A Sporadic History of Marijuana in the Movies

by / Apr. 19, 2016 8am EST

 Murder at the Vanities (1934) —Made before the institution of Hollywood’s puritanical Production Code, this musical includes a number entitled ”Sweet Marihuana,” which for years afterward was cut from release prints. The film’s other big ode to a mind-altering substance, ”Cocktails for Two,” fared better.

 Reefer Madness (1936) —The most absurd of a handful of anti-marijuana movies made to capitalize on Harry Anslinger’s national campaign to outlaw cannabis. Its ludicrous depictions of high-schoolers (none of whom appear any younger than 30) who descend into violent crime and madness after becoming addicted to pot is so laughable that NORML ran the film as a fundraiser in the 1970s, to great effect. See also Marihuana: Weed with Roots in Hell and Assassin of Youth.

 She Shoulda Said No (1949) —Lila Leeds was an aspiring young actress who was arrested with Robert Mitchum for possession of marijuana. His career recovered; hers never did. She played a character loosely based on herself in this cautionary story that played the exploitation circuit.

 Maryjane (1968) —Former teen idol Fabian as a pro-grass high school teacher who learns this error of his ways in a movie written by original host of The Hollywood Squares and the guy who played Hymie the Robot on Get Smart.

 “Marijuana” (1968) —A short documentary made to convince kids that smoking weed was not cool. And how could they fail to be persuaded when the film’s host was no less of a counter-culture idol than Sonny Bono! The government paid for lots of these movies in the 1960s, and if you were a kid at the time your school probably showed you some of them.

 M*A*S*H (1970) —To the best of my knowledge, the first Hollywood film to show marijuana use without condemning it. Director Robert Altman was an avid smoker, which will surprise no one familiar with his films.

 Last House on the Left (1972) —Horrible things happen to a pair of sweet teenaged girls when they try to buy pot from some bad, bad dudes.

 Blood Freak (1972) —A Viet Nam vet is lured by sexy hippies into becoming a marijuana addict as the first step in a process that ends up with him as a bloodthirsty were-turkey. That’s right, a were-turkey. A favorite of bad movie buffs.

 Up in Smoke (1976) —Cheech and Chong’s first movie, released by a major Hollywood studio, and the beginning of the realization for most parents of American that the worst pot was likely to do to your kids was make them laugh at dumb shit.

 Grass (1998) —Ron Mann’s documentary examines why the US government outlawed cannabis in the first place and, even more damningly, why it steadfastly insisted on continuing to do so, despite the huge social and economic price tags.