Why Marijuana Scare Tactics Don’t Work Anymore

Reefer Madness / Wikimedia Commons


by Amanda Reiman

on November 7, 2014

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 ’30sJewish 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 AllianceMarijuana MajorityMarijuana Policy ProjectNORML and all of the activists and supporters on the ground won’t let it.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.

there are 4,080 Comments


San Diego, CA

So, I haven’t really seen this brought up anywhere else, but that particular study talks about differences in brain density and volume. Great, got it, key concept: differences exist. Nothing about what that might mean nor whether the difference is even a bad thing, just that it is there.

It looked to me like the study did imply that cannabis use was “bad”, but never really explained why. They simply noted the differences and even speculated about what those might mean to reporters, even though they cannot possibly know for sure (irresponsible science, imho).

My 7th grade science teacher told me if anyone ever called me dense, it was technically a compliment. I was, and still am, under the impression that increased brain density was a good thing, which is what they found in the cannabis smokers…

Can any experts/anyone smarter than me (most people) comment?


The debate over Prohibition is over. The majority of Americans now want legal marijuana and super majority is educated enough to want the option of Medical Marijuana. That topic now is how best to bring about reform in States that want to choose their own model for regulation. Of course the conservatives are pushing for as much big government regulation, which is usual as of late for that party that actually used to stand for small government. Dinosaurs. We have probably seen our last Republican president and the party will come back as something led by the Tea Party. Something more sensible based on Libertarian ideals. Right now we are just fighting against the last remnants of the Police State that started under Nixon. Every president since then regardless of party has made government bigger with more interference in citizen affairs.

It should also be noted that churches lost another 10% of their regular customers this year. The fastest growing religion is America is now “No religious affiliation”. Churches brought in politics which brought in hate and now you see a collection of obese people judging everything else in sight to distract from their own junk food addiction. Interestingly enough, about 90% of Americans still pray, although less than 30% say they are affiliated with any religion or church. Yet the fat pastors are still screaming “vote Republican” from the pulpit, along with hating anyone who isn’t exactly like them. It lead to death of the America Church, but not death of Faith. People are simply reading holy books themselves now. They are meeting with people of like minds to discuss rather than being led by some self appointed fast talker who says he has some insight that you don’t, And he really really needs your money.

I’m so glad that period of history is over.


login or signup to post a comment