“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!”
Everything about Reefer Madness exists in the realm of a fever dream, a mix of surreal half-truths (eight-truths?) and an ever-shifting reality that extends from the text of the film to the metatext surrounding its very creation. For example: no one is certain when the movie actually came out. It says 1936 on the title card, though some sources insist it didn’t see daylight until 1938. Regardless, there are suggestions that the version of the film we all know today is the result of reshoots after the film was bought by an exploitation filmmaker known as Dwain Esper, who bought the original version sometime after its release and re-released the new version in either 1938 or 1939. I can find nothing to indicate just how much of the film is the result of reshoots, and whether the film as we know it is different enough from its alleged original to disqualify it as a 1936 film. Then again, for a film so unconcerned with the truth this is perhaps a moot point.
Because, naturally, this film is full-to-bursting with shit, although you may notice that the opening crawl makes no claims to any kind of factual basis. As with a lot of right-wing nonsense this is a story not about what is true, but what feels true, the old “Truthiness” that has become the bane of our existence in 2019. It would be a waste of time to break down every falsehood in the film, but it is worth pointing out two of them. First: “marijuana/marihuana” was never a an actual word associated with the cannabis plant, and seems to have been concocted wholesale by anti-drug advocates of the time looking to add a little xenophobic spice to their moralistic crusade. (The now out-of-place H is a dead giveaway, since they had no idea how Spanish worked)
The second, even more interesting falsehood: about halfway through the movie the so-called doctor from the wraparound segment appears in the film, and has this exchange with a Bureau Official.