America and "Wacky Weed"

In early 20th century America, marijuana use was linked to Mexicans and Blacks, "inferior" races whose alleged sexual promiscuity and violence stemmed partly from smoking pot. During the Great Depression, massive unemployment increased public resentment and fear of Mexican immigrants, therefore elevating public and government concern about the problem of marijuana.

This instigated a flurry of research which linked the use of marijuana with violence, crime, and other socially deviant behaviors. Marijuana was "the killer weed," a foreign influence on American life that was capable of turning healthy teenagers into sex-crazed maniacs.

By 1931, 29 states had outlawed marijuana.


Marijuana's "un-American" reputation made it immensely appealing to rebellious, disaffected youth. American kids got creative when coming up with words for what and how they smoked, injected, or ate.

1928: Mickey Finn 1935: mojo
1929: bang 1936: spliff
1932: schmeck 1937: pep-pill
1933: meths 1938: hype
1933: mootah/mooter 1938: mezz
1934: main-line 1940: ju-ju


The jazz and swing music associated with 'Negroes, Mexicans and entertainers' was declared to be an 'outgrowth of marihuana use'. Whites were concerned that itinerant black musicians were spreading a very powerful new 'voodoo' music that forced even decent white women to tap their feet in rhythm and that they also sold the evil weed that caused even the most respectable types to abandon their inhibitions.

Check Out Jazz and Drug Culture


Reefer Madness

One of many anti-drug propaganda films from the Great Depression, Reefer Madness (1936) has become a cult hit because of its dated outlook on marijuana use. Framed as a "documentary," the film is narrated by a high school principal imparting his wisdom and experiences with a group of upstanding young high school students who succumb to the allure of the "killer weed." What follows, as if by natural progression, is a catalog of crimes that includes hit-and-run driving, loose morals, rape, murder, suicide, and of course, permanent insanity!

Reefer Madness Quotes

Jimmy finishes a reefer before driving back
Jimmy: Let's go, Jack. I'm red-hot!
Jack: Better be careful how you drive, or the first thing you know you'll be ice cold.

Bureau Official: Here is an example: A fifteen-year-old lad apprehended in the act of staging a holdup - fifteen years old and a marijuana addict. Here is a most tragic case.
Dr. Carroll: Yes. I remember. Just a young boy... under the influence of drugs... who killed his entire family with an axe.

After realizing the box is empty
Ralph: Mae? MAE!
Mae enters
Mae: What do you want?
Ralph: Bring me some reefers!