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Hemp 102: How prejudice, bigotry, misinformation and one man’s quest for power caused marijuana to become illegal

Hemp 101 covered how Cannabis came to North America, how Cannabis was offered for sale and accepted as a medical remedy, how hemp was farmed to produce a variety of useful industrial materials, and how smoking marijuana for its recreational benefit was considered fashionable.  In Hemp 102, we discuss how growing any form of Cannabis became illegal or subject to so much regulation that hemp farming in America came to an end.

Marijuana was made illegal because of racial prejudice, not scientific fact

Mexican soldiers were reportedly smoking marijuana by 1874.  Outlawing and regulating Cannabis began with the Mexican Revolution in 1910 which followed a series of rigged elections which kept General Parfirio Diaz in power for 35 years.  Diaz had exploited and repressed the Mexican farmers and peasants so he could assure rich foreigners their investments in Mexico were safe.  When Diaz ran for President of Mexico in 1910 after he was 80 years old, the Mexican farmers and peasants finally revolted (seen below).

Between 1910 and 1920, almost 900,000 Mexicans legally immigrated into the United States to escape the carnage of the Mexican revolution.  Many of these Mexicans were hired to work at large farms in California, and they enjoyed smoking marijuana after a hard day’s work.  The small farmers blamed the use of cheap Mexican labor for putting them at an economic disadvantage, and this blame turned into hatred and bigotry, and the bigotry turned into an effort to retaliate against the Mexican immigrants by describing their use of marijuana as an inherent evil in the hope of causing widespread public prejudice which would force them to return to Mexico.

In addition, California saw an influx of Hindoos from East India who practiced the Sikh religion and who also smoked Cannabis.  The people most likely to discriminate against the Hindoos were the Chinese, who having suffered great prejudice themselves, finally had someone else to look down upon.

The small farmers banded together, and with whatever Chinese help could be solicited, lobbied the California state legislature, and in 1913, California became the first state to outlaw “preparations of hemp, or loco weed” by amending the Poison and Pharmacy Act of 1907 making possession of “extracts, tinctures, or other narcotic preparations of hemp, or loco-weed, their preparations and compounds” a misdemeanor.  In 1913, a revision of the Poison Act classified cannabis under the same restrictions as other poisons, meaning cannabis extracts needed to be prescribed by a doctor and supplied through a pharmacist.  Whites in the City of El Paso were also prejudiced against Mexican immigrants due in large part to their increasing numbers along the border, and the City of El Paso outlawed Cannabis in 1915 initiating the deportation of hundreds of Mexican immigrants.  In both instances, the anti-Cannabis legislation in the West was based on racism rather than scientific reason and was designed to make life difficult for the Mexican and Indian minorities.

The United States was ripe for racism in the 1920's.  In election years during the 1920's, more than 50,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan would marched upon Washington, D.C. (seen below), a majority of the Jim Crow laws enforcing racial segregation and suppressing the black vote had already been passed, and lynchings reached their peak in the Southern states.  Many members of the Klan claimed to be fundamental Christians who opposed all recreational drugs including alcohol.  In the East, the racism was against the blacks who were said to have forgotten their place in society when smoking marijuana.  The prejudice was not limited to the Southern states.  One of the nations strongest and most prolific bastions of the Ku Klux Klan formed in Indiana which elected a member of the Klan, Edward L. Jackson, Governor in 1924.

On October 29, 1929, the stock market crash marked the beginning of the Great Depression, and high unemployment spurred greater prejudice against the Mexicans who had immigrated into the Southwest from Mexico and the blacks who had immigrated into the Northern states from the South.  Into this racist frenzy stepped two men primarily responsible for marijuana being made illegal in America.  The first was the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, law-and-order evangelist Harry J. Anslinger, a self-righteous, hypocrite who was beset on increasing his power and the size of his Bureau.  Anslinger was the first person appointed to head up the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and served as its Commissioner from 1930 until he finally retired in 1962 at age 70.  The second anti-marijuana crusader was famous yellow journalist, multi-billionaire William Randolph Hearst, the greatest newspaper baron of all time who did not shy away from publishing unchecked, forged documents if it suited his purpose.  At his peak, Hearst controlled 20 daily and 11 Sunday newspapers with a total circulation over 5.5 million.  One in every four Americans read a Hearst newspaper.  Hearst also published a Sunday supplement and six magazines.  By 1937, Hearst’s influence had faded but not before he had thoroughly succeeded in defaming the Mexicans and, especially, the blacks, by blaming their smoking marijuana for a series of false and exaggerated criminal and degenerate acts.  Anslinger and Hearst were two of the most influential racists America has ever seen, and they appealed to the wide-spread prejudicial instincts of a naive American public to criminalize marijuana and punish the minorities they hated.

