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Moloch of Marihuana

Comparing cannabis to various personifications of evil has always been an easy win for anti-cannabis campaigners, especially in the grip of the Reefer Madness era. In the USA particularly, heavy emphasis was placed on Christian mythology as the moral bedrock of society. This led to epithets such as ‘weed with roots in hell’ and ‘devil’s harvest’. Perhaps the most extreme of these comparisons is ‘Moloch of Marihuana’.

Many of the images on the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum website are available for reproduction. Please contact us for more information.

This short book, believed to be first published in 1934, was written by Reverend Robert James Devine. The reverend describes himself as a “Christian sociologist”, and wastes no time in equating cannabis to Moloch: a Canaanite deity to whom children were sacrificed.

The text is anything but unbiased. Devine describes his efforts to quell the use of cannabis among ‘adolescent youths’ and presents an assortment of news stories to justify his actions. It is tempting to judge the Reverend harshly, as a man in the grip of his faith with a vision skewed by misinformation.

Personal loss

However, according to his letter to the Wisconsin Farm Paper in 1943, his son was killed by a person that the Reverend believed to be ‘high on Marihuana’. Given this loss, his campaign against the Moloch of Marihuana can be viewed more charitably. He was, after all, attempting to save rather than punish cannabis users.

The astonishing cover, drawn by J. N. Curry, depicts Moloch in his usual form of a giant figure with the head of a bull, seated on a throne with his hands outstretched. His stomach and lower half are a raging fire. Descriptions of ancient statues of Moloch refer to a furnace in his stomach, and his red-hot hands, into which children are thrown.

In this case, it is drug ‘peddlers’ – depicted as large and muscular with tails and horns – who are hurling smaller figures into Moloch’s hands. In the foreground, a police officer, a teacher in a mortarboard, and a priest at a pulpit all have their backs turned to the scene; the author, and illustrator, presumably felt that these institutions were ignoring the fact that cannabis use was as bad as sacrificing children.

Moloch, poets and cannabis

This was not the first time that Moloch had been invoked as an allegorical horror. In Paradise Lost (1667 CE), English poet John Milton casts him as a pagan god and the primary supporter of Satan. Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, himself an avid proponent and user of cannabis, repeatedly names Moloch in his epic poem Howl (1956).

Ironically, Ginsberg’s version of Moloch also destroys cannabis users, but in this case, because he represents the industrial capitalism that attempts to crush their visions of a better world – Moloch is a “sphinx of cement and aluminum [that] bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination”.

On the back of Moloch of Marihuana are descriptions of “other fine books” from the publisher, Fundamental Truth Publishers of Findlay, Ohio. To lend some extra context to their perspective, one book, titled God and You – Wonders of the Human Body, complains about ‘the evolutionary hoax’ that is perpetrated by most other books about human biology.

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