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Legalizing Weed: The Film That Led to Policy Changes Against Marijuana

By    |   Saturday, 14 Nov 2015 04:48 PM

In 1936, an informational film called "Tell Your Children," which later came to be known as "Reefer Madness," was released in the U.S., describing the life-ruining effects of marijuana. The film had a profound impact, not only frightening parents, but also leading to policy changes around legalizing weed. Though the tide is turning on laws around both marijuana and hemp, this film led to decades of prohibition of the drug.

Shortly after the release of the film, politicians such as U.S. Narcotics Bureau Commissioner Harry Anslinger began using the claims of the film to rally public support for marijuana prohibition, according to BackStory. In 1937, he told a congressional committee exploring taxation of the drug that hemp use causes violent impulses and uncontrollable rages.

Urgent: Should Marijuana Be Legalized in All States?

The campaign against marijuana led to the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, according to PBS. This statute criminalized possession of marijuana except for very limited medical uses. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, states implemented and increased penalties for cannabis use, often conflating hemp with much more dangerous drugs.

As legalizing weed becomes a reality in much of the U.S., films once again have played a role in swaying both public opinion and legality. One documentary, "A Norml Life," was released in 2011. Through interviews with leaders from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the one-hour film explores legitimate medical uses for marijuana, as well as profiles both patients and medical providers who have used the drug effectively to treat a variety of conditions, according to IMDb.

In 2013, a movie was released documenting what The New York Times referred to as "Marijuana’s journey to legitimacy." "Evergreen: The Road to Legalization" gives audiences a complete picture of the path to legalizing weed in Washington state, both for medical and recreational uses as well as industrial uses of hemp.

Vote Now: How Do You Feel About Marijuana Legalization?

An official selection of the Sundance Film Festival, 2014’s "A Culture High" features interviews with a wellspring of pro-marijuana advocates, including Joe Rogan, Richard Branson, and Snoop Dogg. The movie challenges many of the assumptions about the drug that date back to the "Reefer Madness" days, shedding scientific light on a very useful plant.

"Reefer Madness," along with these pro-marijuana films, shows how art can have immeasurable influence not only on public opinion, but also on policy and legislation.

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In 1936, an informational film called Reefer Madness was released in the U.S., describing the life-ruining effects of marijuana. The film had a profound impact, not only frightening parents, but also leading to policy changes around legalizing weed.
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