Staggerlee: No Sell Out
In 1943, before he transformed himself into Malcolm X, a crazy seventeen-year-old hepcat who travelled by the handle of Detroit Red came to Harlem looking for a hustle and wound up 'peddling reefers' to the jazz musicians he idolised: "In every band, at least half the musicians smoked reefers", he told Alex Haley twenty years later. "I'm not going to list names; I'd have to include some of those most prominent in popular music, even a number of them around today. In one case, every man in one of the bands which is still famous was on marijuana."

Malcolm told how he would score through a friend called Sammy and sell ready-rolled joints (or 'sticks', since they were no bigger than match sticks) "wherever musicians congregated". When Harlem got too hot, Red hit the road: 'I'd turn up in towns were my friends were playing. "Red!" I was an old friend from home. In the sticks, I was somebody from the Braddock Hotel. "My man! Daddy-o!" And I had Big Apple reefers.'

In Mystery Train, his classic collection of essays about American Rock 'n' Roll, Greil Marcus explores the myth of Staggerlee, the boldest, baddest black man on the block. No slave he, Staggerlee is the archetypal glamorous outlaw: flashily dressed, not to be crossed, and living for kicks. Or, as Marcus quotes Bobby Searle of the Black Panthers as saying: "Staggerlee is Malcolm X before he became politically conscious. Livin' in the hoodlum world." Indeed, the conked and Zoot-suited, Lindy-hopping Harlem Red might well have been the The Man from Harlem Cab Calloway sang about in 1932, or even the Reefer Man his bad self.

Long before he became the most radical black politician of his generation, Malcolm X personified white middle America's worst nightmare: an uppity nigger who didn't know his place and openly consorted with white women. In fact, Harlem Red conformed only too closely to the image of the evil pusher portrayed by the anti-pot propaganda of the era. Portrayed in popular songs as romantic heroes, drug dealers were condemned by prohibitionist propaganda as wicked villains, hell-bent on corrupting the innocent and destroying young lives.

Reefer Madness, made in 1936, is the most notorious quasi-documentary on "the burning weed with its roots in Hell... the deadly scourge that drags our children into the quagmires of degradation" It is so incredibly silly that it has transcended cult status - screened at pro-legalisation fund-raising events in the early 70s - to become a camp classic. But it is merely the best known example of a slew of lurid exploitation films suggesting that cannabis use "unleashed passions" and led to "weird orgies".