Reefer Madness 2.0 – Is New Govt. Study Linking Cannabis To Suicide?

When most people think of government smear campaigns against cannabis, what usually comes to mind is Anslinger, Reefer Madness, and the onslaught of prohibition back in the 1930s. But a new study published June of this year in JAMA Psychiatry, claiming that cannabis use leads to suicidal ideation, shows that the practice of our government lying to us about marijuana remains alive and well to this day.    

According to the study, researchers state that cannabis use leads to an increased risk of suicide. Let me preface this by saying this particular study is different than most deceitful cannabis studies we come across. While conflicts of interest exist with nearly all of them – usually relating to competing industries or big pharma – this study is special because it’s funded by the US Government. It is literally a government smear campaign against cannabis, a real-life conspiracy come to fruition.

PLEASE NOTE – This article is my interpretation of the cited study, formed from the conclusions that I have reached based on numerous different sources of information. The US Government has a long and questionable history when it comes to cannabis legislation. For decades they’ve been lying to us about nearly every aspect of this plant, minimizing the benefits and exaggerating the risks. This is why cannabis industry writers, like myself and other CBD Testers authors, are very passionate about spreading unbiased information about marijuana. For more articles like this one, or to read about basically anything pertaining to cannabis, make sure to subscribe to The Medical Cannabis Weekly Newsletter. And if you’re having thoughts of suicide or self harm, don’t hesitate to reach out. Whether you talk to someone from your personal life or a support group or hotline, there is someone out there who cares and can help you!

Initial Thoughts

The government does benefit from prohibition in numerous ways, so believe it or not, keeping cannabis illegal at the federal level is high on their list of priorities. This is why it has never mattered whether the president was a democrat or republican, or what kind of promises they made on the campaign trail, we have yet to see any substantial progress in the way of federal cannabis legislation. And don’t expect much to change anytime soon either.

Now back to the study. Even the authors admit that their research method is flawed and results may vary. Very few confounding variables were accounted for in the study, and, let’s face it, trying to pinpoint one specific factor that leads to increased thoughts of suicide is a long shot The main point that can really be taken home from this study is that both suicide rates and cannabis use have increased over the last decade… whether or not they are related is an entirely different story.

So, starting with the obvious, people are more stressed these days, financially and just in general – and this statement is confirmed by interviews with more than a dozen experts on mental health and suicide. Also, statistical data collection and record-keeping has vastly improved over the last 10 years resulting in a wealth of knowledge on people’s emotional health and daily habits, information that was less publicly available decades ago.

However, one of the most important questions that arises from this study, is what if increased cannabis use was associated with higher rates of suicidal thoughts because when people felt suicidal, they used cannabis to feel better? It’s more likely that cannabis didn’t cause the suicidal thoughts but actually alleviated them, and if suicidal thoughts returned a person may have gone through another period of more excessive consumption.

I sometimes struggle with anxiety and depression and when I’m going through a rougher point emotionally, I use more cannabis and stronger products because it helps with the symptoms I’m experiencing. So even in my own life, periods of depression do correlate with heavier cannabis use, not because the cannabis is causing my depression, but rather because I’m self-medicating with weed products. Correlation versus causation, it matters a lot when making heavy-handed claims such as this one.

About the Study

Over 281,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 35 participated in the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health between 2008 and 2019. The participants answered questions related to cannabis use, depression and major depressive episodes, suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempted suicide. Using SUDAAN Software and adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics, nicotine dependence, alcohol use disorder, and cocaine use disorder, they basically put all the vague, self-reported, statistical data they collected to be analyzed through a computer-generated algorithm.

In reality, they didn’t do very much with the additional information and they didn’t even ask about prescription medications and illicit drug use other than cocaine, even though the rate of prescription drug misuse is nearly double that of cocaine. Researchers assembled four groups for the study — those who used no marijuana, people who used marijuana daily, people who used marijuana non-daily, and individuals with ‘cannabis use disorder’ (CUD). According to their results, even occasional marijuana use was linked to an increased risk of suicidal thoughts, but the risk was greater for regular and CUD users. They also state that women were more strongly impacted than men.


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Apparently, there was even a risk for people who did not suffer from depression at all. “Regardless of whether you had a history of depression or not, cannabis significantly increased the risk of suicidal behavior. It wasn’t a small effect. It was a large effect. I expected an association, but it just took me aback,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIDA. “Cannabis use also increases impulsive behavior, and for some people suicide is an essentially impulsive act,” Volkow added. “You more or less feel OK and then all of sudden there’s this urgent need to kill yourself,” she said. “Those impulsive acts of suicide have been associated in the past with cannabis.”

