420 Magazine Background

The History of Cannabis Prohibition 1937-1962

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
by Richard Rhodes

Part One

Just because an issue is not discussed or understood in the mainstream, does not mean it does not deserve to be. The illegal status of marijuana serves as a perfect example. While many may have strong feelings for or against marijuana prohibition, the fact remains very few understand why the plant is illegal today. Party platforms, as well as opinions of politicans do very little without a historical assurance on the facts. Whether you are for or against the legalization, at least know what occured to bring upon the prohibition.

We are all well aware of the current controversy surrounding the reform of cannabis laws in the United States, but how many among us realize the history behind these laws? Few of us have any knowledge on the foundation of the criminalizing of cannabis nationally, which took place in the years from 1937 to 1962. It is these years in which laws regulating cannabis first sprouted, laying down the illegal status of cannabis that still remains today.

This is truly a sad fact that so few Americans have knowledge on such an important era. If it were not for the laws that began in this period it is possible that the criminalizing of cannabis would never have occurred. In this paper I aim to focus on these critical years in cannabis related legislation to bring forth the motivation for what is the foundation for the plants current legal status.

To truly analyze the years in which cannabis first became illegal I believe that we must first briefly discuss the history of the plant as used in the United States. The plant, cannabis sativa, has played an important part in the history of the United States. Indeed by 1630 half of all winter clothing in the United States and almost all summer clothes were made from the hemp fiber of the male variety of the plant (Grinspoon 11). Hemp was one of the first major cash crops grown by early settlers of the United States. At this time the plant was used for everything from paper to birdseed.

The plant was so important to these early settlers that many legislative bodies greatly encouraged its growth; in 1762 Virginia penalties were imposed on persons who did not grow hemp on their land (Sloman 21). Besides industrial uses we can also see that the plant was an extremely important medicine for Americans. During the middle of the 19th century the United States Pharmacopoeia recognized the plant as an important medicine. At this same time the United States Dispensatory recommended cannabis for a great variety of disorders including depression, tetanus, gout, and cholera (Sloman 22).

Yet despite this great history of medicinal and industrial uses the smoking of cannabis with the intention of changing consciousness was seen as a problem, beginning in the late 1910s. This sudden change in mood came upon curiously as most at this time knew little of the plant or its effects on humans. Indeed during this early stage of hysteria few outside of Mexican immigrants and southern blacks smoked cannabis. From this first citing of the plant as a nuisance national hysteria would soon follow and from the period of 1937-1962 the federal government would take extremists actions through the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).

The first national legislation concerning cannabis sativa was passed in 1937. This key piece of legislation was dubbed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. The Marihuana Tax Act provided that any person wanting to use the plant for specific defined purposes register and pay a tax of $1 per ounce, much more than the actual price of the plant at that time, and that persons wishing to use the plant for undefined purposes, such as smoking, register and pay a $100 per ounce tax (Grinspoon 21).

Although this legislation was bolstered as a means for raising revenue and not one to officially make cannabis illegal it had the effect of doing so. By charging such a large tax for persons who wanted to smoke the plant, the legislation effectively forced individuals to buy cannabis through underground sources and thus not register. Upon doing so the person who did not register and pay the tax would put himself or herself in a much deeper dilemma than a $100 tax. This is because the penalty for unregistered transactions was a fine up to $2000, prison for up to 5 years, and risk of penalties for tax evasion (Grinspoon 21).

Thus we see that from the beginning of criminalizing cannabis strict penalties were imposed. This act also effectively stopped the use of cannabis as a medicine and greatly reduced the use of hemp. This is because by forcing physicians to register and pay a $1 an ounce tax on all transactions physicians began to inevitably prescribe other medicines in its place, as there would be less hassle associated with them.

The strict penalties under the Marihuana Tax Act were imposed despite there being little knowledge on cannabis. This particular piece of legislation is marked by a distinct taste of authoritarianism by the FBN whom completely controlled the legislative hearings. At these hearings the FBN drowned Congress in their propaganda, claiming that cannabis was directly related to murder, sexual excess, insanity, among other ills.

Chilton Hester, assistant general counselor in the treasury department, testified at hearings that the major criminal in the United States was the addict, despite having no reliable figures to back this assertion (McWilliams 68). When Congressman John McCormack asked Harry J Anslinger, commissioner of the FBN, of marihuana’s effects Anslinger replied, “some people will fly into a delirious rage and many commit violent crimes” (McWilliams 70). Again this statement was backed up with no reliable data, but instead by a set of newspaper articles which Anslinger kept chronicling stories of the drugs linkage to crime (McWilliams 52). Indeed one must immediately question the knowledge Anslinger and the bureau had on the linkage between cannabis and crime, as newspapers were used quite often. In fact in circular letter #458 Anslinger requested all supervisors to mail him any information from newspapers that suggested any connection between cannabis use and the commission of any type of crime (Bonnie and Whitebread 195).

At the time of the hearings the knowledge of the FBN concerning cannabis was not to the point that it should have been to push such important legislation. In fact at the time of the proceedings the FBN was well aware that knowledge of cannabis was not to the point that it was when similar legislative actions were taken regarding opi*m or alcohol. Six months after the passage of the act the consulting chemist of the treasury department advised Anslinger to start research, stating, “ that virtually nothing is known concerning the nature of the narcotic principle, its psychological behavior, and the ultimate effect upon the social group” (Bonnie and Whitebread 187). We can now see that this legislation was forced upon the legislature by an overwhelming bureaucratic machine, the FBN, whom knew very little about cannabis yet still portrayed it as “The Killer Drug ‘Marihuana’- a powerful narcotic in which lurks Murder! Insanity! Death” (Grinspoon 19).

