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The Devil’s Lettuce: Unpacking an Anti-Cannabis Crusade

Most people associate Reefer Madness-type prohibitionism with a bygone era, but Dee Rathbone is keeping the tradition alive.

Current Events

The Devil’s Lettuce: Unpacking an Anti-Cannabis Crusade

With the legislative successes of cannabis decriminalization riding a still-building wave of pro-pot public opinion nationwide, encounters with full-fledged marijuana prohibitionists are an increasingly rare occurrence.

But a recent full-page ad in the Washington Times offered a glimpse into one man’s holy crusade against medical science, cannabis journalism and adults having fun with plants. The ad demands aggressive federal drug enforcement, mandatory urinalysis for schoolchildren and blames cannabis for everything from Washington D.C.’s “dysfunctional” Metro train system to the murder rate in American cities. It also includes a phone number for more information, so naturally, we called it.

It’s not often a reporter gets to deliver news of this magnitude, but every (positive) word you’ve ever read about cannabis is a LIE. 

You’ve been had. You’re a dupe, a rube — a victim of fake news. You’ve been taken in by a massive conspiracy: a dishonest cabal of stoner scientists and the stoner media that covers them.

All those stories about CBD oil reducing or eliminating epilepsy in kids? Fake. Those military veterans using marijuana to recover from PTSD? About as real as Saddam’s WMDs, friend.

That enormous scientific review of 10,000 marijuana-related studies released earlier this month by the National Institute of Sciences? The one that found “significant evidence” for the “therapeutic effects” of cannabis for sufferers of chronic pain and “conclusive evidence” that certain cannabinoids help cut down on nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients?

Fake! At least that’s the word from one-man think tank, DeForest “Dee” Rathbone (AKA the National Institute of Citizen Anti-Drug Policy), who paid for a scathing full-page ad demanding an end to all legalization in the Jan. 23 edition of the Washington Times.

“The stoners have infiltrated every damn research organization going,” Rathbone explains via telephone from his Maryland home. “They have infiltrated everywhere… Every university produces stoners, people favorable to it, and they get in there and skew the research.”

Rathbone is an octogenarian engineer who retired from the federal government and is now chairman (and only visible member) of an organization called the National Institute of Citizen Anti-Drug Policy.

Drug policy has been his hobbyhorse for a long, long time: he was one of the “original members of Nancy Reagan’s Drug Control Parents.”

He believes that it was marijuana-induced psychosis that led to the fatal confrontation between unarmed black teenager Michael Brown and then-Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. in 2014.

From a letter by Rathbone to the Washington Post:

“In a glaring example of media bias exacerbating racial tensions in the Michael Brown shooting death, Post reporters left out the key exculpatory fact in the grand jury finding officer Darren Wilson not guilty: The fact that Michael Brown tested positive for marijuana…”

He is a huge fan of mandatory drug testing in all public schools. Compelling children to piss in cups on command and cracking down “on mind-altering substances promoted and delivered over the Internet” were the main planks in Rathbone’s platform during a recent bid for school board in his suburban Maryland county — he lost.

Most people think of Reefer Madness as a humorous relic, but Dee Rathbone lives by its message.

But his latest ad, even by his standards, piles on “Reefer Madness” levels of hyperbole.


“Fixing” the war on drugs, in Rathbone’s view, would be to wage it on a scale never before seen, to its fullest extent and to the last full measure. Legalization? Over. Cannabis industry? Gone. Raided, arrested, incarcerated.

His reasons why are legion. There are 50,000 overdose deaths a year (very true, with half of them due to prescription opiates or heroin). That’s only the beginning, just a third of the “actual 150,000 drug-related deaths” when you count “additional deaths from drug-related illnesses, accident and crime,” according to the ad.

“With few exceptions, parents tell us that virtually all of those tragic deaths began with teen use of alcohol and marijuana,” it continues, weaving claims of parents in “enslavement” to drug-addled children, violent street gangs outnumbering police by two-to-one and a Washington, D.C. Metro system beset by “nuclear strength, psychosis-producing marijuana and other drugs” into one foul blanket fatally poisoning our society.

Carnage, true carnage. And “[a] major contributor to this American tragedy is the widely accepted ‘fake news’ that marijuana is medicine,” the ad declares. “Marijuana is dope, not medicine.”

It works like this: Fake news fools the voters, who are hoodwinked into approving cannabis legalization or medical marijuana. Their home states then become “Stoner States.” When the Justice Department leaves the stoner states myself as a part of a “massive marijuana trafficking industry” becomes entrenched. And we’re all screwed. So. Here we are. But how did we get here?

“You guys in the media are nuts about pot,” he tells Cannabis Now. “Guys like you — you’re totally brainwashed with pot advocacy.”

But the scientists… doesn’t the media just repeat what they say? Don’t the scientists say that there’s promise, but more research is necessary? Even the DEA and FDA are behind more research, and  Rathbone interjects.

“I am saying there are a bunch of you guys who can’t say there’s anything wrong about pot,” he says. “I know you don’t believe stoners can’t act irresponsibly.”

If he could, Rathbone would ban alcohol and tobacco too — he pronounces it “tabaccah,” and I immediately picture him as an Old West sheriff, wearing a ten-gallon hat, riding a horse and keeping order in a town it would almost certainly be fatal for me to visit past sundown.

He said the problem is, it’s too late for those drugs. The Marlboro Man’s horse is well out of the barn, but it’s not yet too late to ban marijuana. After all, nearly everyone who overdosed on drugs started with alcohol, tabaccah, or marijuana, he says.

But even NIDA — hardly soft on legalization — says most people who use marijuana don’t go on to other drugs, meaning the “gateway theory” is basically garbage.

Don’t try telling that to Rathbone.

“The vast majority of studies — it’s almost universal,” he says, his voice turning into a rumbling stentorian growl. “All refer to the gateway effect.”

Wait. So when the FDA and DEA rejected the petition to remove marijuana from Schedule I in August — he interrupts again

“That had the good stuff in there!” he said. “That had the major problems.”

Yeah, so when the FDA and DEA said that some research showed CBD had medical potential, and that they supported more research, and…

“That’s the stoners!” Rathbone explodes. It’s heated now, and not cooling any time soon. “They got you stoners sitting around!”

At this point, he’s grown weary of our conversation.

“They have the science, and it’s confirmed: marijuana ain’t f*cking medicine.” He pauses and takes a breath. There’s a few seconds of silence. “And now, I’m sure you’ll be trying to make me look like some kind of jerk.”

TELL US, do you find Rathbone’s ad concerning? Amusing? Both?

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