Detailed History On "Reefer Madness"

Originally released in the mid-1930s, Reefer Madness or “Tell Your Children” was established as an educational movie against cannabis use. It was designed to elaborate on the moral ills of using cannabis and why it was causing society to implode at the seams. This was an American propaganda film directed by Louis J. Gasnier.

With a young, unknown cast and its plethora of anti-cannabis slogans, Reefer Madness became quite the topic among the average US population.


Dorothy Short
Carleton Young
Lillian Miles
Dave O’Brien
Warren McCollum
Thelma White
Kenneth Craig

History Before Reefer Madness

To better understand why this movie came to fruition, it’s important to dig deeper into society before Reefer Madness was released. Louis J. Gasnier didn’t come up with this idea on his own and there were several influences along the way. All of these influences combined as a launching pad for this movie to be funded, written, and directed.

In general, the church maintained a heavy influence in American society during the 1930s. It was also a period when the Great Depression was raging on and would continue to wreak havoc for years to come. Since society was starting to fall apart and people were questioning everything, topics such as cannabis use became increasingly important to churchgoers. They were looking to find an easy sin to blame for everything and cannabis use was becoming a prevalent issue at the time. It was an easy connection to make and has quite a bit of support among religious folk in the early to mid-1930s.

Since all of this was happening, it was only a matter of time before Louis J. Gasnier was asked to put together a comprehensive film on the ills of cannabis use and all that it was doing to society.

With this in mind, he was able to put together what has now gone on and become a cult classic in the form of Reefer Madness.

The Premise of Reefer Madness

Now that the backdrop has been set, it’s time to dig into the actual content/premise of Reefer Madness. This can help paint a better picture of what it was intended to do as a movie.

In general, Reefer Madness was written to explore unique events in a high school setting, which lured students into using/abusing cannabis on a daily basis. It was aimed at linking activities such as attempted rape, suicide, manslaughter and even declining mental health with marijuana. By presenting a unique set of situations, the movie would aim to discredit marijuana use and show it as a mind-altering nuisance. It was also positioned as a way to illustrate what marijuana addiction could do to young minds if they were exposed early on in their lives.

Most people don’t know this, but Louis J. Gasnier didn’t receive funding for Reefer Madness from the US government nor did he receive it from traditional production houses. Instead, he was able to receive money from a church group named Tell Your Children (also the movie’s secondary name). The church group felt this was a great way to get the word out and illustrate what marijuana could do to those who used it. While the film was made with those funds, it was never released under the church group’s name. Instead, it was purchased by a man named Dwain Esper, who took the opportunity to redesign the film and have it distributed to the masses in 1938. Reefer Madness continue to remain a well-watched film well into the 1950s.


Once the 1950s rolled away and Reefer Madness lost its spot in front of the masses most assumed the propaganda was over. However, this wasn’t true and it was only going to be rediscovered a few decades later. in the 1970s, the cannabis debate was raging hot and during this period, someone managed to release clips from this film and turned it into a unique satire on cannabis policies. With time, it picked up steam and became noted as one of the worst films to ever be made.

Critics and Their Opinions

As mentioned, Reefer Madness didn’t earn praise as soon as it was rediscovered in the 1970s. It became the laughingstock of its time and was often noted as an exaggeration of what films could do when there was a clear agenda in place. Many critics mentioned it as a traditional midnight movie, which seemed to do the opposite of what it intended and was simply watched for its unintentional comedy. Over time, more and more people started to learn about Reefer Madness and took time out to watch it for a good laugh. This made sure it remained popular throughout the 1970s and worked wonders in promoting cannabis use among the masses instead of what it was actually intended for.

According to critics, Reefer Madness was able to do something many other works couldn’t and that was to bring everyone together. From the middle class to the elite, everyone realized this was a bad movie and something that shouldn’t have been released or rediscovered. It was a horrible movie according to these professionals and they believed it deserved the moniker “worst movie ever.”

Final Thoughts

Reefer Madness is forever going to be remembered for its uniquely hilarious production value, odd scenes, and the misinterpreted use of cannabis. Everything about the movie was built on strong propaganda that was noticeable from start to finish. While it may have continued to run through the 1930s and 1940s, it truly picked up steam in the 1970s once it was rediscovered.

In its current state, as marijuana use becomes legalized in many parts of the world, Reefer Madness is going to remain special among all cannabis supporters.

As American continues to lean towards promoting and/or legalizing the use of marijuana in all states, Reefer Madness is going to remain a fascinating talking point about the plant’s history. It has come a long way since then and a lot of educational changes have come in how cannabis is explored and referred to among the masses.

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