So, as per this study, cannabis alone can make someone so crazy that they might spontaneously attempt suicide. In the event that someone is feeling totally normal one minute than dangerously suicidal the next, it much more likely that the issue is an undiagnosed mental health condition. Relating suicide to casually to impulsivity is also dubious and numerous experts claim that suicide is very rarely in impulsive act. Although people who commit suicide are often more impulsive in other areas of life, the act of killing oneself is usually a result of long-term thinking and planning and most suicide attempts have some level of foreseeability to them.

Correlation or Causation? Experts Weigh In

“It might be that people prone to suicide turn to marijuana as a potential form of relief, rather than pot spurring them to suicidal thought and action,” said Dr. Elie Aoun, an addiction psychiatrist with the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. “We have to think about whether it’s the cause or the consequence, or just factors that happen to coexist at the same time.”

Mitch Earleywine, an advisory board member for the advocacy group NORML and professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany., believes this is a self-medication issue. “We happen to be looking at data during a time when both suicidal ideation and cannabis consumption have increased, but the notion that one causes the other seems less likely than a spurious link among each of these and a lot of other economic, social, and legal issues,” said Earleywine.

According to Dr. Deepak Cyril D’Souza, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, interest in using cannabis to treat mental illness has been growing. “Most people who use cannabis are not suicidal and most people who have attempted suicide may not have used cannabis, so cannabis is neither necessary nor sufficient to ‘cause’ suicide or mood disorders,” D’Souza said.

Major Conflicts of Interest

Conflicts of interest pose substantial problems for professional, patient, and general public trust in research and healthcare. Conflicts of interest compromise the integrity of research projects, and these days, so many exist that you really have to dig deep into who’s paying for a study and what their underlying motives are. Usually, the focus has been on the relationship between authors and companies or pharmaceutical stocks, but we need to look closely at funding from government organizations as well.

There are a few different ways that research results can be manipulated. These include altering the research design, data falsification and fabrication, and suppression of results. Studies of government-sponsored research show that the “incidence of research misconduct is low, but still significant”. Various studies estimate the frequency of research misconduct in government-funded studies to be somewhere between 1% and 9%.

Now, think about the significance of a government-funded study against cannabis. Our government has had a long, questionable, and prejudice relationship with pot since the 1930s when Harry Anslinger led numerous campaigns against “marihuana”, funded smear campaigns, and assisted in the production of films like Reefer Madness.

As it currently stands, our government profits immensely from federal cannabis prohibition and they have their hands so deep in marijuana money that they actually get income from both – states that strictly enforce cannabis regulations and those that permit state-legal recreational programs. In short, the government is making a lot of money on cannabis in both legal and restricted states, and it’s safe to assume they’re not interested in switching things up anytime soon.

How Prohibition Increases Government Tax Revenue

Although cannabis is federally prohibited, state-legal recreational and medical programs are permitted. However, because these businesses are dealing with a schedule 1 narcotic, they aren’t allowed to claim deductions at tax time and are forced to pay effective tax rates as high as 70 percent, as opposed to the more typical 30 percent rate for other industries.

It’s hard to say an exact number regarding how much tax money the government makes off marijuana’s illegal status, but the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimates they will collect roughly $5 billion dollars from state-legal cannabis businesses over the next few years.

The government’s gain on illegal enterprise all circles back to one small tax code provision known as 280E, which states that anyone in the business of dealing with Schedule I or Schedule II narcotics cannot claim and exemptions on their taxes. It was written into law back in the 1980s as a way to hit mobsters where it hurts, in their wallets, but it has recently become the focus of an ongoing dispute between state-legal medical and recreational cannabis businesses, and the federal government. As it stands, the government stands to make way more money off all the taxes they collect from 280E as opposed to what they would get if cannabis businesses were charged fairly like every other industry.

“In order for the legalization to be considered, there would need to be a significant excise tax imposed on the sale of cannabis,” says Pat Oglesby, an attorney who specializes in cannabis tax policy. “The federal government is not going to do this for zero, and an excise tax would need to be very high in order to compensate for 280E.”

Profiting Off Cheap Prison Labor

The prison system in the United States is very complex. Here, we have both private and public prisons, and there are some striking difference between the two as far as how they operate, what kind of inmates they house, and where they get funding and spend their budgets.

