascinating genre experiments—the somber crime drama Prisoners, Arrival's brainy alien-invasion vibes—and 2013's Enemy is his entry in the loopy, doppelgänger-loaded mind-fuck canon. Any film with not one but two Jake Gyllenhaals is worth the price of admission, but Nicolas Bolduc's gold-dappled cinematography and Javier Gullón's alluringly vague script make for an extremely heady 90 minutes. (Plus: spiders. Lots of them.)


Born behind the lens of a true stoner legend (The Fifth Element, anyone?), Luc Besson's bloody and high-voltage sci-fi thriller is literally mind-expanding, as the titular character (Scarlett Johansson) tears through the world around her (and beyond). She achieves humanity's quest for absolute power and knowledge, and then some. Lucy is also a composite of a few films that sadly didn't make this list: the faux-brainy Bradley Cooper vehicle Limitless and the Johannson-starring alien film Under the Skin. Limitless is a bit too arch for its own good sometimes—think of it as Bradley Cooper's own Risky Business and then think about how annoying that sounds. And Under the Skin has a few unfortunate lulls in terms of pacing. So consider Lucy the, well, Lucy-like intersection between the two: a fun, fast-paced, and fake-deep actioner that achieves total perfection in the time it takes most people to make dinner.


Gregg Araki has charted a fascinating career over the past 30 years—you never know what you're going to get from one of his films. Kaboom is certainly no exception. A funny, sexy, and cartoonishly over-the-top romp concerning a sexually fluid college student navigating his own horniness, murderous cults, and the end of the world, Kaboom is an 87-minute blast that blends silliness and real matters of the human heart like a kid mixing finger paint. In other words, it's the essence of creativity in all its messy glory. And it's the perfect thing to throw on when you're looking for something to throw you for a loop.


Speaking of loops! You'll get to know director Rian Johnson's name a lot more in the next 12 months—he's helmed the forthcoming installment in the Star Wars franchise, The Last Jedi—but before he hit brand-name pay dirt, he established himself as a maker of knotty, smart, and enthralling capers. His first feature, the high school noir Brick, makes for fine viewing under weed-colored lenses. And The Brothers Bloom is also a nice mix of fanciful wordplay and complicated heist maneuverings. But it's the blood-soaked Looper, with its futuristic trappings, high-concept plotting, and trippy special effects, that makes for Johnson's true stoner opus. Also, more doppelgänger. Doppelgängers are really effective when you're high!

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Look, I've written about this movie before, and I'll never stop never stopping to write about this movie, because it's amazing. If I'm being totally honest, it's the funniest movie the decade's offered up so far. If it wasn't for Step Brothers—a spiritual cousin, certainly, as well as the funniest movie of the past 30 years at least—I'd say that it's the funniest movie of the past 30 years at least. Does that seem like overselling to you? Well, then you've probably never seen Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. What are you waiting for?

Jupiter Ascending

The Wachowskis's high-profile bust from 2015 is better than you think. No, really. An ambitious world-building sci-fi epic that triggers heartsick swoons as much as it does awe-inducing gasps, Jupiter Ascending is perhaps the only film on this list in which Mila Kunis falls in love with a dog—and how! If the potential for bestiality doesn't rope you in, perhaps you'll consider the beautiful sequence in which Channing Tatum's Caine Wise (because he's a dog—get it?) literally rollerblades across the night sky, every step from his feet creating beautiful chemtrail-like streaks. Also, there's Eddie Redmayne's truly insane performance as the villainous Balem Abrasax (great name), which has been derided and praised by critics all over. Where will you land on it? Blaze one and find out.

Upstream Color

Shane Carruth's ambitious debut feature, the 2004 time-traveling mind-bender Primer, was shot on the cheap and confusing as all hell. Upstream Color, his 2013 follow-up, ups the production value considerably—but good luck making sense out of it. This is a good thing: In his short career so far, Carruth has proved himself a master when it comes to complex narratives and tackling big themes—biology, human nature, the cycle of life as we know it—and breaking your brain while he does so. Without giving too much away, Upstream Color will spark trippy conversations in thoughtful stoners.

What We Do in the Shadows

If you've seen a single episode of Flight of the Conchords, you probably know what you're getting into when it comes to this surprisingly warm-hearted (and very funny) Jemaine Clement–starring vampire comedy. What We Do in the Shadows is as much a situational comedy about the fickle nature of friendship and community as it is a mockumentary about the undead just trying to get along (and steer clear of werewolves). In other words, it's the least explicitly heady pick on this list, but is that such a bad thing? Getting high and watching movies is ultimately about unwinding. Not everything has to be so intense, and What We Do in the Shadows still brings the belly laughs as it charms your pants off. (There's some decent jump scares too, so it's not all chill.)

Follow Larry Fitzmaurice on Twitter.

A Helpful Woman’s Guide to Upgrading Your Entire Life With Homemade Marijuana Gummi Bears

I was like you once: eating a single bite of food with pot in it and freaking right the fuck out. The first time I had a pot brownie, I did what any sensible 15-year-old might: I decided they weren’t working, ate half the pan, waited two hours, then watched the entire room flip onto its side and felt the sensation…


Weed Might Be the Only Thing Climate Change Won’t Ruin

In my research for this column, I've learned that climate change is going to flood New York City, ruin sushi and coffee, worsen immigration-related problems, and increase the size and quantity of some bugs. But here's some good news for a change: no matter how bad the climate situation gets by 2050, weed is probably going to be just fine.