Works Cited:

Grinspoon, Lester. Marihuana Reconsidered. Oakland, CA: Quick American Archives, 1972.

Sloman, Larry. Reefer Madness: Marijuana in America. NYC, NY: Grove Press Inc, 1979.

Mcwilliams, John C. The Protectors: Harry J Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of
Narcotics 1930-1962. Newark, NJ: University of Deleware Press, 1990.

Bonnie, Richard J and Charles H Whitebread. The Marihuana Conviction. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1974.

Part Two

If an issue is ignored, no matter what importance it may hold, it will continue to be ignored. The history of how cannabis became illegal has been ignored. It has been ignored because the plant was made illegal through racism and lies. It is time that we ask our government to look into this issue, and reevaluate the current laws. What follows is Part 2 in a series.

The Congress that passed this turning point legislation in the legal status of cannabis sativa had little information or knowledge on the plant at the time of the act’s passage. These hearings were characterized by a lack of information and authoritarian hold by the FBN. The only witness to testify at the hearings outside of the FBN was Dr. William C Woodward, legislative council for the American Medical Association (AMA).

Dr Woodward showed his anger with the Ways and Means Committee openly for not inviting credible witnesses to speak, persons whom could use their expertise to convey to members of Congress information that would confirm or deny the “facts” put forth by the FBN (McWilliams 72). Mr. Woodward chastised the committee members for knowing so little on pending legislation, many knowing nothing but what they read in the newspapers and having zero knowledge on the habitat or physical appearance of cannabis (McWilliams 69).

Dr. Woodward questioned the committee members to think about why they were consistently being referred to newspapers that ranted about the ills of cannabis addiction and its connection to crime rather than being shown reliable factual evidence. Woodward went on to counter the argument set forth by the FBN asking why no official from the Bureau of Prisons was invited to display the number of prisoners who were addicted to cannabis, arguing that if such a large number of crimes were committed under the drugs influence, as was stated by the FBN, then surely cannabis addiction would be prevalent in the prison population.

In fact the Bureau of Prisons had no such evidence that would indicate how many prisoners were addicted to cannabis, as the Bureau had no opportunity to conduct such research (Grinspoon 24). This testimony is critical in displaying the blatant arrogance of the FBN and Congress in passing this act. The FBN repeatedly stated that crime was caused by cannabis, and if this were so we would see a great number of prisoners that were addicted to cannabis yet the Bureau of Prisons had no such data. Dr. Woodward further stated that neither of the federal narcotics farms, which at that time treated addicts, had ever had any record of any individual being placed at their facilities with merely a cannabis addiction.

The committee members were told by the FBN that cannabis had become a great problem among young persons, and that an increasing number of young persons were using cannabis. Indeed in questioning Dr. Woodward committee member Dingell stated, “We know that it is a habit that is spreading, particularly among youngsters. We learn that from the newspaper” (Grinspoon 25). Thus despite the information Woodward was to put forth to convince the committee, many had preconceived opinions that were based off information from newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Examiner, when in November 5, 1933 they displayed this headline: “Murder Weed Found Up and Down Coast – Deadly Marihuana Dope Plant Ready For Harvest That Means Enslavement of California Children” (Sloman 44).

As is evident this newspaper account is nearly identical to the views put forth by the FBN stated above, and thus these accounts were taken as truths by Congress without any other consideration. Dr. Woodward again attempted to persuade the legislature that they were being fed poor information. Woodward asked why no officials from the Children’s Bureau or the Office of Education had been invited to the proceedings; if cannabis use was prevalent in children surely someone from either of these offices would be aware of it. Woodward showed that neither office had any evidence to show the prevalence of cannabis use in children and had never conducted an investigation (Grinspoon 24). Certainly if the allegations made by the FBN were truthful than members of the Children’s Bureau and Office of Education would have been invited to support these allegations yet since no such persons were invited, and no such evidence existed, it can be assumed that the FBN had no reason to make such allegations.

In the end Woodward’s testimony was ignored and the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 passed without any serious dissent. After appearing Woodward was accused of many offenses including misrepresentation, evasiveness, giving inaccurate testimony, and impending important legislation (McWilliams 74). Furthermore the legislature dismissed Dr. Woodward in a less than discreet manner stating, “You are not cooperative in this. If you want to advise us on legislation you ought to come up with some constructive proposals rather than criticisms, rather than trying to throw obstacles in the way of something that the federal government is trying to do” (Grinspoon 26).

This statement by the legislature displays that any dissent to this legislation would not be tolerated and that facts outside of what the members of Congress wanted to believe would not be heard. This is devastating to the integrity of the Marihuana Tax Act, as without an open-minded legislature an authoritarian piece of legislation is the result. Indeed one must question if the Marihuana Tax Act was passed in a democratic fashion, which is to be the manner of legislation in the United States. Indeed it was passed by Congress that is to stand for the will of the people and was signed by the President as well. Yet one must realize that these hearings were started by the FBN, an organization that was manned by persons who were either appointed politically (often through patronage at this time) or merely hired through the standards put forth by the federal government. Because this legislation was begun by an organization of bureaucrats and the hearings were controlled by these same persons one can come to the conclusion that it was indeed these bureaucrats who truly passed this legislation and not any form of Congress.

Works Cited:

Mcwilliams, John C. The Protectors: Harry J Anslinger and theFederal Bureau of
Narcotics 1930-1962. Newark, NJ: University of Deleware Press, 1990.

Grinspoon, Lester. Marihuana Reconsidered. Oakland, CA: Quick American Archives, 1972.

Sloman, Larry. Reefer Madness: Marijuana in America. NYC, NY: Grove Press Inc, 1979.

