Reefer Madness: This Is Your Brain on Drugs

ONDCP goes old-school

Reefer Madness: This Is Your Brain on Drugs

When in doubt, go old-school – or, at least, why not give it a shot, especially if you don't have anything – and I mean anything – else going for you? But remember: Retro isn't always hip – and when it comes to the sad, sad (and ever more sad) White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, "retro" is just plainass embarrassing.

Case in point: Now that summer is here, so is the ONDCP's latest attempt at scaring you into believing that drugs – no, rather, marijuana, is bad, bad, bad. According to the new ONDCP youth anti-drug media campaign report released by the feds this month, kids (that is youth, ages 12-17) who smoke pot are "at least" four times as likely to join a gang as their nontoking brethren. Yes! Gangs! Pot smoking leads kids to gangs! And if you don't know what that means – OK, the ONDCP is here to point you in the right direction if you're confused. Kids who smoke pot are more likely to be violent, to get into fights, and – gasp! – to steal. Steal!

Sound familiar? Are you looking around for clues that you're actually in the 21st century and not stuck in, say, 1936? Perhaps you're recalling a certain bit of black-and-white cinematic propaganda, in which the evil weed causes good boys to go bad – to rape, to kill, and to go completely insane. Yes, I'm talking about Reefer Madness (originally known as Tell Your Children) – the most boring, grainy piece of government-championed propaganda ever released on the big screen. Just when you thought that piece of shit was gone (except for the occasional reappearance on cable, complete with utterly awful sound quality), the ONDCP has conjured its ghost, distilling its smoke-dope-and-die message into a neat little five-page report. Whereas the B&W Reefer took a painful 66 minutes to detail the horrors of the "assassin of youth" (a phrase coined by William Randolph Hearst, king of the yellow-bellied sensation mongers, whose ulterior motive – money – prompted him to hop on the hophead train, spewing – err, publishing – a litany of fiction alleging that pot did actually cause madness and violence), the ONDCP has consolidated its propaganda into a tidy little five-pager. (OK, perhaps that's a blessing in disguise.) Although it is not published under a Hearst paper banner, it is no less inflammatory. In fact, it is as baseless a work of fear-mongering propaganda as was its predecessor, the infamous Reefer Madness.

Congrats, ONDCP!

According to the new report, teens who use drugs, and "particularly marijuana," are nine times more likely to use other drugs (the feds' beloved, yet completely unsubstantiated "gateway theory") and are five times more likely to steal; 39% of teens who report having used drugs recently, the report asserts, have also admitted to stealing, or trying to steal, something worth at least $50 at some point during the past year. (And, no, I don't think they're talking about stealing pot out of a sibling's sock drawer – though that could easily be worth $50, depending on how swank your sib is.)

Worst of all, though, is the ONDCP's assertion that "children" who use marijuana are "nearly" four times more likely to join a gang than drug-free kids are. Interestingly, the ONDCP backs up this "fact" with the following information: 94% of gang members are male; 49% are Hispanic; 37% are black; and just 8% are white. In other words, according to our federal government, pot smokers are predominately minorities. Now do you understand their whole "violence" angle?

No? Neither do I. And neither does Matthew B. Robinson, a criminal justice professor at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, who is the co-author of the recently published Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics. To Robinson, this kind of propagandistic crapola is par for the course. The ONDCP, desperate to hold on to its incredibly large (and amazingly unjustifiable) $12 billion-plus budget, has to come up with ways to reassure us that it's on top of this whole war on drugs thing. (Bless their little cold, black hearts – the bureaucrats at the ONDCP may be the only sad saps hanging on to this pathetic notion that the drug war is actually something that you can "win.") And, if that means resorting to an unfounded racist stereotype, then so be it: "They have to promote a fear of drugs in order to continue the drug war," says Robinson. "What's amazing about it is that they're making two claims that don't fit together. The vast majority of [marijuana users] are white. But the majority of gang members aren't white?" Robinson muses. In order to protect the agency, Robinson says, the ONDCP and its leader, the drug czar John Walters, "sells fear." They tell us we should be "afraid of drugs and afraid of people of color," he says. "Link the two together, and you've got your budget."

Well, that sounds pretty familiar, doesn't it? Engage time machine: During the Great Depression of the 1930s, lawmakers in the Southwestern states – including Texas – were in a pickle. During the preceding decades of prosperity, Mexican immigrants were welcomed to the Southwest as a needed source of labor. By the time the Depression set in, however, this same immigrant population was now viewed with suspicion and fear, seen as a threat to remaining American jobs. The problem, of course, was what to do – or, plainly, how to get rid of them. Pot was the key. Mexicans were known to grow and smoke pot, lawmakers reasoned; making pot illegal – demonizing it, linking its use to violence – would certainly help move those Mexicans back south across the border or, just as good, lock 'em up in jail. Either way, problem solved! And so it was, thanks in no small part to Hearst and his newspapers. The pages of his papers were filled with the same sort of unsubstantiated crap that the ONDCP has now regurgitated into its current report. Same old lie, new day; shame on you, ONDCP.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Reefer Madness
Reefer Madness
With this wild musical spoof, Doctuh Mistuh delivers a bigger buzz than its Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Jillian Owens, June 28, 2013

Top 10 Joints
Top 10 Joints
The year in drugs

Jordan Smith, Jan. 7, 2011

More Reefer Madness
Reefer Madness: Teens Still Smoke Pot
Reefer Madness: Teens Still Smoke Pot
Would legalization lead to a decline?

Jordan Smith, Dec. 27, 2013

Reefer Madness: Drug Court: No Silver Bullet
Reefer Madness: Drug Court: No Silver Bullet
If drug court isn't the answer, what is?

Jordan Smith, April 29, 2011


White House Office of the National Drug Control Policy, Reefer Madness, William Randolph Hearst, gateway theory, Matthew B. Robinson, Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics, John Walters, Mexican immigrants

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle