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From The Archives: Is Marijuana Illegal Because of Advertising?
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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As the War on Drugs (namely marijuana) is slowing down, we thought it might be interesting to take a step back and see how our society got here. There are many claims and origin stories about how the war on drugs and marijuana started.

The first and most popular origin story of the ban on marijuana is the anti-hemp campaign supposedly conducted by publishing giant William Randolph Hearst and his DuPont buddies. The story goes that they feared that the rise and low price of hemp would cheapen their wood pulp investments and recent inventions, causing them to lose their fortunes. Because of that, they were moved to use Hearst's resources to influence the public and government that hemp and therefore marijuana should be banned. The story has it all: intrigue, subversive thinking, Big Business, Big Government, and public manipulation.

However, the evidence doesn't quite hold up.

The second and more realistic story is that the ban was motivated by racism and cultural persecution. Hearst and Anslinger have records of anti-black, anti-Mexican, anti-Italian, anti-Jew, and anti-Russian statements. Oh yes, and poor people. The propaganda and eventual ban targeted those communities, calling them "demonic" and that marijuana would poison the white (Anglican) youth of America.

Ah, yes; there's the America we know.

Regardless of story, the propaganda doesn't lie. Before the "creative" below was pushed amongst the public, cannabis and other forms of marijuana were legal before Prohibition, and limited but legal for a little while afterwards.

Now, many do not like the association of propaganda and advertising. It's true, because of our society doing stuff like the ads and movies above (Reefer Madness was a movie about the horrors of marijuana. The "truths" in it are supposed to be quite interesting) one would develop a sour taste of the word.

But propaganda works.

Advertising and propaganda both use an identifiable source and a single opinion to convey a certain message. Propaganda, though, is more associated with outlandish claims that are used to motivate an audience to action; an action that would unilaterally benefit the one who crafted the message. Dr. Edward Bernays, the recognized father of public relations in the U.S., would deem this marijuana stuff not as propaganda, but impropaganda.

Advertising can be used as snapshots of our society. This anti-marijuana, racism-driven campaign shows that America was still struggling with its growing immigrant populations, culture mixing, and its Puritanical roots. As history is usually a lesson meant for us to miss repeating, let's hope it sinks in.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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