Part Three

For too long marijuana reform has gone stale because the public does not know the history of the lies perpetrated to make the drug illegal. Beginning in 1937, with the Marihuana Tax Act our nation’s war on the drug began. Since that time few have looked back to learn the facts. Without the facts it is hard for one to make an informed decision. Learn the facts involving marijuana law, what follows is part three in a series on the history of cannabis prohibition.

Despite Dr. Woodward of the AMA standing alone as the sole voice of dissent in the Congressional hearings on the Marihuana Tax Act, there was a significant amount of research done around the time of the legislations passage and shortly thereafter. Although Anslinger ignored this research, and the FBN openly discredited persons whose research was in contrast with the opinions of the bureau, many of the findings are very important as they should have been used to educate the legislature about the Marihuana Tax Act. Indeed some of this research was even done within the federal government.

In 1933 a study conducted by the United States Army on the physiological and psychological effects of cannabis smoking by US soldiers in the Canal Zone resulted in views directly in contrast with that of the FBN. The study concluded that cannabis smoking was quite harmless and did not result in maladjustment in the user (Grinspoon 19). Further criticism by a member of the army came in 1943 when Colonel J.M. Phalem, editor of the Military Surgeon published “The Marihuana Bugaboo”. In this writing the colonel dismisses the dangers put forth by the FBN stating “the smoking of the leaves, flowers, and seeds of cannabis sativa is not more harmful than the smoking of tobacco… the legislation in relation to marihuana was ill advised…” (Grinspoon 27).

These results by the US Army directly contrast with the views put forth by Mr. Anslinger, particularly in that the study showed no maladjustment to the user although Anslinger advised dealing with soldiers who use cannabis severely through court-martial. Despite these results by the army Anslinger conducted a campaign in February 1944 involving 3000 cannabis cases in or near military camps (McWilliams 97).

The results in 1933 by the US army are not isolated; in fact many other researchers conducted studies that resulted in similar findings. In 1934 Walter Bromberg reported his results of cannabis in the September printing of “The American Journal of Psychiatry”. Mr. Bromberg’s study found that cannabis was not the primary cause of crime, despite the claims of the FBN. The study showed results of analyzing 2216 convicted felons in New York City. The study found that of the 2216 involved zero were confirmed as addicted to cannabis and more importantly that none of the assault crimes were committed under its influence (Sloman 45).

This study is particularly troublesome for the bureau since they offered that such a great deal of the violent crime could be directly associated with cannabis. It also must be stated that the FBN under Anslinger did not feel compelled to show any such studies to the members of the Congressional committee during the tax act hearings and instead felt compelled to “wow” them with sensationalistic stories from the press. An earlier study by Paul Taylor in northeast Colorado resulted in figures similar to Bromberg’s, finding no mention of cannabis in criminal statistics from the period of 1925-1927 (Helmer 59).

The most conclusive study that disproved the views put forth by the bureau was conducted by the Mayor of New York City and was published in 1942. Dubbed the La Guardia report, after the mayor, the study disproved nearly every opinion used to pass the Marihuana Tax Act that was put forth by the bureau. The committee that instituted the study consisted of: three psychiatrists, two pharmacists, one public health expert, Commissioner of Health, Commissioner of Hospitals, and the Director of the Division of Psychiatry of the Department of Hospitals (Grinspoon 26).

When members of the committee visited “smoking pads” in Harlem they were surprised to see that “a boistering rowdy atmosphere did not prevail”, instead they saw persons rather relaxed, this of course contrary to the statements made by the FBN that cannabis smoking led to increased aggressiveness (McWilliams 103). The committee studied 77 prisoners in a hospital ward to see if the statements of increased violence and insanity caused by cannabis put forth by the FBN were truthful. The study found that the personality and behavioral traits of the individuals did not change when induced by cannabis (McWilliams 104).

Increasingly the committee found that the statements made by the FBN were based more on myth than on fact. Furthermore interviews were conducted with New York City police officers where it was found that there was no proof that major crimes were related to cannabis use (McWilliams 103). The final results of the study found that: cannabis did not lead to addiction, was not prevalent in children, was not the cause of crime, did not lead to aggressive or anti-social behavior and did not cause sexual excess (Grinspoon 26).

Although the La Guardia report was by far the most reliable study conducted to that point on cannabis, the study was dismissed by Anslinger and the FBN. Anslinger openly dismissed the report and its findings going as far as to attack the authors of the report. Anslinger had such a small tolerance for critics of the bureau, especially after such an important report as La Guardia had just been published, that he labeled critics of the bureau as “strange” and “dangerous” people (McWilliams 104).

The reason for Anslinger’s zero tolerance on anything criticizing the bureau was that he believed that anything that resembled education or exploring solutions other than his own would cause the public to become curious and brew potential new victims (King 71). It seems rather evident that opposing all public discussion over an issue that your agency is concerned with is ultimately concealing something, and that is just what Anslinger was doing.

Although there were several studies that disproved the notions of the FBN it would have been likely that there would have been a great deal more. This occurred because after the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act the FBN was the sole issuing authority to persons who wished to conduct studies on cannabis sativa. Needless to say many persons potential studies were ignored (King 82).

One such researcher that wished to disprove the notions of the bureau was Dr. Michael Ball of Warren, Pennsylvania. Dr. Ball responded to an article that was sanctioned by the FBN stating that cannabis was not responsible for the numerous societal downfalls that the bureau associated with it (McWilliams 60). Dr. Ball hoped to perform studies on human subjects so that conclusive evidence could be made on the effects of cannabis on humans. Despite Dr. Ball’s good intentions and scientific inquiry Anslinger refused to give any consideration to him or his ideas (McWilliams 61).

