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Themes in Chemical Prohibition: Sec 2
NIDA: Themes in Chemical Prohibition, William L. White, 1979

2. The Drug is Identified as Solely Responsible for Many Problems in the Culture, i.e., Crime, Violence, Insanity.

Reefer Madness, 1936
''Hopelessly and incurably insane, a condition caused by the drug marihuana'' - Reefer Madness
The attributing of crimes of violence, sexual assault, insanity, moral decay, etc. have been an integral part of efforts to prohibit the currently illicit drugs. A key element in this theme is the arbitrary designation of "good" and "evil" drugs with evil drugs possessing powers that can overwhelm all efforts at human control.

"The Devil made him do it" is changed to "the drug made him do it." This aspect of prohibitionist philosophy is so often reported, there is no need to belabor the point. A few illustrative examples will be outlined.


A prohibitionist movement, which was short lived but quite capable of attributing the evils of the world and the devastation of human beings to its particular despised chemical, gave wide circulation to a statement by Sir Clifford Allbut, M.D. and Walter Dixon, M.D. which appeared in A System of Medicine in 1909. At the time Sir Clifford was a professor of internal medicine at the University of Cambridge in England and Dr. Dixon was a professor of pharmacology at Kings College in London. An excerpt follows:
  • The sufferer is tremulous, and loses his self-command; he is subject to fits of agitation and depression; he loses his color and has a haggard appearance. The appetite falls off, and symptom of gastric catarrh may be manifested. The heart also suffers; it palpitates, or it intermits. As with other such agents, a renewed dose of the poison gives temporary relief, but at the cost of future misery. 20
  • The substance referred to is coffee, and the statement was circulated for a short time in an attempt to garner support for the prohibition of coffee.

    The anti-tobacco forces were much better organized (with cigarettes still illegal in 14 states in 192121, and their pronouncements received wide distribution. The following statements are representative of those used by the anti-tobacco forces from 1920 to 1935, Louis Lewin, an eminent authority on pharmacology, wrote the following in 1924 which received wide distribution:
  • The juvenile female flower of the nation, the 'Emancipata femans vulgaris' (Lewin's term for the feminists of his day) who should bear fruit in time to come. . frequently fails to do so because the foolish consumption of cigarettes has impregnated the sexual organs with smoke and nicotine and keeps them in a state of irritation and inflammation. 22

  • Few today remember the anti-tobacco campaigns of the Nazis

    A 1930 issue of the National Advocate reported a doctor's opinion that "Sixty percent of all babies born of mothers who are habitual smokers die before they are two years old."23 An anti-tobacco publication of 1931 included the following:
  • Fifty percent of our insanity is inherited from parents who were users of tobacco; sometimes the victim is a smoker himself, which hastens it on. Thirty percent of insanity cases are caused directly from cigarette smoking and the use of tobacco. . . 24
  • Several anti-tobacco publications of the 1920's quoted New York City Magistrate to illustrate the crime producing properties of tobacco:
  • Ninety-nine out of a hundred boys between the ages of 10 and 17 who came before me charged with a crime have their fingers disfigured by yellow cigarette stains. 25,26
  • Tobacco was also reported to be the hidden cause of increased suicides in the early 1900's:

  • The publisher of this book . . . has had two men in his employ who used cigarettes . . . They both committed suicide. They became so despondent and so sick of a life as they were living that they murdered themselves. This is the end to which many cigarette smokers come. 27

  • If we look at the few years preceding passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, we see equally vociferous statements on the evils and destructiveness of marihuana. An advertisement distributed by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1935 read as follows:

  • Beware! Young and Old -- People in All Walks of Life! This (picture of a marijuana cigarette) may be handed to you by the friendly stranger. It contains the Killer Drug 'Marijuana' - a powerful narcotic in which lurks Murder! Insanity! Death! 28
  • In 1936 the International Narcotic Education Association in conjunction with the Federal Narcotics Bureau published Marihuana or Indian Hemp and Its Preparations which included statements such as:

  • Prolonged use of marihuana frequently develops a delirious rage which. . . sometimes leads to high crimes such as assault and murder. Hence marihuana has been called the 'killer drug.' The habitual use of this narcotic poison always causes a very marked deterioration and sometimes produces insanity. Hence marihuana is frequently called 'loco weed.' . . Marihuana often gives man the lust to kill unreasonably without motive. Many cases of assault, rape, robbery, and murder are traced to the use of marihuana. 29 [see also]
  • Such reports were not limited to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. An article in the 1936 March issue of Scientific American included the following:
  • Marijuana produces a wide variety of symptoms in the user, including hilarity, swooning, sexual excitement. Combined with intoxicants, it often makes the smoker vicious, with a desire to fight and kill. 30

  • Modern prohibitionist propaganda employs time-tested technique and imagery. In this 2006 ad, parents are informed that marijuana kills. Compare with similar scenes from "Reefer Madness", 1936. [government anti-drug PSA, "Rewind", Real Movie, AVI ]

    Scenes from "Reefer Madness", 1936. A puff of marijuana leads to the death of the young and innocent Mary Lane.

    U.S. Congressman Mark Souder insists that marijuana kills, 2007:

    Tucker Carlson: ... and how many people died from marijuana overdoses last year?

    Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN): If you count the amount of crime associated with marijuana...

    Carlson: No, no, just marijuana overdoses. Just the drug itself, which you said is like cocaine now. How many people died from it?

    Souder: I don't... 65 percent of emergency room admissions for drug abuse are marijuana.

    Carlson: But did anyone die that you know of?

    Souder: Presumably so, thousands have died, the only question is, you said "overdose" --that isn't even most of the deaths related to prescription drug or to cocaine or heroin -- there's a whole range of drug crimes and so on. I don't know the number of overdoses. Marijuana is often managed, with meth -- no drug user is a single drug user so marijuana is often in the mix of most deaths so it would be very hard to separate what's what. A marijuana user is very seldom just a casual marijuana user (except in the early stages). They're often go[ing to be] polydrug [abusers].

    [source: Drug WarRant, Feb. 2007]

    Up until the end of prohibition of alcohol in 1933, there was a great deal of overlap between those participating in various prohibitionist movements. All of these persons and groups shared an anti-hedonistic ethic which provided a united front politically in their efforts to legally prohibit all pleasure-producing chemicals as well as other pleasurable nonchemical pastimes of humans, i.e., dancing, jazz music, gambling, etc. The years following the end of alcohol prohibition saw the beginning distinctions between good drugs and evil drugs. Those drugs within the experience of the majority of Americans were considered good; those drugs which tended to be used by minority and fringe groups tended to be defined as evil. Thus alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine (coffee) began to become increasingly integrated into the very fabric of American life, whereas cocaine, opium, heroin, and subsequently marihuana and the hallucinogens continued to be defined as evil - physically, emotionally, and morally devastating to the individual and unquestionably destructive to the culture. This definition of certain chemicals as innately good or evil was to germinate from 1933 into the 1960's where we would witness a giant eruption of this issue as adult America was forced to attempt to articulate to their own children the culturally inherited distinction between good drugs (alcohol) and evil drugs (marihuana, etc.).

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  • book: Drug War Propaganda
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