Public prisons are run by state governments, whereas private prisons are operated by private, third-party companies that receive their funding from various different government contracts. Most of these contracts are based on how many inmates the prison houses and their average length of time onsite. Private prison finances are unregulated and they are not required to report many details about their economic infrastructure, who the holding companies and executives are, how much they receive in funding, or how they spend their annual budgets. Also worth mentioning is that the majority of inmates in private prisons are low-level offenders serving for non-violent crimes.

All that said, the conflicts of interest are frighteningly apparent… but it gets worse. The federal government is the largest utilizer of private prisons in country. Let’s take a quick look at UNICOR, also known as the Federal Prison Industries Program. According to their own website, UNICOR is “a wholly owned, self-sustaining Government corporation that sells market-priced services and quality goods made by inmates.”

UNICOR makes just over $61 million per year in net sales by using prison labor, and while they sell ‘market-priced goods and services’, the inmates earn only 23¢ to $1.15 per hour. And despite getting paid only a fraction of the already-offensively-low federal minimum wage, they must immediately turn around and pay half of their earnings to cover expenses while incarcerated. UNICOR is only one of many companies making millions off almost-free prison labor.

Because incarceration is an industry, prisons are naturally incentivized to expand operations and get more funding. There are many politicians, private contractors, and even stockbrokers that all have a vested interest in keeping prisons profitable, and the only way they can do that is by cutting healthcare and security costs, pushing for extended confinement, and of course, filling any empty beds as quickly as possible. The fact that you can actually buy stock in a system that is supposed to rehabilitate people shows how prison has become a money machine and nothing more. But regardless, these are people with money and connections so lobbying for harsher punishments for low-level crimes, like marijuana possession, to keep people rolling through the prison system is a regular occurrence. Corporate-criminality is a phrase that certainly comes to mind here.

“Various complex financing entities that fuel a built-in incentive to consolidate, monopolize, and expand the incarceration system, and the sentencing and legal processes that keep it humming,” mentions Bianca Tylek, director of the Urban Justice Center’s Corrections Accountability Project (CAP). Tylek says their report aims “to help people understand just how big this space is,” particularly because, often, “companies spend their money in a way to further entrench or expand the use of our criminal-legal system, and who it ends up touching.”

Final Thoughts – Cannabis, Suicide, and Government Misinformation

It’s very common for people with all sorts of underlying mental illnesses, who may also have a pre-existing risk for suicidal thoughts, to use marijuana therapeutically. Numerous experts have chimed in to say that it’s impossible to link any one specific factor to a condition so complex and much more research is needed to understand the link between cannabis and suicide. And considering the government’s questionable history with cannabis, it’s not surprising people are skeptical of studies like this one.  

While we keep being told that cannabis needs to remain prohibited because it is ‘unsafe’, ‘immoral’, and ‘hasn’t been studied extensively enough’, it’s getting tough to ignore all the financial incentives the feds have for keeping it illegal. If the government continues to be motivated by the almighty dollar, it might be a very long time before we see any progress on the cannabis legalization front.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, don’t hesitate to get help because cannabis and other methods for self-medicating are not always effective. If you feel depressed, TALK TO SOMEONE! A friend, spouse, relative, support group, or suicide prevention hotline, there is someone out there who cares and can help you!

Thank you for stopping by CBD TESTERS, your source for all things cannabis-related. Don’t forget to subscribe to The Medical Cannabis Weekly Newsletter for more articles like this one!

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*** This is an opinion piece that mainly reflects the author’s opinion about a subject ***

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Alternative Drug-themed Horror Movies to watch this Halloweed

Behold, some alternative drug-themed horror movie viewing to get you in the spooky spirit this Halloweed season. Warning, this list is spooktacular! Horror movies are like drugs, they are stimulating and have a sensory-impact. There is a catharsis associated with horror viewing, releasing emotions by exploring different themes like trauma and grief, and depression. Watching […]

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Japanese Court acknowledges cannabis psychosis in sexual assault case

Published on Wednesday 9/30/2020 7:54PM TV Kansai After an appeal hearing, a court in Osaka, Japan convicted a man with a suspended sentence. He had allegedly attacked a woman under the influence of cannabis psychosis.  Defendant Naoya Tateishi (36) was prosecuted on a count of injuring and attempting forcible sexual conduct on an in-home nurse. […]

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Breaking the stigma: how cannabis got a bad reputation

There once was a time when cannabis was a popular medicinal substance carried in pharmacies across the U.S. and farmers were even given government incentives to grow hemp. Fast forward a few decades, marijuana drug became classified as a Schedule 1 substance. It is the most restrictive category for substances with “no currently accepted medical […]

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Breaking the stigma: Marijuana’s bad reputation

There once was a time when cannabis was a popular medicinal substance carried in pharmacies across the U.S. and farmers were even given government incentives to grow hemp. Fast forward a few decades, marijuana drug became classified as a Schedule 1 substance. It is the most restrictive category for substances with “no currently accepted medical […]

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Te contamos cómo el cannabis se volvió ilegal en los Estados Unidos

Los legisladores argumentan que el lapso en la política actual afecta desproporcionadamente a las personas de color y a las personas pobres.

