Risky Business: REEFER MADNESS AND POT TOURISM

Falmouth Prevention Partnership - Falmouth Prevention Partnership

In 1936 an anti-marijuana movie, “Reefer Madness,” was released and, in various forms, was shown in theaters and some schools into the 1950s. The film’s plot details how teenagers can become addicted to marijuana, which can lead to rape, murder, and insanity. Although completely false, the film was produced at a time when marijuana was perceived as a serious threat to the youth of the nation. The growing use of pot was seen as part of the jazz “scene” and blamed on increasing immigration from Mexico, racial stereotypes that fueled new laws to ban marijuana use. 

Nowadays, “Reefer Madness” is considered a cult classic and appears on many worst-ever-made-movie lists. The film is popular on college campuses and probably has been watched in many smoked-filled rooms! The movie is available on Netflix, Hulu+, and YouTube, and is worth watching as a cultural wonder (an often funny one) from the Depression Era.

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The following is the opening quote from the film, which sums up the message being delivered: “The motion picture you are about to witness may startle you. It would not have been possible, otherwise, to sufficiently emphasize the frightful toll of the new drug menace which is destroying the youth of America in alarmingly increasing numbers. Marihuana is that drug—a violent narcotic—an unspeakable scourge—The Real Public Enemy Number One!”

“Its first effect is sudden violent, uncontrollable laughter; then come dangerous hallucinations—space expands—time slows down, almost stands still... fixed ideas come next, conjuring up monstrous extravagances—followed by emotional disturbances, the total inability to direct thoughts, the loss of all power to resist physical emotions... leading finally to acts of shocking violence... ending often in incurable insanity. Something must be done to wipe out this ghastly menace... Because the dread Marihuana may be reaching forth next for your son or daughter... or yours... or YOURS!”

Fast-forward 75 years: after being banned, criminalized, decriminalized, and criminalized again, marijuana is now legal as a medication in more than 20 states and legal for recreational use in two states. With its ski resorts and national parks, Colorado is already a popular tourist destination and several entrepreneurs are now promoting the availability of recreational marijuana as a reason to visit the state.

An example is My420Tours, a company that offers a Grow & Dispensary Tour on a “CannaBus” that takes tourists on a visit to Denver retail marijuana dispensaries and a medical marijuana grow facility. In addition, “lots of cannabis sampling will be offered on the bus free of charge!” This company and others also offer marijuana cooking classes, pot happy hours, and lodging in weed-friendly hotels. Another company, the Mary Jane Group (really!) is working with inns in the state to create a “bud and breakfast.”

Is this the future for Massachusetts and Cape Cod? The Cape is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the US. If marijuana becomes legal for recreational use in our state, it could have a significant impact on local business and the debate about the pros and cons will be interesting.

If your summer travel plans include a stop in Colorado, don’t forget that marijuana use is a federal violation. Once you are in and through airport security, you are subject to federal law.

A study published last week in the Journal of Neuroscience documented that young adults (ages 18 to 25) who occasionally smoke marijuana “show abnormalities in two key areas of their brain related to emotion, motivation, and decision making, raising concerns that they could be damaging their developing minds at a critical time.”

The study, which was conducted in Boston, noted that the degree of brain changes appeared to be directly related to the amount of marijuana the participants smoked each week. According to the lead author of the study, Jodi Gilman, a brain scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, “Such abnormalities in young brains are reason for concern. This is when you are making major decisions in your life, when you are choosing a major, starting a career, making long-lasting friendships and relationships.”

In an interview, Gilman also noted that “We just don’t know how much is safe. It’s not harmless. We don’t know the harm, but it’s not free from harm.”

At a time when marijuana is becoming legal, it’s important not only to conduct additional research about the drug’s harmful effects on the developing brains of teens and young adults, but, also, what are the best ways to keep pot out of the hands of our kids.

Recommended Resource

Marijuana Facts for Teens: Presented in a question-and-answer format and targeted to teens, it provides facts about marijuana and its potential harmful effects. www.drugabuse.gov/publications/marijuana-facts-teens

MedlinePlus: Marijuana provides access to information from reliable sources that are accurate and up-to-date.
www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/marijuana.html

Visit the partnership website

To learn more about youth-related substance abuse prevention, please visit our website at: www.falmouthprevention.org

(Dr. Bihari is a pediatrician, a member of the board of directors of Gosnold on Cape Cod, and a member of the school health committee of the Falmouth Public Schools.)

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