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Anti-Reefer Movement

Reefer Madness 1936
The Anti-Reefer Movement
            in the United States

The anti-reefer movement was a social and political campaign in the United States that aimed to suppress the use of cannabis, also known as marijuana or reefer. The movement began in the early 20th century and gained momentum in the 1930s, leading to the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which effectively criminalised cannabis at the federal level.

Early History of the Anti-Reefer Movement

The early anti-reefer movement was driven by a number of factors, including:

Racism and xenophobia: Cannabis use was associated with Mexican immigrants and African Americans, who were seen as threats to white society.
Moral conservatism: Many people believed that cannabis use was immoral and led to social deviance.
Medical misinformation: There was a lack of scientific understanding of cannabis at the time, and many people believed that it was a dangerous and addictive drug.

One of the most influential figures in the early anti-reefer movement was Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Anslinger was a vocal opponent of cannabis and used his position to spread misinformation about the drug. He is best known for his quote, "The marijuana menace is the greatest danger to America today."

In 1936, the film Reefer Madness was released. The film was a fictional story about the dangers of cannabis use, but it was presented as a documentary and helped to fuel public fear of the drug.

The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937

The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was a federal law that effectively criminalised cannabis at the federal level. The law was passed without any scientific evidence to support the claim that cannabis was dangerous.

The Marijuana Tax Act was based on the argument that cannabis was a narcotic, but cannabis is not a narcotic. Narcotics are drugs that produce sedation, analgesia, and euphoria. Cannabis does not produce these effects.

The Marijuana Tax Act was also based on the argument that cannabis was a gateway drug, meaning that it led to the use of other, more dangerous drugs. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

The Decline of the Anti-Reefer Movement

The anti-reefer movement began to decline in the 1960's and 1970's as public opinion on cannabis began to change.

More and more people began to believe that the criminalisation of cannabis was unfair and that the drug had potential medical benefits.

In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act classified cannabis as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. However, this classification has been criticised by many scientists and medical professionals.

In recent years, there has been a growing movement to legalise cannabis for medical and recreational use. As of 2023, 21 states and the District of Columbia have legalised recreational cannabis, and 37 states have legalised medical cannabis.

The Impact of the Anti-Reefer Movement

The anti-reefer movement has had a significant impact on American society. It has led to the mass incarceration of people for cannabis-related offences, and it has created a black market for the drug. The movement has also contributed to the stigma that is still associated with cannabis use today.


The anti-reefer movement was a successful campaign to suppress the use of cannabis in the United States. However, the movement was based on misinformation and racism, and it has had a negative impact on American society. As public opinion on cannabis continues to change, it is likely that the anti-reefer movement will continue to decline.

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