Top Marijuana and anti-Drug War Organizations:
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws: Marijuana Law Reform - NORML

Students for Sensible Drug Policy: Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Educators for Sensible Drug Policy: Educators For Sensible Drug Policy (EFSDP)

Drug Policy Alliance: OpenDNS

MAP: The Media Awareness Project: MAP: The Media Awareness Project

Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform: www.chear.org

Works Cited:
Grinspoon, Lester. Marihuana Reconsidered. Oakland, CA: Quick American Archives, 1972.

Mcwilliams, John C. The Protectors: Harry J Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of
Narcotics 1930-1962. Newark, NJ: University of Deleware Press, 1990.

Sloman, Larry. Reefer Madness: Marijuana in America. NYC, NY: Grove Press Inc, 1979.

Helmer, John. Drugs and Minority Oppression. Sansbury Press, 1975.

King, Rufus. The Drug Hang-Up: America’s Fifty Year Folly. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C Thomas Publisher, 1974.

Part Four

With the new wave of anti-Hispanic thought moving around the country we must look back and see where it all began. If we do not learn from our mistakes, than we will never better ourselves. Cannabis became illegal largely because of racism, primarily towards Hispanics.

The history of cannabis prohibition is one engulfed in racism. From the very beginning of the anti-cannabis laws the racist undertones were evident. Understanding this is a key component of explaining the faults that were planted at the beginning of the criminalizing of cannabis. We must say that any movement towards legislation that is sparked by hate and racism is essentially faulted. Therefore the very foundation of that legislation and the goals it seeks are false. This is indeed the case with cannabis prohibition during its earliest years of 1937-1962.

In order to completely understand the racist onslaught that accompanied the prohibition of cannabis we must first look back before the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 to the actions that occurred inside the states. Because it was well known that minority groups were among the first users of cannabis for purely recreational purposes, namely southern blacks and Mexicans, it was easy to target this activity (Sloman 29).

Indeed this is what occurred, state after state brought legislation forth that would prohibit the non-medical use of cannabis. Legislation usually prompted by two factors, being faced with a growing number of minority group members using cannabis and outrageous newspaper stories which cited cannabis as the cause of crime and insanity (Sloman 30).

It is important to note that these two factors are not separate, but instead are linked in a chain. Because the primary users of cannabis sativa pre-1937 were members of minority groups, when newspaper stories told of crime and insanity being caused by cannabis users the majority of persons linked it to Mexicans or blacks, and moreover most of these stories were of Mexicans or black persons.

Thus these news stories that sparked the hysteria over crime and insanity due to cannabis smoking were not merely conveying the false message that crime and insanity are caused by cannabis but that Mexicans and blacks cause crime due to cannabis. Because of this we can see that the earliest hysteria over cannabis at the state level mirrors that of the Marihuana Tax Act, containing little factual knowledge and instead being sparked by newspaper stories.

The racist undertones of the movement toward national prohibition of cannabis were not only evident in newspapers but also in the words of many doctors and scientists. Indeed at this early stage when respected and scholarly persons spouted off about the ills of cannabis they would always tie its use and supposed downfalls to Mexicans. In the 1929 debate that led to the ban on non-medical cannabis use in Montana this is all too evident. Dr. Fred Fulsher speaking at these hearings had this to say:
“When some beet field peon takes a few rares of this stuff he thinks he has just been elected president of Mexico so he starts out to execute all his political enemies. I understand that over in Butte where the Mexicans often go for the winter they stage imaginary bullfights after a couple of whiffs of marihuana” (Helmer 79).

The statements made by Dr. Fulsher display that the ban on non-medical cannabis use that developed in Montana was based on racism and a lack of knowledge. It is important to understand this because the ban on cannabis first occurred in the states, by these types of means. From this we see that the racist undertones of the first bans on cannabis were an influence on the later national legislation.

Dr. A.E. Fossier was one of the prominent speakers on cannabis in Louisiana at this time and consistently focused on the “downfalls” of Mexicans due to cannabis. Dr. Fossier attempted to link cannabis use to white superiority openly displaying this in his writings:
“The debasing and baneful influence of hashish and op*ium is not restricted to individuals, but has manifested itself in nations and races as well. The dominant race and most enlightened countries are alcoholic, whilst the races and nations addicted to hemp and opi*m, some of which once attained to heights of culture and civilization, have deteriorated both mentally and physically” (Sloman 42).

It is painstakingly clear here that persons like Dr. Fossier used racism and racism alone to bring their views on cannabis forward. To say that the race which is alcoholic is most enlightened is nonsense and holds no scientific bearing as was the mark of this time. Dr. Fossier goes further in another writing of his, stating that races that use cannabis are doomed to be criminals, thus linking Mexican cannabis use to criminal acts once again, “ the possible substitution of alcohol for a greater evil marihuana should be considered the greatest possible calamity that can befall a nation. It is now confined to the criminal class” (Helmer 76).

Despite the linking of cannabis to crime and particularly in Mexicans, studies were conducted during this time to disprove this theory. A 1930 survey of crime among Mexicans in Texas found that “they show delinquent tendencies less than their proportion of the population would entice them to show” (Helmer 58). This study also found that there was no mention of cannabis in any of the crime statistics (Helmer 58).

A survey by Paul Taylor in northeast Colorado turned up similar results, finding no mention of cannabis in the criminal statistics for 1925-1927. After concluding this study Taylor wrote “the extent to which Mexicans violate our laws appears to be magnified unduly not only by the Northeastern Colorado community but even by the officers who handle the Mexican offenders” (Helmer 59).

Finally a study of Imperial County, California also found no mention of cannabis use in its criminal statistics and also found that the rate of crime by Mexicans was very low (Helmer 63). Here we can draw together that the idea of cannabis leading to crime was indeed exaggerated greatly, as was found earlier. Furthermore we see that this theory arrived as a false mechanism to put shame onto Mexicans, who often were less crime prone than the general population.

