“The Reagans Speak Out On Drugs”: Cliff Roth’s Irreverent 1988 Short Film

By on April 10, 2015

“From the early days of our administration, Nancy has been using marijuana on a daily basis, and her personal observations and efforts have given her such dramatic insights, that I wanted her to share them with you this evening.”

So sayeth then U.S. president Ronald Reagan, in 1988, in this first few minutes of this short 16mm film, The Reagans Speak Out On Drugs, which is part of a longer short film called The Drug Test Movie, which, we have to say, has to be seen to be believed.

In 1988, teacher and filmmaker Cliff Roth got his hands on the famous “Just Say No” anti-drugs speech by the Reagans, dating back to September 1986, courtesy of a student who worked at ABC News. He then spent almost two years painstakingly matching the film up to an audio reel that his students had created.

This short 16mm film was originally released on VHS in 1988, just before the presidential election, and in the early 1990s it was screened on cable-TV and at many festivals in the U.S. and around the world.

There’s a wonderful write-up here that explains it all.

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In 2013, on the film’s 25th Anniversary, a newly re-mastered, the official and only authorized post of this pioneering viral short film, The Drug Test Movie, was made available here. The digitally re-mastered The Drug Test Movie, from the original film negative , is now available on DVD and Blu-ray, and it also includes “Top Pot,” a documentary short about the Cannabis Cup awards in Amsterdam.

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In addition to Ronald and Nancy Reagan, ex-presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton are all featured in The Drug Test Movie, along with clips of Howard Stern, Conan O’Brien, Willie Nelson, all to fantastic music soundtrack (produced by the late San Francisco musical legend Jeff Davis) including the iTunes hit “Marijuana French Toast,” the country-western wannabe hit “Hello My Old Friend,” and the nostalgic “Those Were The Bongs.”

The film, distributed by Silver Touch Studios, won the Grand Jury Award at the Berkeley International Film & Video Festival.

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The Drug Test Movie is the full-length version of the 16mm short film which in turn provides the basis for Cliff Roth’s provocative 2003 feature film, The Stoned Channel, which premiered at the 2004 Berkeley Video & Film Festival.

Here’s a product description for The Stoned Channel:

Drug testing triggers an outrageous, sometimes hilarious marijuana home shopping channel fantasy, inspiring a television executive to challenge authority. Frank Meyers, executive for the fledgling Cable Comedy Channel, learns that after a takeover by the Fashiss Corporation, drug testing will begin. Nostalgic for the stoner college days he shared with his friend-turned-boss, Frank dreams about “The Stoned Channel,” a home shopping club for marijuana. Selling pot and “collectible” water pipes, The Stoned Channel features marijuana-laced spoofs on common TV forms: A singing “Ganja Gourmet” cooks “Special French Toast,” a Sunday-morning “What’s Hempening” talk show explores why U.S. presidents promote cocaine over pot, and the “Stoned Channel Travel Club” hawks pot-centric tours of Amsterdam, Nepal, and a gratuitously nude Thailand. When the dream wears off and the reality of drug testing begins, Frank risks his job and the entire TV network to fight back.

Cliff Roth graduated from Binghamton University in 1979. According to the most recent bio we could find for him, he runs his own studio, The Silver Touch. He has previously taught digital filmmaking at the Millennium Film Workshop.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.