John Wayne and McCarthyism: Out Macho-ing Marijuana

CANNABIS CULTURE – A poster spotted by marijuana historians Michelle and Michael Aldrich at The Hash Museum in Barcelona promotes John Wayne starring in a film titled Marijuana.

Turns out the poster was for a European release of the 1952 film Big Jim McLain in which Wayne plays an investigator for the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), headed by the notorious Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The film was re-written and dubbed to change the “bad guys” to marijuana smugglers for release in Europe.

In the original, Wayne’s tactics include dating the secretary of a labor official’s psychiatrist (played by Nancy Olson fromSunset Boulevard, who hated the script). The psychiatrist kills McLain’s partner (James Arness) with an injection of a truth serum. A title card on the film says it was based on actual HUAC files, and made with the cooperation of the committee. (The pot smokers = commies connection again.)

Big Jim McLain was the first film produced by Wayne-Fellows Productions (later renamed Batjac), John Wayne’s independent production company. This image is funny, as though Wayne could sock marijuana in the eye, which he tried to do to sell this rotten film in Europe. Wayne later produced The Green Berets to drum up support for the war in Vietnam.

These days, the Long Beach Police Department has seen fit to warn parents that their child might come home with marijuana-laced candies on Halloween. Their press release states, “Although there have been no reported incidents in Long Beach where a child unknowingly ingested marijuana laced candy, parents should still take every precaution.” I don’t know of marijuana-laced candy being distributed to children anywhere, on Halloween or any other time. But hey, let’s not miss another chance to scare people needlessly about marijuana.

In San Diego, a law enforcement officer was been spotted wearing a T-shirt that said, “Fuck the Growers. Marijuana’s Still Illegal.” Lake County, CA has made sure to let people know they’re still out eradicating illegal marijuana gardens, despite a court ruling requiring officers to get a warrant first. And two licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in LA were raided by the DEA this week.

But perhaps most disturbing news came during the proceedings in federal court in Sacramento on Friday, where Dr. Greg Carter was cross-examined by a government attorney because he submitted testimony in favor of rescheduling cannabis to make it legal to study and prescribe. The US attorney demanded to know whether Carter considered himself an activist, and whether or not he was a member of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. This question is often asked in court proceedings in the McCarthyesque format, “Are you, or have you ever been, a member of NORML?”

Dr. Carter answered that he isn’t a member of NORML, although he works with the organization on some of their publications. (He is co-author, along with Cal NORML director Dale Gieringer, of the Medical Marijuana Handbook.) A highly credentialed MD who specializes the the treatment of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Carter said he has been trying unsuccessfully to get a government grant to study the use of cannabis for ALS patients. And although he hasn’t smoked marijuana in at least 25 years, Carter said if he had a disease like ALS he would try it, because, “For neuropathic pain, there is overwhelming evidence that cannabis is effective.” But why bother to use science and reason when it’s so much more fun to punch out what we’d rather not understand?

Ellen Komp is Deputy Director of California NORML and a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture. She manages the website and blogs at Tokin Woman.