Works Cited:

Sloman, Larry. Reefer Madness: Marijuana in America. NYC, NY: Grove Press Inc, 1979.

Helmer, John. Drugs and Minority Oppression. Sansbury Press, 1975.

Part Five

So far this year 362,000 people have been arrested for cannabis offenses (1). That is approximately one arrest every forty five seconds. At this rate by the end of 2006 over 700,000 people in the United States will be arrested for cannabis offenses, the majority of them for non-violent offenses. Since the year 2000 over 4 million people in the United States have been arrested for cannabis offenses (2). And it all began with a racist, bureacratic, poorly researched act, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

As the depression set in and the United States economy was not what it once was, the racism towards cannabis use grew. In fact it is likely that the depression is the single largest force in the history of cannabis prohibition. Because Mexican labor was so much cheaper than that of American workers unemployed persons resented Mexicans who worked, wondering why these Mexicans had jobs and they did not, although they themselves would not work for the low wages given to the Mexicans. Through this resentment towards Mexicans came a resentment towards activities of the Mexicans, such as cannabis use. This resentment thus sparked the hostility that led to cannabis use being marked as a creator of many evils in outrageous news publications.

The effects of the depression and the local hysteria, stated earlier, brought upon the national legislation that began the prohibition of cannabis. Indeed this racism can be seen at the highest level of the anti-cannabis movement, the FBN. In a letter to Stephen Gibbons, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Department and one of Anslinger’s supervisors, Senator Joseph Guffey showed his anger with the racism of the bureau: “I am being deluged with complaints from our colored population because Mr. Anslinger has been so indiscreet as to refer to one of their race as a “ginger colored nigger…” (Sloman 46). But the racism in the bureau did not end with mere remarks. Anslinger carried with him a collection of horror stories, the same newspaper stories that the bureau consistently used at hearings concerning cannabis throughout the 1930s-1950s, in which offenders were nearly always identified by race, either Mexican or black (McWilliams 52).

Anslinger went even farther in his racist war on cannabis by consistently attempting to perform a synchronized nationwide arrests of jazz musicians. In speaking to the House Ways and Means Committee Anslinger stated, “we have been running into a lot of traffic among these jazz musicians and I am not speaking about the good musicians but the jazz type” (Helmer 183). This attack on jazz musicians can be seen as an attack on black culture as a whole. Since during this time jazz was at the height of its success among black Americans, Anslinger’s attack on jazz was an attack at the black population.

By the 1950s the Federal Bureau of Narcotics under Harry J Anslinger had all but abandoned their older theories of the evils of cannabis. The threat of crime, murder, sexual excess, and insanity stated by the FBN in the 1930s had now been replaced with a new theory that attempted to link cannabis use to hero*n use. This new theory named the stepping stone theory puts cannabis as a drug that will inevitably lead persons to hero*n use. Yet as was the case with the older theories put forth in the 1930s this new linkage to hero*n use is based on hysteria with little factual information.

The most interesting point in this new theory, put forth by the FBN, is not only that the bureau abandoned the crime theory put forth in the 1930s, but instead that the organization testified during the 1930s that cannabis use did not lead to hero*n use. During the “reefer madness” of the 1930s Representative John Dingell of Michigan asked Harry Anslinger whether “the marihuana addict graduates into a hero*n, an opi*m, or a coca*ne user?” In answering this question Mr. Anslinger stated, “No sir I have not heard of a case of that kind… the marihuana addict does not go in that direction” (Grinspoon 236).

This statement made in the 1930s follows with Anslingers opinion of cannabis at that time, believing that cannabis was the worst of all drugs, and was far more degenerating on a person than is opi*m (McWilliams 51). This also follows with the opinion of many judges at this time whom believed cannabis was the worst of all drugs, US District Judge J Foster Symes whom convicted the first person under the Marihuana Tax Act stated, “I consider marihuana the worst of all narcotics—far worse than the use of morph*ne or coca*ne” (McWilliams 78).

Despite these previous rants, in 1950 Deputy Commissioner of the FBN G.W. Cunningham testified before Congress stating that heroin addicts gave “a history of having started by smoking marijuana” (Grinspoon 236). And indeed Mr. Anslinger who still led the FBN put forth this same opinion in 1955 when he appeared to testify before a Senate subcommittee investigating sales of illegal drugs. When Senator Price Daniel asked Anslinger, “Whether the real danger there in the use of marihuana is that the use of marihuana leads many people eventually to the use of hero*n, and the drugs that do cause complete addiction, is that true?” Anslinger happily replied, “That is the great problem and our great concern about the use of marihuana, that eventually, if used over a long period, it does lead to hero*n addiction” (Grinspoon 240-241).

This complete turnaround of logic by the FBN could be justified if evidence showed that cannabis use was linked directly to the later use of hero*n, yet this is not the case not even in the FBN’s own files. The FBN’s own files contained information that directly contradicted the new stepping stone theory the bureau was attempting to advance. In 1950 the FBN ran a random study of 602 cases involving opia*e convictions from their own files. This study found that only a mere 7 percent of these cases started on cannabis (Grinspoon 244).

But this was not the only information that the FBN had that directly contradicted their theory. In looking at opi*te arrests by the FBN between 1940-1949 we see a rise from 3009 to 3779, a 26 percent increase. If we look at cannabis arrests by the FBN during this same period we see an increase from 950 to 1643, a 73 percent increase (Grinspoon 240). This information taken from the FBN’s own arrest files shows that although use of opi*m was on a rise, cannabis use was rising at a significantly higher rate, if arrests rates are to be used as a signal of use in the population. Thus we can conclude that if cannabis use leads one to hero*n use, as put forth by the FBN, hero*n use would show an increase at least as great as that of cannabis which is not the case shown by the FBN’s very own figures.