Los primeros días de la prohibición del cannabis no fueron más que un torbellino. Aunque ciertos estados ya habían comenzado a imponer restricciones al cannabis, no fue nada comparado con el comienzo de la campaña nacional contra la planta.

En gran parte debido a la implacabilidad de Harry Anslinger, Estados Unidos impuso una prohibición federal al cannabis. Hoy, tenemos nueva información y evidencia científica que demuestran la eficacia del cannabis como medicamento y su naturaleza inofensiva como sustancia recreativa. Pero todavía estamos sintiendo las ramificaciones de la agenda anti-marihuana de Anslinger. Estos son algunos aspectos destacados de los primeros días de la prohibición del cannabis.

Harry Anslinger

Conocido comúnmente como el “Padre de la Prohibición del Cannabis”, el título de trabajo oficial de Harry Anslinger era Comisionado de la Oficina Federal de Narcóticos. Fue la primera persona en ocupar ese puesto.

Nacido en 1892 de padres inmigrantes, Anslinger comenzó su carrera como investigador del ferrocarril de Pensilvania. Durante 10 años, se unió a la policía y al ejército para combatir el narcotráfico internacional. Debido a que trabajó principalmente con la Tesorería, el tráfico ilegal de drogas y alcohol tenía un enfoque puramente financiero, no basado en cuestiones morales o sociales.

En 1929, Anslinger comenzó a trabajar como comisionado asistente de la Oficina de Prohibición de la Tesorería. Pero luego, en 1930, obtuvo el ascenso de toda una vida. El tío de su esposa, Andrew W. Mellon, lo nombró como el primer comisionado de la Oficina Federal de Narcóticos.

En este punto de la historia del país, las restricciones de cannabis ya comenzaban a promulgarse en algunos estados. Curiosamente, cuando comenzó su nuevo trabajo, Anslinger no tuvo ningún problema, moral o de otro tipo, con el cannabis. Según las fuentes, incluso dijo que el cannabis, entonces llamado “cáñamo indio”, no era dañino y no causaba que los usuarios se comportaran violentamente.

Entonces terminó la prohibición del alcohol.

Locura por el porro

Anslinger cambió de opinión. Comenzó a difundir informes falsos de locura, violencia y crimen inducidos por el cannabis.

Utilizando los poderes de los medios de comunicación, consiguió que el público estadounidense estuviera de su lado al publicar lo que se denominó “Archivos Gore”. Estos consistían en informes policiales de crímenes horribles supuestamente cometidos por personas bajo la influencia del cannabis.

Uno de esos delitos fue el asesinato de la familia Licata en Florida en 1933. Victor Licata, un hombre de 20 años, usó un hacha para matar a sus padres y tres hermanos. Aunque la evaluación psiquiátrica indicó que tenía una enfermedad mental grave, los propagandistas contra el cannabis, incluido Anslinger, difundieron la historia de que Licata era adicto al cannabis.

El caso fue tan sangriento y llegó a una audiencia tan amplia que incluso inspiró una de las películas más notorias estrenadas en los Estados Unidos: la explotación de 1936 Reefer Madness, una película convertida en una sátira involuntaria.

Siempre sensacionalista, Anslinger mantuvo el impulso de la idea de que el cannabis causaba locura.

“La marihuana es un acceso directo al manicomio”, dijo. “Fuma cigarrillos de marihuana durante un mes y lo que alguna vez fue tu cerebro no será más que un depósito de espectros horribles”.

Mala Psicología

La psicosis que supuestamente indujo el consumo de cannabis fue un tema recurrente en los primeros días de la prohibición del cannabis.

Durante las audiencias del Congreso para la Ley del Impuesto sobre la Marihuana de 1937, Anslinger presentó una declaración titulada, “Marihuana: una amenaza más alarmante para la sociedad que todas las otras drogas formadoras de hábitos”, coescrita por el Dr. Frank R. Gomila y Madeline C. Gomila Entre las muchas afirmaciones erróneas que escribieron los autores, las afirmaciones de que el consumo de cannabis condujo a desastrosas ramificaciones psiquiátricas fueron abundantes.