At first Anslinger (seen below) found nothing wrong with marijuana and said Cannabis was “no problem,” caused “no harm,” and with respect to reports that Cannabis caused people to become violent, said,“there is no more absurd fallacy.”  But later, when Anslinger sought to increase his power and influence following his appointment as Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, he began touring the various states spreading an anti-marijuana message laced with deceit.  He claimed marijuana caused temporary insanity, and he preached marijuana caused white woman to engage in interracial relationships.  Anslinger lobbied for each state to pass without amendment the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act which Hearst’s newspapers strongly endorsed.

Anslinger’s uncle was Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, said to be the richest man in America.  Mellon had invested heavily in E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company which invented nylon in 1935, and even though at the time DuPont was primarily experimenting with nylon for making fine thread for manufacturing women’s hosiery, there existed the possibility the strong and water resistant fiber could be made into nylon rope placing it in direct competition with hemp as later became the case.  Hearst owned a lot of forest land to produce the trees to make the paper upon which to print his newspapers.  Although hemp paper was too course to be made into newsprint, there existed the possibility hemp newsprint could ultimately be perfected and compete with newsprint made from wood pulp.         

Before Anslinger was appointed Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, one of the later drafts of the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act authored by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws removed Cannabis from being defined as a “habit forming drug,” but after Anslinger was appointed Commissioner and began espousing his biased, unscientific, racist disinformation, the fifth and final draft of the State Narcotic Drug Act added Cannabis to the category of “narcotic drugs” alongside opiates and cocaine.  By the time the fifth draft was completed, no one challenged the list of prohibited substances even though no scientific study supported classifying marijuana a habit forming drug.

Simply having the states adopt the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act was insufficient reward for Anslinger, who saw his importance and influence diminish after prohibition ended in 1933 with the passage of the Twenty-First Amendment, and alcohol once again became legal on a national level.  As problems associated with opium, morphine, and heroin addictions remained fairly insignificant, Anslinger turned his attention to crusading against marijuana seeking to have it be banned on a national level in order to maintain his power and expand the size and budget of the Bureau he controlled.

As for Hearst, he hated blacks, Chinese, Hindoos, and especially Mexicans after future Mexican Revolutionary War General Pancho Villa (seen below, middle front) and his marijuana-smoking, rag-tag band of fugitive bandits expropriated 800,000 acres of valuable timberland Hearst owned in Chihuahua, Mexico, and turned it over to the Mexican peasants in 1898, a dozen years before the Mexican Revolution got its start.

Hearst (seen below) is often credited with starting the 1898 Spanish-American War with his yellow journalism.  He was always looking for an excuse to slander the minority races with exaggerated stories designed to increase newspaper sales and feed upon the public’s irrational, racist fears.  Hearst conjured up sensationalist, headline grabbing stories by reeling against marijuana and the dastardly crimes he said were caused by its influence.  Just using the word “marijuana,” who many people did not know actually meant “Cannabis,” was designed to add a Mexican component, except the word was spelled as if it were of English origin with the use of an “h” for the “j” and misspelling marijuana as “marihuana,” as its spelling appears in the “1937 Marihuana Tax Act.”  Anslinger tried to convince people that the word “marihuana” had its origins in the word “mallihuan,” the Aztec word for “prisoner,” because it fit well with his narrative that marijuana enslaved its user but, in actuality, the origin of the word marijuana remains unknown.

As an example of Hearst’s racist, yellow journalism, his newspapers editorialized, “Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.”  Hearst’s newspapers often referred to Victor Licata (seen below), a mulatto who Hearst and Anslinger claimed murdered his family with an ax while they were asleep because he was under the influence of marijuana when, in actuality, Licata suffered from severe mental illness.  In one of Hearst’s editorials printed in the San Francisco Examiner, it was written, “Marihuana makes fiends of boys in thirty days – Hashish goads users to bloodlust,” and “Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him. . .”