Is it possible that the FBN brought this theory forward because of sensationalistic newspaper accounts of cannabis leading to hero*n use, similar to the news reports that flamed the crime theory during the 1930’s? In a study by J Mandel of major articles dealing with cannabis during the period of 1920-1948 it was found that more than 70 percent made no mention of the danger that cannabis would potentially lead a user to hero*n, or use of other opiat*s.

Mandel also found this to be true in professional literature, finding no mention of the stepping stone theory in 18 papers on law enforcement and criminology, in 8 lay books, and 18 other publications. Overall there were only fifteen works published between 1931-1948 that advanced the stepping stone theory (Grinspoon 236). Indeed in this case we see the exact opposite of that which occurred during the madness of the 1930s. It was only after the FBN began advancing the theory in the 1950s that the media began to tell stories linking cannabis to hero*n. In fact from the period of 1950-1953 there were at least nine mass media articles that suggested the only significant danger of cannabis use was that it would lead one to use hero*n, although none of these articles provided any supporting data to back up these claims (Grinspoon 238).

Works Cited:
1. War On Drugs Clock

2. Marijuana | Drug War Facts

Grinspoon, Lester. Marihuana Reconsidered. Oakland, CA: Quick American Archives, 1972.

Helmer, John. Drugs and Minority Oppression. NYC, NY: Sansbury Press, 1975.

Mcwilliams, John C. The Protectors: Harry J Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of
Narcotics 1930-1962. Newark, NJ: University of Deleware Press, 1990.

Sloman, Larry. Reefer Madness: Marijuana in America. NYC, NY: Grove Press Inc, 1979.

Part Six

So far this year 372,000 people have been arrested for cannabis offenses (1).That is 10,000 more since Part Five. Since the year 2000 over 4 million people in the United States have been arrested for cannabis offenses (2). And it all began with a racist, bureacratic, poorly researched act, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

Thus far we have analyzed the information of the FBN and of the mass media, the bureaus two favorite sources for information to support their theories, and have found no information that would lead one to believe that the stepping stone theory is supported by credible evidence. Is it possible that the bureau would finally choose to advance scientific data in their theory for the first time? It turns out this was not the case either in the reasoning for advancing the idea that cannabis use would lead to hero*n use. In fact the La Guardia report, which was still the most significant study of the effects of cannabis during the time that the stepping stone theory was being advanced by the FBN, concluded that:

“We have been unable to confirm the opinion expressed by some investigators that marijuana smoking is the first step in the use of such drugs as coca*ne, morph*ne, or hero*n. The instances are extremely rare where the habit of marihuana smoking is associated with addiction to these other narcotics” (Grinspoon 238).

As stated earlier Anslinger had actively dismissed the findings of the La Guardia report and the credentials of its committee members, yet this report was not alone in showing that cannabis use could not be credibly linked to heroin use. In looking at arrests statistics from California in 1960 it appears that the use of opiates, such as hero*n, without having first used cannabis is seven times more frequent than with a history of cannabis use.

Furthermore sixty times more Californians are apprehended for cannabis without a prior history of using opiat*s than seem to move on from cannabis to opiat*s. These statistics also show that users of amphetam*nes and barbitu*ates are far more likely to begin using opiat*s than users of cannabis. In a similar study conducted in Chicago in 1952, only 11 of 100 hero*n users analyzed showed any history of cannabis use, and the majority of persons studied actually began directly with hero*n.

Two major studies conducted in New York City, during the early 1950s, of young hero*n users found that cannabis use could not be said to be an element in the use of hero*n (Grinspoon 243). Finally a study by N.E. Zinburg and A.T. Weil of 63 cannabis users, and many of which were heavy users of cannabis, concluded that there was no evidence that would lead one to believe that cannabis use “graduates” one to harder drugs, such as hero*n (Grinspoon 244). From these studies we see that much like during the FBN of the 1930s, again in the 1950s, the theories that were being advanced about cannabis use were based on a lack of information and credible evidence.

During the years that the FBN advanced the stepping stone theory Mr. Anslinger stated one evidence being that there was an increase in drug addicts age 18-21 (Bonnie and Whitebread 205). This statement is likely to be true but it is unlikely that cannabis use was a key element in this rise of young drug users. One important fact we must remember about this period is that during the early years of cannabis prohibition cannabis users were likely to be much younger and users of hero*n and other opiat*s older persons.

Therefore this increase in young addicts using opiat*s was advanced by Anslinger as being linked to cannabis use. If we understand the timeframe in which these remarks were made by Anslinger we can conclude that this connection is unlikely. During the years leading up to the United States entering World War 2 Anslinger and the FBN stockpiled 300 tons of opi*m for use by our military and by allied forces (McWilliams 96). Immediately after the end of the war was Anslinger’s chosen time to state that there was a great increase in opi*te addiction among persons age 18-21.

It is indeed much more likely that these 300 tons of opi*um bred many of our troops, whom many of which were between the ages of 18-21, to become drug addicts upon their arrival home. Thus it is likely that instead of cannabis use being a prelude to hero*in use and being the foundation for the stepping stone theory it is more likely that the using of 300 tons of opiu*m on our soldiers created a higher use of heroi*n, yet the bureau attributed this to cannabis.

Works Cited:
1. War On Drugs Clock
2. Marijuana | Drug War Facts

Bonnie, Richard J and Charles H Whitebread. The Marihuana Conviction.
Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1974.

Grinspoon, Lester. Marihuana Reconsidered. Oakland, CA: Quick American Archives, 1972.

Mcwilliams, John C. The Protectors: Harry J Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of
Narcotics 1930-1962. Newark, NJ: University of Deleware Press, 1990.

Part Seven, Communist Hysteria Addition

In the 1950’s every issue had an anti-communist slant to it. The Cold War affected every issue, and cannabis legislation was no different.