Del St. Louis Star-Times de una fecha anterior, encontramos el caso de un joven estudiante de secundaria reportado. Un ejemplo de ello es el de un joven, un estudiante inteligente de secundaria, ahora confinado en una institución para enfermos mentales. Su experiencia es totalmente el resultado de adquirir el hábito de fumar cigarrillos de marihuana.

Durante el testimonio de Anslinger ante el Congreso durante las audiencias de la Ley del Impuesto sobre la Marihuana, también comparó el cannabis con drogas como el opio:

“Aquí tenemos una droga que no es como el opio”, dijo. “El opio tiene todo el bien del Dr. Jekyll y todo el mal del Sr. Hyde. Esta droga es enteramente el monstruo Hyde, cuyo efecto dañino no se puede medir “.


Anslinger no solo usó tácticas para alarmar el miedo en los primeros días de la prohibición del cannabis. En la década de 1930, su propaganda contra el cannabis a menudo tenía un elemento de racismo.

“Estudiantes de color en la Universidad de Minnesota festejando con estudiantes (blancas), fumando [marihuana] y simpatizando con historias de persecución racial. Resultado: embarazo ”, escribió.

Recuerde: esto fue en los Estados Unidos durante la década de 1930. El racismo fue aceptado fácilmente en la gran mayoría del país. Las Leyes de Jim Crow continuarían por otros 30 años. Anslinger sabía exactamente lo que estaba haciendo.

Además, él afirmó:

Hay un total de 100,000 fumadores de marihuana en los EE. UU., Y la mayoría son negros, hispanos, filipinos y artistas. Su música satánica, jazz y swing son el resultado del consumo de marihuana. Esta marihuana hace que las mujeres blancas busquen relaciones sexuales con negros, artistas y otros.

Y por supuesto, agregó el siguiente comentario:

El porro hace que los “darkies” piensen que son tan buenos como los blancos.

Anslinger estuvo lejos de ser el primero en utilizar el racismo como un medio para alejar a los estadounidenses blancos de la planta. Y no fue exclusivamente contra los negros.

Ya en 1910, los supuestos “peligros” del cannabis se publicitaron en los estados del sur en un esfuerzo por poner al público contra los inmigrantes mexicanos. Como era de esperar, estos puntos de vista no se extinguieron. En el escrito, “Marihuana: una amenaza más alarmante para la sociedad que todas las otras drogas formadoras de hábitos”, los autores escribieron: “Los mexicanos convierten [el cannabis] en cigarrillos, que venden a dos por 25 centavos, principalmente a estudiantes blancos de secundaria”.


Un elemento adicional de los primeros días de la prohibición del cannabis se centró en el sexo. Específicamente, sobre la sexualidad de las mujeres blancas, así como sobre su supuesta vulnerabilidad. Este enfoque no terminó con las observaciones de Anslinger de que el consumo de cannabis inspiró a las mujeres blancas a buscar relaciones con hombres negros. Y no fue solo Anslinger quien hizo declaraciones sobre el impacto “negativo” que el cannabis tuvo en las mujeres.

El escrito, “Marihuana: una amenaza más alarmante para la sociedad que todas las otras drogas formadoras de hábitos”, relató la historia de una joven que fumaba cannabis con su novio y se intoxicaba tanto que se escaparon.

Otros informes a los que Anslinger hizo referencia en su testimonio durante las audiencias del Congreso sobre la Ley Tributaria de la Marihuana contaron historias de hombres que, bajo la influencia del cannabis, cometían violaciones. El propio Anslinger informó sobre historias como esta en sus archivos de Gore. Un ejemplo notable:

Dos Negros tomaron a una niña de catorce años y la mantuvo durante dos días bajo la influencia del cáñamo. Al recuperarse, se descubrió que padecía sífilis.

La propaganda contra el cannabis durante los primeros días de la prohibición reflejó esta fijación en la idea de que el cannabis promueve la promiscuidad. Particularmente con películas como Reefer Madness y Marihuana, que jugaron con esta noción. El mensaje era claro: el cannabis era responsable de arruinar la virtud de las mujeres.

Golpe final: música satánica, minorías y sexo: los primeros días de la prohibición del cannabis

Recordar los primeros días de la prohibición del cannabis es ciertamente interesante. Incluso puede ser ligeramente entretenido si puede verlo con cierta luz. Pero si bien podemos mirar hacia atrás y maravillarnos por la información errónea ampliamente difundida y aceptada y por las mentiras descaradas, también es importante reflexionar sobre ello. Las ramificaciones de los primeros días de la prohibición del cannabis, y especialmente de la implacable cruzada contra el cannabis de Harry Anslinger, todavía nos afectan hasta el día de hoy. Los activistas contra la marihuana todavía intentan difundir falsedades sobre la planta. La disparidad racial de los arrestos por cannabis aún prevalece. Incluso cuando los estudios demuestran que las personas blancas consumen tanta hierba (y a veces más) como las personas de color.

