On November 4, the country continued its rejection of reefer madness as two more states, plus Washington D.C. voted to end marijuana prohibition within their borders.
Now, with Alaska, Oregon and D.C. joining Colorado and Washington as the trailblazers of marijuana legalization, the dissonance between public acceptance of marijuana and reefer madness propaganda has never been greater.
Last week, the New York Times ran a story called, “This is Your Brain on Drugs.”
Sound familiar? It should.
This was the slogan used during the ’80s to catapult the public into the mindset that marijuana rots your brain and leaves users helplessly addicted. In the ’80s, as in decades past, this message worked.
Why? Well, partially because, prior to the internet, the public had very few ways of checking whether what the government was feeding them was accurate. Newspapers, radio and television were the only sources of information, so when your president or elected official made a statement, you were hard-pressed to jump online and investigate its validity.
The use of propaganda and misinformation has basically been the tactic of those in power when perpetuating myths about marijuana and other drugs. Hidden behind a thin veil of purported concern for the health and safety of the public, these messages of propaganda were often developed to hide disdain or concern that politicians had about certain groups of people that they felt threatened the status quo.
It was the case with Mexican immigrants in the ’30s, Jewish Americans and rowdy teenagers in the ’60s, and African Americans in the ’80s up to the present. Messages of fear and concern over drug use were developed to create a fear of drug users among the majority, resulting in an “us vs. them” mentality that makes the wrongful treatment of the “them’s” that much more tolerable.
But, in the modern era of instant information from an unlimited number of sources, is this tactic of drug propaganda wearing off?
The New York Times article was full of the usual scare tactics: a picture of a brain scan with circles on it around the bad parts, an anecdotal story about a girl who used marijuana everyday (although nothing bad happened to her), and dire warnings from the National Institute on Drug Abuse such as, “Partying on a Saturday night may hinder studying for a test or writing a paper due on Monday.
Maybe you won’t have the motivation to study, because there’s no reward, no incentive,” Which kind of sounds like tips for good study habits in college. The point is, a few decades ago, this shoddily put together message of doom might have impacted how people think about marijuana and whether they support marijuana legalization.
But this is 2014. And in 2014, an article like this, as well as the propaganda sent out by the opposition of the marijuana legalization measures does not meet the smell test. The public is too educated about marijuana, and they have too much information at their fingertips.
Decades ago, when Richard Nixon requested a research study on marijuana use by the Schafer Commission, and they came back and said marijuana was far less harmful than previously thought, Nixon threw out the report, it never saw the light of day and the public was none the wiser.
In 2014 this would never happen, because organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Majority, Marijuana Policy Project, NORML and all of the activists and supporters on the ground won’t let it.
This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.