One possible explanation for the popularity of the stepping stone theory is that it was introduced during an era of hysteria towards anything communist. At this time heroin was portrayed by many as a means of communist China to degenerate Americans. Because such a great number of Americans were afraid of the communist threat, the linking of heroin to communist China was widely accepted. Thus because the stepping stone theory linked cannabis to heroin, which was being portrayed as a threat from the communist, cannabis could than be linked to the communist threat.

This threat of the communist using drugs to control Americans may seem irrational today but during this period it was played up by both the FBN and the mass media. Indeed major news organizations drafted headlines that stirred the hysteria of drugs being used by communist to hurt Americans. The Los Angeles Times screamed, “Dope’s Flow said to Have Red Backing”, in which the article quoted the chief of the Los Angeles police department as saying, “Communists in Europe and Asia are directing, in part, the flow of narcotics into the United States”. During this time newspapers also often contained political cartoons that attributed the drug traffic to the plans of communist in China to dominate and demoralize the youth of America (Bonnie and Whitebread 209). Although these publications contained no rational evidence that could link communist efforts to the international drug traffic these tales were still told.

Anslinger and the bureau used similar tactics to tie the use of drugs to efforts by communists. Anslinger continuously argued that communist China was using hero*in, and other forms of opiat*es, as a means of subverting free countries (McWilliams 111). Consistently using this argument to convince others in the United Nations (UN). As a delegate to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 1952 Anslinger stated that communist from the east were organizing the narcotics traffic ring, and because no one at this time wanted to be labeled a communist sympathizer few challenged this claim (McWilliams 150).

Again at a UN meeting in 1954 Anslinger accused communist China of being the primary source for illegal substances for the entire world (McWilliams 151). These accusations made by Mr. Anslinger followed his trademark, being based more on myth than on actual factual information. Indeed outside of making accusations against the communist Anslinger did little else to convince the rest of the world that the statements he made were true. British customs and police officials stationed in Hong Kong were one of the few to dismiss Anslinger’s accusations stating they were “ridiculous and unfounded” (McWilliams 153).

In looking at evidence of the flow of opiu*m from China it indicates that the Nationalists promoted the cultivation of opiu*m and not the Communists. In fact the Nationalists forces did aggressively promote the growing of op*ium because it was a source of finance for their guerilla campaigns in Burma and Thailand. Furthermore evidence indicates that the cultivation of opi*um was encouraged openly by the United States military. Evidence also shows that the CIA worked with both the Corsican and Marseilles crime syndicates during the latter part of the 1940’s (McWilliams 152). This evidence shows again that the ideas put forth by Anslinger and the bureau were not grounded in facts but instead based on bold face lies.

The use of hysteria against cannabis is not over. Think back to shortly after September 11th. In a pathetic attempt to fight cannabis the Office of National Drug Control Policy ran ads that claimed that cannabis users support terrorism. The ads went something like this: Billy bought marijuana from a drug dealer the drug dealer got the marijuana from someone else who got it from someone else who got it from someone else in Afghanistan. This linkage to September 11th mimics the hysteria in the 1950s that cannabis was linked to communism.

If anyone can find the videos of these ads please link them, I looked and could not find them.

Works Cited:
Bonnie, Richard J and Charles H Whitebread. The Marihuana Conviction.
Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1974.

Mcwilliams, John C. The Protectors: Harry J Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of
Narcotics 1930-1962. Newark, NJ: University of Deleware Press, 1990.

Part Eight, Stricter Penalties Still No Scientific Evidence

After the hysteria and racism of the 1930s regarding cannabis came the 1950’s and a linkage to hero*in, communist hysteria, and passage of extremely harsh penalties. Of course as in the 1930’s virtually no scientific evidence was done, and the studies that had been conducted were ignored.

The beginning of the 1950s set the start for the harsh drug laws we have today. This time also saw cannabis being categorized with cocaine and her*oin. In order to change the future we must understand the past.

The increased hysteria of cannabis use leading to the use of opiat*es during the 1950s led to legislation whose goal was to expand penalties regarding cannabis. The 1950s can best be characterized as a time in which the punitive approach to the use of cannabis dominated. Two key pieces of legislation passed through Congress during this time, the Boggs Act of 1951 and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956. Although numerous other bills were introduced in Congress to expand the penalties regarding cannabis these are the two that passed and outlined the new sentences that would be imposed.

The Boggs Act of 1951 represented the most punitive approach to cannabis to this point in the plants history. Most importantly this piece of legislation was the first time that cannabis was lumped together with other drugs (her*oin, cocai*ne etc.). This meant that according to the Boggs Act sentences for her*oin, cocain*e, cannabis, etc… offenses would be identical (Bonnie and Whitebread 204).

Today we can now see that this legislation was a prelude to cannabis being together with her*in under Schedule 1. This placement is a key turning point in the legal status of cannabis, because the time of being separate from other narcotics had ended.

The other significant turning point that the Boggs Act introduced into the history of cannabis was the mandatory minimum sentence. Because Anslinger and many members of Congress wished to limit the discretion available to judges mandatory minimum sentences were introduced. The new penalties for cannabis under the Boggs Act read as follows:
1st offense: 2-5 years $2000 fine
2nd offense: 5-10 years $2000 fine
3rd offense: 10-20 years $2000 fine

It is important to note that the new penalties introduced under the Boggs Act made no distinction between the user and the peddler, or between the person who possessed a joint and the person who had a garage full of her*oin (Bonnie and Whitebread 210). Therefore a first time offender convicted of smoking one cannabis cigarette would be sentenced to a minimum of two years in prison and a $2000 fine as would the first time offender who was convicted of selling massive amounts of her*oin.

