This film explores the history of the American government’s official policy on marijuana in the 20th century. Rising with nativist xenophobia with Mexican immigration and their taste for smoking marijuana, we see the establishment of a wrong headed federal drug policy as a crime issue as oppposed to a public health approach. Fuelled by prejudice, hysterical propaganda and political opportunism undeterred by voices of reason on the subject, we follow the story of a costly and futile crusade against a substance with questionable ill effects that has damaged basic civil liberites.
The history of marijuana in the United States since its unofficial introduction in the early twentieth century is presented. As a product, it has been a focus of a strong government campaign to rids its distribution and use, primarily from the 1930′s to the 1970′s. Harry J. Anslinger, the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and President Richard Nixon were the chief persons waging the war. During the early battle, marijuana was popularly thought to cause a slew of maladies, including temporary insanity and murderous tendencies, as depicted through such movies as Marihuana (1936/I) aka “Reefer Madness”.
This popular belief led to marijuana being effectively classified an illegal substance in the United States in 1937. When some of these myths were debunked, especially through the free-wheeling 1960′s, anti-marijuana messaging turned to it being a gateway substance to stronger more dangerous illicit drugs, such as heroin. As much of the marijuana coming into the United States since the 1950′s was from China, the government also used anti-Communist messaging. Both Anslinger and Nixon quashed any scientific reports that came out refuting the government’s claims, such as a report commissioned by New York Mayor ‘Fiorello Laguardia’ . To the end of the century, America’s war on marijuana has cost the government several billions of dollars