Como comunidad, tenemos la responsabilidad de rechazar estos primeros esfuerzos contra el cannabis. Ya hemos llegado tan lejos. Todos debemos trabajar duro para evitar que nuestra sociedad y nuestras leyes retrocedan.

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Murderer Won’t Stand Trial Because ‘Cannabis Use’ Caused Psychosis, Court Rules

In a controversial case in France, the admitted perpetrator in an anti-Semitic murder will not stand trial and will be going to a drug rehab facility instead of prison — on the basis of his claim that he suffered from temporary insanity because of cannabis use.

French Jewish leaders are, of course,
aghast. But the decision also sets an alarming precedent in the fight for
cannabis normalization, legitimizing the dubious notion of cannabis-induced psychosis
and further entrenching the stigma. It’s certainly an irony that the
once-laughable notion of reefer madness is being exploited to keep
someone out of jail.

The Paris Court of Appeal on Dec. 19 ruled that Kobili Traore, who
admitted to murdering his elderly Orthodox Jewish neighbor Sarah Halimi in
April 2017 while shouting anti-Semitic slurs, will not face trial for the crime
— due to mental incapacity caused by his use of cannabis. 

Traore had no history of mental illness, according to the Times of Israel, but a psychiatric report issued in September concluded that on the night of the murder, Traore suffered an “acute delirium” after heavy cannabis use. The report said he’d been smoking 15 joints a day, causing him to believe “a demon had possessed him” and to lose control of his actions. 

As Israeli website YNet reports, citing French media accounts, Traore will be sent to a drug rehabilitation facility under the ruling.

Alarmingly, of three medical experts called to testify in the case, only one argued that use of cannabis did not nullify Traore’s criminal liability. And according to an account on Jewish news site The Tablet, even this dissenting “expert,” Dr. Daniel Zagury, gave credence to the notion of cannabis delirium, asserting that “there is an alteration of discernment and not an abolition” from cannabis use.

French Jewish parliamentarian Meyer Habib assailed the ruling:
“As a member of Parliament, I do not criticize court decisions, but as
someone involved in the case from day one — I am simply shocked.” 

Habib also noted a double standard about cannabis use versus
alcohol where criminal responsibility is concerned: “[T]his decision sends
a clear message to all criminals: when one drinks and commits an offense it is
aggravating circumstances, and when another partakes excessive amounts of
drugs, it is a mitigating circumstance and he is not responsible for his

Francis Szpiner, a lawyer for the Halimi family, made a similar point in comments to the UK’s Jewish Chronicle, and warned that the case could set a dangerous precedent: “You’re saying that people can walk free after carrying out criminal action just because they were allegedly not aware of the effects of drugs or other substances? Will this also apply to drunk drivers who kill children on the road?”  

A Precedent for ‘Reefer Madness’? 

Does this case in fact set precedent for the dubious notion of cannabis-induced psychosis being used in criminal justice? 

The good news is that the French legal system has a weaker tradition of binding precedent than the American one. In the United States, the principle of stare decisis holds “that a question once considered by a court and answered must elicit the same response each time the same issue is brought before the courts.” In France, there is more flexibility.

Stanford Law School commentary describes the French legal system as one “without binding precedent.” However, prior decisions do have some weight.

The Door to Dystopia

As we’ve noted, there are numerous grim implications to the Traore case. The notion that cannabis causes violence will not only provide convenient propaganda for prohibitionists. (The Tablet’s ironic headline was “Want to Keep Jews Safe? Criminalize Marijuana.”)

Alas, if things keep going the way they are going, there will be no shortage of cases to watch. On Dec. 11, three people were killed in an attack on a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey. On Dec. 28, several people were wounded when an intruder attacked a local rabbi’s private Hanukkah party in New York’s Rockland County. This follows the October 2018 synagogue massacre that left 11 dead in Pittsburgh.

As with the endless debates over gun control in the U.S., making the
issue about cannabis use forestalls a reckoning with the tough question
of why mass shootings and hate crimes are escalating worldwide
at this moment. Even if we are to concede that cannabis fueled dark imaginings
in Traore’s mind, his particular fixation on the Jews had to come from
somewhere — meaning somewhere other than cannabis.

