America's history of being wrong-headed about cannabis is well-documented on a variety of platforms, but the funniest way to examine it today is on YouTube. Host to a wide range of entertaining lunacy, YouTube's rabbit holes can lead down some weird paths, including flat-earth theories, ’80s hair metal or videos that end in some asshole yelling "WORLD STAR!"
One of my favorite dens of nostalgic stupidity is anti-marijuana commercials and public service announcements from yesteryear. While a few carry messages that make some sense, such as the dangers of youth use or smoking and driving, many of them carry the same Reefer Madness rhetoric we make fun of today. Don't believe it? Check out these ten commercials and PSAs from past decades and see for yourself.
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This propaganda from the ’50s seemingly starts out as a PSA aimed at heroin, but it quickly dives into the evils of weed, with a boy named Marty asking his friend if heroin will make him sick "like the reefers did." Determined to be one of the gang "even if it killed him," poor Marty decides to drink broken soda bottles with his friends "after smoking reefers." The broken glass badly cuts Marty's mouth, "though he didn't even know it at the time"... because he was too stoned. Before long, Marty's a full-on heroin junkie — all because of the reefers.
This video from the American Medical Association has everything you'd want in stereotypical anti-pot jargon from the late ’60s: it's narrated by a crusty white guy who sounds like he's wearing a trench coat and carries warnings about "abnormal behavior" and "the noxious weed." All of which makes the video's claims of pot being the "hula hoop of the jet generation" and "as much a part of growing up as smoking corn silk behind the back fence" (whatever the fuck that means) that much better.
It took a couple of decades for prohibitionists to move on from the notion that smoking pot makes users psychotic and demented, but the lazy-stoner stereotype was stronger than ever as we moved into the ’80s. Just look at these chill bros, who apparently haven't moved much for fifteen years because of all the weed they smoke. At the end, you hear Eddie's mom ask if he's looked for a job yet, which is a beautiful touch, Drug Free America. Touché.
Nothing like a little dose of empathy to really shock you. This PSA from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Partnership for a Drug-Free America (now known as Partnership for Drug-Free Kids) tries to scare middle America into thinking their Mayberry-like town is being corrupted by youth marijuana use, while totally disparaging urban youth and households in the process. Notice the suburbia landscape and completely white cast.
This commercial meant to disturb parents about the number of times their kids are offered pot every day has aged like a fine wine. Soccer moms are giving out hits, old people are offering joints, and restaurants are serving Thai Sticks. Hey, two out of three of those are happening in small doses in Colorado right now! In a few years, this could be the premise for an advertising campaign for the Colorado Tourism Office.
This one parodies itself, and it's got a decent buildup to go with it. After all, the only thing funnier than watching a guy get hit in the face is watching him get hit in the balls. But the line at the end claiming that pot hangovers can last a month is truly hilarious.
If you thought this was a weird commercial before you started smoking weed, just try watching it after a bowl. Is she high? Is the dog high? Are they both high? WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE?!
Now we can finally get to the bottom of this talking-dog fiasco from the early 2000s: It's those god-dammed judgmental eyes. But unless you're blowing smoke in their faces (seriously, don't do that), dogs don't give a shit about what you're smoking. In fact, I'm more apt to play with dogs and might even sneak them a bite of whatever I'm currently munching on when I am high. Even veterinarians are giving pet owners advice about CBD pet treats and medical marijuana for animals. Dogs can benefit from cannabis, too. Just ask Snoop.
This might be my favorite of all time. Poor Sarah is deflated and couch-locked after smoking pot. Unable to answer the narrator's questions because she's just too baked, Sarah's fallen victim to the Bubba Kush, no doubt. Her experience actually isn't that far off for some people: Becoming a lifeless fart of a human being is a common side effect of consuming too much cannabis, and it's one worth warning about. That doesn't make this any less funny, however, because most of us have been Sarah at one point. Luckily, we're all full of too much hot air to stay deflated for long.
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This strange campaign is the most recent on the list and comes from Australia. It's basically a new spin on Flat Sarah, except instead of becoming deflated from smoking pot, these Australian teens are turning into sloths. Spreading the message that "you're worse on weed," the 2015 campaign even tried to connect with youth by using social media, but it instantly backfired.
We're not comparing crack to cannabis. Crack is still wack. But watching Pee-wee Herman — a man known for living in a never-ending acid trip on screen and masturbating in a movie theater off screen — tell that to you is too rich to ignore.