After the passage of the Boggs Act in 1951 the FBN convinced many of the states to follow suit and expand their cannabis penalties. In fact between 1953 and 1956 twenty-six states passed legislation raising penalties for cannabis offenses. Some states becoming so caught up in the expanding of penalties that they soon had penalties stiffer than that passed by the Boggs Act. By 1956 Louisiana had the harshest drug penalties in the country calling for a 5 – 99 year sentence without the possibility of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence for the sale, possession, or administering of any drug (Bonnie and Whitebread 215). Again it is important to note that no distinction was made between the peddler and the user.

Although the Boggs Act was passed and penalties were expanded to their greatest, considerable dissent did indeed exist. Although this dissent was not powerful enough to block this critical piece of legislation it is still important to note of its presence, because during the time of the Marihuana Tax Act (the last piece of important cannabis legislation) virtually no dissent existed, outside of Dr. Woodward of the AMA.

Congressman Cellar speaking at the hearings consistently stated that he believed the introducing of mandatory minimum sentences would be unjust to addicts (Bonnie and Whitebread 210). The director of the United States Bureau of Prisons James V Bennett stated, “The Boggs Bill was passed due to hysteria”, after the passage of the act (Bonnie and Whitebread 211).

Most importantly science finally entered the legal history of cannabis. The Boggs Act hearings marked the first occurrence of a scientific paper being filed as an exhibit into cannabis related legislative hearings, this paper was by Dr. Harry Isbell the director of research at the public health service hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. Dr. Isbell’s research showed that cannabis was not physically addictive (Bonnie and Whitebread 213). Furthermore Dr. Isbell went on to testify before the Kefauver committee in the Senate stating:

“Marihuana smokers generally are mildly intoxicated, giggle, laugh, bother no one, and have a good time… ordinarily will not attempt to harm anyone. It has not been proven that smoking marihuana leads to crimes of violence or to crimes of a sexual nature. Smoking marihuana has no unpleasant after-effects, no dependence is developed on the drug, and the practice can be stopped at any time” (Bonnie and Whitebread 213).

Unfortunately the statements by Dr. Isbell were disregarded by the majority in Congress, as were the statements of Dr. Woodward at the Marihuana Tax Act hearings, and the Boggs Act of 1951 was passed.

The American Medical Association remained an important voice of dissent during the period that the Boggs Act was passed, much like it was at the time of the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act. Between 1951 and 1955 the AMA was joined by the American Bar Association (ABA) in calling for a reexamination of the legislative approach to stopping drugs (Bonnie and Whitebread 215).

This is crucial because it represents two powerful entities standing together against the punitive approach that was pushed through the legislature in the Boggs Act. Further calls by the AMA and ABA came in 1955 when the coalition called for a Congressional investigation of the FBN (McWilliams 111). By calling for such an investigation of the force that pushed the crime, sexual excess, insanity, stepping stone to heroin, and communist hysteria movements this represented the first real threat to the power that the FBN had undoubtedly held since 1937.

In 1955 the joint ABA / AMA investigation of the FBN began. Later upon publication of the findings the committee asked Anslinger if he would meet in order to talk about what was found. Anslinger angrily refused any such meeting and disregarded and discredited the findings of the committee by stating it was “incredible that so many glaring inaccuracies, manifest inconsistencies, apparent ambiguities, important omissions, and even false statements could be found in one report” (McWilliams 117). Although Anslinger followed his usual plan of ignoring any dissent and did not meet with this joint committee it was becoming nonetheless apparent that his reasoning was that he was afraid of the possible effects any credible dissent could have on his campaign against cannabis.

Parallel to the pushing of the Boggs Act there existed a considerable voice in the United States that wished to move even farther with the punitive approach. At this time another bill regarding penalties for cannabis offenses existed in Congress, this was the Dirksen Bill.

The Dirksen Bill suggested going above and beyond what was being considered under the Boggs Act and called for a possibility of the death penalty for certain offenders. In writing to a Oregon State Senator in 1951 Anslinger stated, “You no doubt know that Senator Dirksen has introduced a bill in the US Congress which could provide the death penalty for peddling narcotics to minors. This has our complete endorsement” (Bonnie and Whitebread 207-208).

Although the Dirksen Bill was never passed it is nonetheless still a significant force in the history of the prohibition of cannabis. The Dirksen Bill allows us to see early, before the passing of the Boggs Act, that Anslinger and some members of Congress were not satisfied with the already heavy penalties proposed in the Boggs Act. This bill shows that many in power at this time were ready to test the extremes of the punitive approach.

Outside of the happenings of the Dirksen Bill there were many other occurrences of persons calling for penalties far more extreme than that contained in the Boggs Act. Congressman Edwin Arthur Hall of New York called for a minimum sentence of no less than 100 years for anyone who peddles cannabis. A Californian writing to Commissioner Anslinger wrote, “I strongly support your request for legislation to impose life sentences on narcotics peddlers. In fact I would go further and urge nothing less than death sentences for these viscous enemies of society”.. The mass media also joined in this campaign, on August 12 1951 the Washington Post wrote, “these are criminals of the ugliest and most dangerous type…” speaking of drug dealers (McWilliams 208).

From this we can note that in 1951 this national hysteria created an extreme of the punitive approach. For the mass media, regular citizens, the FBN, and members of Congress were all asking for the most severe penalties, many of which would have made cannabis offenses more punishable than murder in some cases.

Works Cited:
Bonnie, Richard J and Charles H Whitebread. The Marihuana Conviction.
Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1974.

Mcwilliams, John C. The Protectors: Harry J Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of
Narcotics 1930-1962. Newark, NJ: University of Deleware Press, 1990.

Richard Rhodes
Biography: Graduate student at the George Washington University in the field of Political Management and work for Green Institute.

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