There are political and ideological roots, especially to overtly
racist attacks — whether they target Jews, or Muslims (as in the March
2019 Christchurch
) or Latin immigrants (as the August 2019 El Paso massacre).
Focusing on cannabis — an herb used peacefully by millions around the world
every day — can ultimately be seen as a distraction from the greater
underlying problem.

France Lifting Pressure on Cannabis — A Little

France has traditionally had some of Europe’s toughest cannabis laws, but it has started to loosen up in recent years. In 2018, a new law put an end to prison terms for personal cannabis use. President Emmanuel Macron made his pledge to reform laws on cannabis use a key campaign plank during the previous year’s hard-fought electoral race. 

Under current law, personal possession only results in a fine of 200
euros ($226 U.S. dollars), with the judge having broad discretion to define
what constitutes personal quantities.

An official body of French economists earlier this year recommended legalization. The Council of Economic Analysis (CAE), a group tasked with advising the government on policy, found in its June report that despite hardline policies, France has Europe’s highest rate of cannabis use.

“The system of prohibition promoted by France over the past 50
years has been a failure,” the CAE stated.

But, as French news agency AFP noted, Macron’s administration flatly rejected the proposal.  Said Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne: “The position of the government is very clear: We are against legalization for recreational use.”   

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‘Reefer Madness’ is Still Dumb, Somehow Cool, and Remains Important, Even Generations Later

By Andrew Amelinckx

“Reefer Madness” is certainly the most well-known anti-cannabis film of all time. 

It isn’t just a poorly made and acted exploitation film from the 1930s (though it is those things as well), it’s also an influential film that helped lay the foundation for cannabis prohibition and misinformation for the next 80 years of American culture. It was part of a concerted effort by Washington, Hollywood, and the mainstream media to demonize marijuana through propaganda. And, in a strange twist, it would also help ignite the movement to roll back the stigmas and laws it brought about to help generate and become a potent symbol for legalization.

The term “Reefer Madness” has become a shorthand way to describe misconceptions about weed that are spread through fearmongering or political motivation.

This is all to say that “Reefer Madness” may also be one of the most important and influential weed movies in film history. All that, and most modern-day American stoners probably haven’t even seen it, much less fully understand how it came to be so embedded in the cannabis conversation. So let’s explore the history of “Reefer Madness,” and examine how it has stayed in weed culture today. 

‘Reefer Madness’ was Backed by … a Church? 

“Reefer Madness” was produced in 1936 by George Hirliman and directed by the French B-movie director Louis Gasnier. It tells the story of high school kids who after one puff of weed become hopeless addicts with dark circles under their eyes and a penchant for sex and violence. There’s a hit-and-run accident, a near-rape, a shooting, a suicide, and incurable insanity for the characters who fall prey to the real “Public Enemy No. 1,” as the plant is described in the film’s prologue. 

The film was financed by a church group under the title “Tell Your Children,” according to a 1987 Los Angeles Times interview with Thelma White, one of the film’s stars. “Tell Your Children” was supposed to be a cautionary film warning parents about the dangers of cannabis, according to Jan-Christopher Horak, the director of the UCLA Film and Television Archive. But Dwain Esper, an exploitation film producer and distributor, was able to buy the film, he said. Esper recut the film and added a few racy scenes, including one in which an actress slowly gets dressed, in order to make it more commercially viable for the exploitation market, according to Horak. 

The exploitation-film business of the 1930s and ’40s was a sort of “shadow market apart from the official film industry” focused on “radical” social and political content, such as sexually transmitted diseases, drugs, and race relations, according to Horak. They were shown in small independent theaters and weren’t under the same content restrictions as the major studios.  

Esper had already made a film called “Marihuana,” along the same lines as “Reefer Madness” and knew what would sell: sex, violence, and scare tactics. 

“Because these movies were being shown in these theaters outside of the mainstream the amount of money they were earning was not that great but the films would run and run and run,” Horak said. “Reefer Madness” would run for decades.

But First, Let’s Demonize Weed 

While “Reefer Madness” and similar films were not actually produced by the U.S. government (a common misconception), they did help reinforce the propaganda pushed by Harry J. Anslinger, the director of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics and architect of the federal government’s war on cannabis. 

Beginning in 1934, Anslinger, with the help of the “yellow press” — tabloid newspapers prone to sensationalism over facts — began a nationwide campaign against cannabis, according to Martin A. Lee’s “Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana — Medical, Recreational, Scientific.” 

The exploitation filmmakers, seeing an opportunity to make money, jumped on the bandwagon. While there is a moral perspective in “Reefer Madness,” Esper and other exploitation producers had no qualms with loading their films with sex, drug use, and other images mainstream movies couldn’t show, Horak said. It was their main selling points. 

While these movies were simply cash grabs, “Reefer Madness” and other anti-marijuana propaganda films helped push the cannabis prohibition, according to R. Keith Stroup, the legal counsel and founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

“I think the films were an important element in reinforcing the ignorance that was prevalent regarding marijuana during the 1930s when prohibition was first adopted,” Stroup told Weedmaps News. “The government, I’m sure, loved the fact that it was out there, but it was a privately made movie produced to make money.” 

“Reefer Madness,” using various titles such as “The Burning Question” and “Love Madness,” continued to be shown all the way into the early 1960s before finally fizzling out. 

It would take Stroup and a new generation of weed smokers to revive the film and help turn it into a pop-culture phenomenon. 

NORML, the Midnight Movie, and the birth of a Cult Classic 

In 1972, Stroup, who had founded NORML two years earlier, bought a copy of “Reefer Madness,” which wasn’t under copyright, from the Library of Congress. He had a friend edit it down from its original 1 hour, 8 minute running time to about 35 minutes and began showing it on college campuses during his lectures. The money generated from the showings helped fund the fight against cannabis prohibition. 

“During those early years, I was doing a lot of college lectures as a way to raise money for NORML, but also as a way to organize politically,” Stroup said. “I used [“Reefer Madness”] for years to get press attention, to raise money, and to kind of ridicule the lack of a factual basis for marijuana prohibition.”

Copies of the edited movie were soon being used by various NORML chapters in California, New York, and Texas, helping to spread “Reefer Madness” far and wide. Stroup even put up a “Reefer Madness” poster in his office at NORML’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. A New York Times article on Stroup in January 1973 mentioned the poster and featured an image of it in the report.

“I didn’t intentionally revive ‘Reefer Madness’,” Stroup said. “It was just a byproduct of the fact that once we’d got it out there, campus papers would write a story discussing the movie as part of my lecture and other people began to pick up on it. Then it began to be available in the theaters.”

Soon after NORML began showing the film it was picked up by various theaters during the heyday of the midnight movie craze of the 1970s. It was often paired with old sci-fi films, cartoons, and other exploitation films of the same era. “Reefer Madness” became an underground hit. 

“’Reefer Madness’ proved popular with ‘potheads’ and their straight counterparts alike due to its outlandish depictions of the effects of marijuana on its users,” wrote Eric Shaefer in his book “Bold! Shocking! Daring! True!: A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959.” “Camp was cool and ‘Reefer Madness’ had become the essence of camp.” 

‘Reefer Madness’ Enters the Popular Culture

It became almost a rite of passage for stoners to get high and watch the film. By the 1980s it was being shown on cable channels and was available on VHS. “What could be more fun than laughing watching ‘Reefer Madness’ while you shared your marijuana with your college buddies,” Stroup said. 

In 1999, college friends Dan Studney and Kevin Murphy produced a musical stage version that became an off-Broadway hit and was adapted in 2005 for Showtime with a cast that included Kristen Bell, siblings Christian Campbell and Neve Campbell, and Alan Cumming.

Eventually, “Reefer Madness” became a byword for weed-related activities, a yesteryear’s 420.  

For instance, consider this January 2014 Newsweek headline for a report on the increase in marijuana-related stocks: “Wall Street’s Reefer Madness.”  

Or consider this scene from the “That ’70s Show” third season opener, the appropriately titled “Reefer Madness”:

The film has been sampled or referenced in several hip-hop songs and videos by music artists including Afroman, The Kottonmouth Kings, G-Eazy, and Sir Bigs; and the poster and related imagery can be had on refrigerator magnets, T-shirts, and more. 

Stroup believes the film still has cultural relevance because of what it represents. “It was part of the mess we inherited and that we had to take care of,” he said. Beyond this, the film that was originally intended to snuff out cannabis use has helped in the fight to end its prohibition thanks to Stroup who used it to finance NORML’s drug reform efforts. 

Today, Horak sees the film as a window into the taboos of the period but also as a way for today’s cannabis users to connect with the past since its use isn’t something that was just invented. “They were smoking [cannabis] back in the ’30s,” he said.

To learn more about how the “Reefer Madness” influenced the world of cannabis, check out the “Age of Madness” exhibit at the Weedmaps Museum of Weed. For ticket information, visit

Feature image illustrated by David Lozada/Weedmaps

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