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  • Christopher Smith, Editor-in-Chief

The 7 Cannabis Canards

Throughout the 100+ years of cannabis prohibition in the United States, which became a federal law with Harry Anslinger's Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, and was super-charged by Richard Nixon with the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, cannabis propaganda has been clear and consistent around seven themes.

These common tropes, which we call the "7 Cannabis Canards", were initiated by the political designers of the anti-drug campaigns, and have been propagated in the media.

The entertainment industry has had a particularly powerful role in developing Americans' fearful and negative opinion of cannabis and its effects. In books, films, and news media, hundreds or perhaps even thousands of pieces have contributed to the general fear and misunderstanding of cannabis and its potential medicinal benefits.

The "7 Cannabis Canards" can be used singly or in combinations. Readers will recognize many of these immediately. The American Cannabis Report will try to call these out whenever we see them:

  1. "Cannabis Users are Possessed by Satan." Cannabis has been called "The Devil's Weed" for decades, with "roots in hell", etc.; a powerful statement in simpler times. This cannabis canard leads to the sadly pathetic "The Devil Made Me Do It" defense that criminals are still using today.

  2. "Cannabis causes incurable insanity." A sideshow-barker catch-phrase of Anslinger which was prominently featured in the Hearst production of "Reefer Madness", cannabis has been linked with insanity, psychotic behavior, schizophrenia, and hallucinations. While it is true that cannabis is used by people suffering from mental illness, we have yet to find any evidence that it's causative - it seems more likely cannabis is a substance that suffering people seek out for relief.

  3. "Cannabis causes uncontrollable sexuality." We were surprised/not surprised to find a whole paperback book series titled "Marijuana Girl" as an example of the canard that cannabis will cause women (i.e. your sister, your girlfriend, your WIFE!!!) to lose control and throw herself at other men. This canard is also commonly used racially, or in time of war.

  4. "The Dusky Races Do It." A quote often attributed to Anslinger summarizes this one: "There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most of them are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others."

  5. "Cannabis Causes Shocking Violence." Another fave phrase of Anslinger, the idea that cannabis causes "shocking violence" is quaint to anyone who knows the real effect of ingesting the plant - quite the opposite from violence, the result is mellowness, relaxation, etc. But "Reefer Madness" depicted 'shocking violence and immorality' and people were affected by the powerful images that seemed so real in a Hollywood film.

  6. "Cannabis puts OUR whole community in danger." This cannabis canard says all of us must be on guard against cannabis, or it "may reach for your son... or daughter..." our "our race..."

  7. "Cannabis is a Gateway Drug." The often-cited theory that cannabis use "leads to hard drugs" (followed by ruin, violence, and death) has been debated for decades. Though there is no definitive study that says cannabis is NEVER A PART of an addict's use experience, most studies we've reviewed are in agreement that even if cannabis is on an addict's timeline, it is not exclusively CAUSATIVE. Addiction is complicated. A person's home and neighborhood environment, mental health, availability of substances from alcohol to prescription meds to sugar and a host of other factors can all contribute. But the idea that cannabis is a gateway drug has been discredited. In many studies, alcohol is cited as the real culprit.

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