Weed and propaganda in classic cartoons

Weed and propaganda in classic cartoons
Luke Sumpter

Watching cartoons and smoking cannabis go hand-in-hand, especially for adults who are kids at heart. But did you know that some of the classic cartoon actually were about marijuana?

The public opinion regarding cannabis from the 1930-1990s was predominantly negative. At the time when “Reefer Madness” was in full affect, society would explicitly point to marijuana use as a cause of hallucinations that led to manslaughter, suicide, and rape. It was also a time when classic cartoons were sometimes straightforward about various opinions and topics, including cannabis.

You might have missed it while growing up, but some there are quite a few classic animations that allude to the magic herb through a more old-fashioned and uninformed lens. And in some it was clearly a form of propaganda.


You can’t really talk about classic cartoons without thinking of Popeye. And although Bluto and Olive are likely to come to mind as well, Popeye is most notably known for his love of spinach, which makes him an unstoppable force after he consumes an entire can.

So what was really in his can?

In one specific episode, it is quite clear that the Popeye creative team used the spinach as a means to integrate cannabis into the mix. But not in a positive way.

In the episode entitled “Rodeo Romeo,” which aired in 1946, Bluto and Popeye were trying to impress Olive, like usual. But in order to get himself ahead in the competition, Bluto replaced the spinach stash with some “Locoweed,” unbeknownst to Popeye.

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In trademark fashion with the music playing in the background, Popeye gobbled up the entire can of Locoweed, which quickly turned things upside down for him. Immediately after, his brain functions come to a halt as he enters what seems like a hallucinogenic trip induced by the herb.

Although indirectly, the message of this cartoon bears the same propaganda as the Reefer Madness film. There was a fair bit of an inaccuracy in this episode, of course, as Popeye seemed to act more drunk and slurry after eating the spinach than acting stoned.

But maybe we could think that Popeye’s usual “spinach” was his normal weed, as “spinach” back then was also used as a code-word for marijuana, and that the “Locoweed” was some tainted or laced weed?


The general storyline of the classic cartoon Pinocchio which was made around 1940, was pretty simple for kids to digest.

A woodcarver named Geppetto builds a wooden puppet named Pinocchio. Pinocchio dreams of becoming a real boy, but his constant lying hinders this from happening. And the more he lies, the longer his nose grows.

But although the cartoon could not have been more didactic and innocent looking, like many other films of the period Pinocchio also indirectly hints to cannabis.

In one scene, Pinocchio was coaxed by an older peer to take a huge drag from a cigar, which Pinocchio obliged to.

After the massive hit, Pinocchio began showing signs of disarray, as he was unable to properly aim while playing pool. It was not made clear how Pinocchio seemed to have gotten high off of the cigar smoke, but it was nonetheless presented in an entertaining way.


Whenever Tom and Jerry hit the screens with their shenanigans and misadventures, viewers are almost always guaranteed to have a barrel of laughs. This love-hate relationship between the most famous cat and mouse duo in all of the cartoon world seems to never get old.

Since the original Tom and Jerry shorts are a product of the 1940s, it was actually not that big of a surprise to see cannabis intertwined into one of its storylines. While it was indirectly portrayed in this short segment of an episode, you can see Tom and Jerry puffing and passing around a wooden pipe and enjoying themselves.

What gave this clip away was the psychedelic mood that Tom experienced after taking a puff. It was also one of the rare times where the two are seen behaving in a more harmonious manner, proving that the magic herb can, in one way or another, bring people closer together.


Just like Popeye, Asterix and Obelix was all about extraordinary power. Set during the Roman times, Obelix supposedly fell in a pot filled with magic potion, that was supposed to give a consumer extreme powers for a limited period. And as you know, Obelix had this extreme strength for the rest of his life. Ever wondered what the hell was in that potion?

In one scene of Asterix conquers America, Asterix, Obelix and Panoramix visit an Native American vilage, and you probably guessed it already, they smoked a “peace pipe”.

While Panoramix mentions it tastes ghastly, he seems to quite like it in the beginning. Obelix of course inhales the whole thing until we see some magic happening and while seemingly tripping, they all pass out.

You must agree with us that this scene is basically a propaganda clip, showing us how to smoke, telling us they hope it never catches on, and then telling us it causes hallucinations and nothing good can come of it when over-consumed. Right...


A clear example of cartoons being used as propaganda was “Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue” in 1990, which was an animated drug-prevention TV special financed by McDonalds.

The special aired on April 21, 1990 (they almost had it right), and featured many famous cartoon characters such as Garfield, the Smurfs, Bugs Bunny, Alvin and the Chipmunks (sounding like your little sister on helium) and many more.

The whole gang of famous characters went on to tackle a very controversial social issue at the time, which was marijuana use.

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In the particular marijuana scene, the high-pitched Chipmunk trio was seen with alien life-form Alf hidden under an adolescent boy’s bed. When the boy slid a box under the bed, the four were rightfully curious as to what exactly was held inside.

Upon opening, the distinct scent of marijuana seemed to have come over them, to which chipmunk Simon reacted to as “an unlawful substance used to experience artificial highs” and to which Alf mentions that something tells him they are not “in cartoon territory” anymore, hinting the audience that this is some more serious business.

These are just some of the classic cartoons that reference cannabis, but there is probably many more we missed, as well as in the newer animations currently showing on TV.

So next time you watch a beloved cartoon series or film, or let your kids watch some, be on the lookout for pipes, cigars, and spinach that may have more to them than meets the eye. To think of it, what was up with those Teletubbies?

Luke Sumpter
Luke Sumpter

Luke has worked as a cannabis journalist and health science researcher for the past seven years. Over this time, he’s developed an advanced understanding of endocannabinoid system science, cannabis phytochemistry, and cultivation techniques.