‘Reefer Madness’ – So Fun, It Should Be Illegal

Scene from ‘Reefer Madness’ playing Friday and Saturday, Nov. 17 and 19 at Los Alamos Little Theatre. Photo © Thomas Graves.


Los Alamos Little Theater’s production of the musical Reefer Madness opens with Matt DeSmith playing a lecturer behind a podium, pontificating against the dangers of marijuana. The more intense his argument, the funnier the scene became. 

The play proceeded with catchy dance numbers by zombies, depraved scantily clad drug fiends, and innocent teens in the prime of their life. The music and the signing was phenomenal, the dancing was energetic and exciting and the costume changes were unexpected and hilarious. 

I enjoyed how everyone committed to their role and squeezed every ounce of humor from the script and the music and made things a little more extreme and risque than I expected. 

Clearly the cast and crew has poured in a lot of time and talent into this production. There were impressive performances by Joseph Lahmann, Matt DeSmith, Katherine Swager, Josh Bartlett, Andrea Albert, Collin McDowell, Mary O’Brien, Kelsey Denissen, Scot Johnson, all the members of the ensemble and the band, led by Nick Denissen. 

This was my time seeing Reefer Madness, and from the moment it started, I was asking myself where did this musical come from? How did it go from being an educational film to being a comedy?

It started out as a propaganda exploitative film that leaned on the public’s fear of doing drugs. The original movie was directed by Louis J. Gasnier in 1936, one year before the Marijuana Tax Act was sin 1937, which led to even harsher laws for marijuana in the decades that followed. 

In 1972, 10 months after President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs, pot activist Kenneth Stoup came across the 1930’s film at the Library of Congress and purchased the rights for $297. Stoup, the leader of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), began screening it at college campuses to raise funds for his campaign to legalize marijuana. Audiences were appreciating the humor. 

In 2021, New Mexico became the 18th state to legalize marijuana. On Friday, April 1, 2022, Cannabis sales for adults over 21 became legalized in New Mexico and the state made over $300 million in sales during the first year. There is even a dispensary in Albuquerque called Reefer Madness. Marijuana continues to be illegal at the federal level, which means that many people who live and work in Los Alamos (including most of the cast and crew) are still held back from taking part. 

Seeing this play through the lens of hindsight makes it easy and fun to contemplate the pot and propaganda. This play will run one more weekend, since the opening night was pushed back, so tickets are still available for Nov. 17 and 18 at 7:30 p.m. Viewer discretion is advised.