The Atlantic Monthly, August 1994, Vol. 274, No. 2

Reefer Madness

[Although The Atlantic Monthly has posted at its Web site the basic text of this article and the subsequent Marijuana and the Law from September 1994, its presentation there omits significant material. This page has been created to give researchers the complete text plus follow-up letters. All material on this page in brackets is provided by Portland NORML. All other text is from The Atlantic Monthly. The material is laid out so you will miss nothing except the original art. Just continue reading here, then click on the hypertext link to The Atlantic Monthly's text for "Reefer Madness," then return to this page. At the bottom is a link to the complete text of the second part of this article and its follow-up letters.]

  • [Cover Page:]

    The Atlantic Monthly, August 1994.

    [A cartoon profile shows a man in a brown suit, white shirt and red tie. The man, whose eyes are sleepily half-closed, is smoking a joint. The text, within the cloud of smoke from the joint (which takes up about one-third of the cover surface), says:]

    Reefer Madness

    Did you think marijuana had been all but legalized? Not so. Though there aren't enough cells for violent criminals, marijuana smokers and small-time dealers are going to prison by the thousands - sometimes for life. By Eric Schlosser.

  • [Table of Contents, p. 2]

    The Atlantic Monthly
    Volume 274, No. 2
    August 1994

    [page] 45: Reefer Madness

    Marijuana has been pushed so far out of the public imagination by other drugs, and its use is so casually taken for granted in some quarters of society, that one might assume it had been effectively decriminalized. In truth, the government has never been tougher on marijuana offenders than it is today. In an era when violent criminals frequently walk free or receive modest jail terms, tens of thousands of people are serving long sentences for breaking marijuana laws.

    by Eric Schlosser

    [A small graphic on the table of contents page shows a cartoon of a smiling feline smoking a joint. The graphic has a reddish-orange background, and the black cat has a white patch of fur on its forehead like a "widow's peak," with a white muzzle and pink nose. The cat looks happy and at ease rather than zonked or distressed.]

  • 745 Boylston Street

    [Printed on page 4 of the August 1994 issue, "745 Boylston Street" is a regular feature of The Atlantic Monthly where the magazine presents biographical information about its contributors. Eric Schlosser is featured in the August 1994 issue. A black-and-white photo shows the author to be about 30, white, with short, dark hair, a white shirt and sport coat. He stands smiling in front of a brick wall. The text reads:]

    "It unfolded as a series of surprises," says Eric Schlosser of reporting "Reefer Madness," his story about the marijuana laws and the marijuana industry in America, which begins in this issue of The Atlantic Monthly (and will conclude next month). "The most surprising thing of all, perhaps, was learning of the existence of a rural midwestern underworld, where drug fortunes are being made on what seem to be humble farms. The domestic marijuana industry was born in the 1980s. I think that many of the ways in which that decade transformed this country are only now becoming apparent. While visiting Indiana, I realized that beneath the surface strange things are lurking in a once-familiar landscape."

    Eric Schlosser comes relatively fresh to the job of journalist, this being his second published article. His first, "The Bomb Squad," appeared in The Atlantic last January. Schlosser is a native of New York City and a 1981 graduate of Princeton University, where he studied American history. During his Princeton years he had two brief brushes with magazine journalism, working one summer in the mailroom of New York magazine and another summer as a fact checker at Esquire. After Princeton, Schlosser attended Oxford University, where he studied late-nineteenth-century British imperial history. He has long nurtured a serious interest in playwriting, and wrote a novel while working for a community-action agency in Vermont. Schlosser now lives with his wife and two children in New York City, where he works for Robert DeNiro's Tribeca Productions.

    For this article Schlosser interviewed nearly a hundred people and traveled through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas, four of the chief marijuana-producing states. Although "Reefer Madness" focuses on one case, in which a life sentence was meted out to a middleman named Mark Young, Schlosser emphasizes that the article is not about that single case but rather about broad changes in the law and about a pattern of law enforcement. "I have files stuffed with other marijuana cases in which the sentences were cruel and unjust - far too many to include here," he says. "A five-year sentence is more than enough to end a career and break up a family. Many of the people I spoke to had no idea there were others being similarly punished. The laws are not widely known, even among marijuana growers. I wanted to give readers a sense of what thousands of people are being put through." - The Editors

    Seymour Chwast (cover art) is the director of the Pushpin Group. Chwast's work, in a variety of styles and media, has been exhibited widely in the United States and Europe. His latest book, Bra Fashions by Stephanie, was published in June.

  • Reefer Madness - the text

    (If the Atlantic Monthly server is down, read Portland NORML's version.)

    [from The Atlantic Monthly, August 1994, pp. 45-49, 52, 54-56, 58-60, 62-63. Not included at the magazine's web site are the graphics which accompanied the original article. Briefly, these are colorful but cartoonish figures of: a man with short hair in a blue suit, white shirt and red tie lighting or smoking a joint (p. 45, 48, 56 & 62); what looks like a brand label featuring the pot-smoking feline from the cover page in full repose. The text accompanying this image reads:] Black Cat Brand, No. 1 Grade Marijuana [(p. 47). Another graphic that also looks like a brand label shows an Uncle Sam hat the size of a hot-air balloon, upside down in a rowed field, brimming with pot plants. Accompanying text reads:] America's Finest Brand, Made in USA, Marijuana [(p. 54). Another brand-label-style cartoon shows a woman with a cowboy hat and Western attire holding an upright pitchfork, standing chest-high amid marijuana plants. The accompanying text reads:] Best Hemp Brand Marijuana [(p. 59).]