Yes, there are signs of some trouble ahead for farmers—particularly in Latin America. And yes, there are probably going to be policy fights between farmers and local governments. But climate doesn't look like it will make weed worse or less available. In fact, there are signs that by 2050, the market will actually be flooded with cheap weed thanks to climate change.

Let's set aside legality. Sure, enforcement could potentially surge under a weed-unfriendly presidential administration. But as the The New York Times recently put it, activists now take a kind of manifest destiny approach to legalization. "I'm assuming there'll be full legalization by 2050, otherwise I'm not doing my job right," said Sanho Tree, drug policy researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning DC think tank.

The weather itself won't kill pot plants, since the plant grows pretty much everywhere in the world, so increased average temperatures by 2050, such as the predicted five degree spike in the pot-growing stronghold of California, are scary for pretty much everything except weed farming. "They grow it at 62 degrees north latitude in Finland. They grow it right on the Equator, where I was the other day," said Donald Wirtshafter, legendary cannabis activist, lawyer, and historian. But Wirtshafter told me increased severe weather events may present a bit of a problem for weed farmers. "Wet plants produce moldy plants, especially late in the season," he said. 

Wirtshafter, who spends much of his time on Colombian cannabis plantations, told me the Colombian farmers he knows just dry their buds with mold still on them, producing a horrible, brown product. A recent rash of unusual storms in Colombia may or may not be connected to climate change, but if it is a trend, it doesn't bode well for the quality of Colombian weed, unless farmers take steps to improve conditions. "They're getting amazing quality crops just by putting a plastic cover up," Wirtshafter told me.

Meanwhile, if California sees some sort of drastic increase in precipitation by 2050—and it's possible—farmers would likely have the option to pull up stakes and move. "As more states open up, more reliably dry places like Arizona are going to reach dominance," Wirtshafter predicted.

But perhaps more importantly than any of this is the fact that more sensitive crops like corn and wheat can shrivel up—literally wilt—when temperatures increase. "As these problems become more extreme, we may become more dependent on cannabis because of its adaptability to these harsh conditions," said Wirtshafter.

According to Van Butsic, a UC Berkeley researcher studying agricultural land use in northern California, this is already happening. Farmers he's acquainted with are growing quote-unquote "organic vegetables," alongside their organic vegetables. Once it's legal, Butsic told me, "cannabis can join the mix with other crops," and diversifying your farm's output is just good business. Even if your first love is, say, wine, it might be a good idea to keep some weed plants around. That way you can "withstand fluctuations in markets, or bad years," Butsic told me. By implication, weed might also keep your farm in business if the apocalyptic heat from climate change melts your vegetables.

The weed booms in Colorado and Oregon are well underway. But in an agriculture-heavy area like California, where recreational weed retail won't become legal until January of 2018, it seemed plausible that the invasion of a new, high-value crop like pot might harm food production. Even if some of the pot industry's energy problems will likely be solved when the crop can be grown out in the open, one plant still uses 23 liters of water per day, as opposed to the 13 liters per day a grape vine uses. So yes, it's a thirsty crop. 

According to Butsic, pot may have its environmental issues, but an increase in farming by 2050 isn't likely to rob the region of its resources.

Butsic, who researches ways to count acres of cannabis farms in California, said "there's a maximum of 20,000 acres of [outdoor and greenhouse] weed production right now in California," and meanwhile, there's "about one million acres" of land dedicated to almond orchards. "So even if weed quadrupled and took over some almonds, that would be a tiny percentage of almonds—I just don't think the land use area for weed cultivation will ever be big enough to compete," he said. 

In short, climate could harm food crops, but if that farmland starts getting used for ganja by 2050, don't blame the plant itself.

Besides, the proliferation of pot farming has upsides for everyone. According to David Wrathall, Oregon State University assistant professor of geography and environmental sciences, "One of the main environmental benefits is depriving the Mexican cartels of profits." The cartels, he pointed out, lay waste to huge swaths of forest, just to launder their money, and they also just generally suck. So any negative impact, Wrathall told me, "would be offset by fewer negative environmental consequences [from] illicit production."

My last worry was an oversaturated market. In other words, what if climate change causes the problem we all secretly want: too much cheap weed. That would be great for consumers, but—to be fair—bad for producers.

But Wirtshafter told me not to worry about that either. "Eventually, there'll be a flooded market for pot. But that just means we'll use cannabis for other things, like industrial hemp, which is making a huge resurgence in the United States," he said. We all got a big reminder about this the other day when the State of Kentucky had to burn a farmer's hemp due to it having too much THC in it. 

And if climate change causes a famine, according to Wirtshafter, all those bountiful pot harvests could be our salvation. "Hemp was known as a crop for times of drought and famine. People ate a lot of hemp seeds in prior famines," he said, adding, "We may be back to that fairly quickly."

Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter.

Using Weed to Save Football

In this 3-part series, Kyle Turley takes us on his journey to to deal with the damaging effects of football through the use of marijuana. After an NFL career that saw him take home NFL All-Pro honors, Kyle was diagnosed with pre-CTE. After taking a laundry list of pharmaceutical drugs in order to deal with the associated issues, Kyle found marijuana to be the best available treatment for the problems that he was facing. In this episode, we meet Kyle and see the beginning of his journey.