  • Letters, The Atlantic Monthly, November 1994 [pp. 8 & 10].

    - Reefer Madness

    I have no quarrel with Eric Schlosser's point that the punishments for the sale and possession of marijuana are excessive ("Reefer Madness," August Atlantic). But I do object to his exclusion of the drug's truly negative qualities, the extent of its use and abuse in this country, and the widespread ignorance of the media, health-care professionals, and others of marijuana's insidious influence. Millions of people in this country smoke pot on a regular basis. One in ten people who try it is likely to become addicted - and yes, marijuana is addictive, and not just in a psychological sense. Regular use of the drug on a long-term basis robs ambition and drive, thwarts emotional maturity, interferes with personal relationships and occupational success, and distorts the ego. One little-known but well-documented side effect of smoking pot can be full-blown psychosis - an awful and usually misdiagnosed condition that can occur after the first use. The literature on it emerged after the American experience in Vietnam, and it continues to be documented.

    I am a former medical librarian with a master's degree in public health, and I wrote my master's thesis on marijuana-induced acute toxic psychosis, as it is called. I presented my paper at a Florida Association of Public Health convention a few years ago - and a former employee of the Drug Enforcement Administration came up to me and said, "You're not going to be very popular." Indeed, I am not.
    Nancy B. Burrell
    Sarasota, Fla.

    It is of interest to note that in Britain a tendency to react oppositely to marijuana is in effect. The June 11 issue of The Economist reported that despite "hardline words" by public figures, the police are becoming "more pragmatic." Seventy percent of those caught using marijuana in 1982 were fined, imprisoned, or sentenced to public service. The figure now is 30 percent. The recognition that punitive repression does not work and that usage is increasing has resulted, according to The Economist, in a "creeping de-facto legalization" of drugs.
    Jim Hunter
    Philadelphia, Pa.

    Eric Schlosser portrayed Indiana's drug laws as being wildly extreme. Although I agree with him that the judicial system is too lenient with convicted murderers, I strongly disagree that a person who grows marijuana does not deserve a life sentence. The only way that potential criminals are going to learn to be law-abiding citizens is by example. Simply put, if people see criminals forced to pay for their actions with stiff prison sentences or loss of their lives, then the message will eventually sink in. Society is far too soft on people who screw up - even on people who cultivate marijuana in Indiana.
    Robert Nance
    Indianapolis, Ind.

    "Reefer Madness" is superb! I am in the drug testing business (managing large corporate drug- and alcohol-testing programs where companies must test their employees), and we have by far more pre-employment marijuana-positive tests than any other kind. One could make an argument that the use of marijuana, despite its know deleterious effects, is on the upswing in the United States. Certainly the pot that people are smoking today is many, many times more potent than that of just twenty years ago, when marijuana abuse surfaced in the societal mainstream.
    Harden Wiedemann
    Dallas, Texas

    Eric Schlosser replies:

    Contrary to what Nancy Burrell may believe, I am not an advocate of marijuana. There are many good reasons why society should discourage chronic use of this drug, especially by the young. But the adverse health effects of marijuana have long been deliberately distorted.

    "Marijuana-induced acute toxic psychosis" is not mentioned in either The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy or the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The medical literature includes scattered reports of acute toxic psychosis following the intake of an extremely high dose of marijuana. B.R. Martin and M.E. Abood, professors in Virginia Commonwealth University's Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, note that "this is a short-lasting condition, its frequency is quite low in Western societies, and it seems to affect mainly heavy users." Marijuana can induce temporary feelings of panic, anxiety, depersonalization, and paranoia. These symptoms have long been known colloquially as a "bad trip."

    The amotivational syndrome that Ms. Burrell describes - characterized by emotional lethargy and often linked to chronic marijuana use - has never been proved a direct consequence of the drug, according to Martin and Abood. Psychopharmacology alone cannot explain such behavior. As for the addictiveness of marijuana, Dr. Jack Henningfield, of the National Institute on Drug Abuse's Addiction Research Center, and Dr. Neal Benowitz, of the University of California at San Francisco, recently ranked six popular drugs (heroin, cocaine, nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, and marijuana) according to their ability to produce psychological dependence in users. The researchers deemed marijuana the easiest to quit and nicotine the most habit-forming. In the categories of tolerance and withdrawal, crucial determinants of physical addiction, marijuana again came at the bottom of their list. Withdrawal from caffeine causes symptoms more pronounced than those accompanying withdrawal from marijuana.

    Mr. Nance is entitled to his opinion on the deterrent effect of long sentences and of the death penalty. Most research on the subject finds little relationship between these harsh punishments and the subsequent behavior of others. Indiana's drug laws are not "wildly extreme" with regard to marijuana. Other states have sanctions much more severe. Mark Young's life sentence was demanded by federal law. Had Young been convicted under Indiana state law, the maximum sentence for his crime would have been twenty-eight years - at most fourteen years served, and probably much less.

    Part II: Marijuana and the Law, from The Atlantic Monthly, September 1994.

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