Meanwhile, Anslinger, acted upon his three favorite prejudices:  his hatred of jazz music and the black musicians who played it, his fear of interracial relationships, and his revulsion of the idea that blacks should think of themselves as equals.   Anslinger felt the primary reason for outlawing marijuana was because of its effect “on the degenerate races,” and he is further quoted as saying, “Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, jazz musicians, and entertainers.  Their satanic music is driven by marihuana, and marihuana smoking by white women makes them want to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and others.  It is a drug that causes insanity, criminality, and death – the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”  To use Anslinger’s words, “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men . . . the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races” and “you smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.”

Anslinger was quick to point out that jazz musicians sang songs which included references to marijuana like “That Funny Reefer Man,” and “Viper’s Drag.”  The Jazz hit “Muggles,” named after an old slang term for marijuana, was sung by one of American’s greatest artists and ambassador to the world, Louie Armstrong (seen below), who became one of Anslinger’s criminal targets although not nearly to the extent as did Billy Holiday.

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937

There remained a dispute over whether marijuana could be entirely outlawed without a constitutional amendment, so Anslinger came up with the idea of leveling a tax on marijuana with stiff penalties for non-compliance.  In preparation for making such an argument, Anslinger solicited police officers to submit to his “gore file” their most gruesome stories when the crime could be blamed on marijuana, even if marijuana use had nothing to do with the commission of the crime.  Anslinger also solicited medical opinions from 30 doctors and experts in the field, but when only one doctor, J. Bouquet, a hospital pharmacist, offered the only opinion with which Anslinger agreed, his was the only testimony Anslinger submitted to the House Ways and Means Committee whose members at the time were considering the Marihuana Tax Act, and to avoid Bouquet needing to be subjected to the Committee’s examination, Anslinger submitted Bouquet’s testimony in the form of written answers to interrogatories Anslinger had sent him on behalf of the Department of Narcotics.  In answer to the question, “Do any preparations of Indian hemp exist possessing a therapeutic value such that nothing else can take their place for medical purposes?” Bouquet wrote, “No” and went on to say that only in “a few rare cases” did Indian hemp give “good results” which results were “not superior to other medicaments which can be used in therapeutics for the treatment of the same affliction” and that “Indian hemp, like many other medicaments, has enjoyed for a time a vogue which is not justified by the results obtained” and “therapeutics would not lose much if it were removed from the list of medicaments.”

Previously, another medical professional, Dr. A.E.Fossier, had written in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, “Under the influence of hashish those fanatics would madly rush at their enemies, and ruthlessly massacre every one within their grasp,” but this conclusion was merely quoting from an article Anslinger had personally written referencing the opium trade and speaking of the conquests of Marco Polo whose alleged “hasheesh-eaters” were fierce fighters.  This statement caused Anslinger to repeatedly claim that the word “assassins” originated with the words “hasheesh-eaters,” when, in fact, the word “assassins” had its origin in describing the Nizari Ismailis sect that split from Shia Islam in the 11th century.

Dr. William C. Woodward of the Legislative Council of the American Medical Association (seen below) had previously spoken out against Anslinger’s distortion of earlier AMA statements which Anslinger twisted to make it appear as if the AMA supported the Department of Narcotic’s official position.  Woodward also objected to Cannabis being called marihuana in the legislation because the term marihuana was unknown to many of the legislators and, further, Woodward pointed out after the fact, that since he was neither invited to attend nor notified of the congressional hearing, “the facts on which these statements [about Cannabis] have been based have not been brought before this committee by competent primary evidence.”  The “evidence” Anslinger had brought with him to the Committee merely consisted of a scrapbook filled with  Hearst’s biased newspaper articles, his police “gore” file wrongfully attributing a variety of heinous crimes to marijuana usage, Bouquet’s written answers to interrogatories, and Fossier’s article parroting Anslinger’s prior propaganda.  Anslinger also allowed one of the Committee members to intentionally mislead the other Committee members by falsely claiming he had spoken with Dr. Woodward, and the American Medical Association supported passage of the Marihuana Tax Act “100 percent.”

Having heard of the misrepresentation, Dr. Woodward attended the House Ways and Means Committee hearing the next day upon his own invitation and corrected the misstatement, but few congressmen attended the second session.  Dr. Woodward told the Committee:

“. . . my name is Dr. William C. Woodward, representing the American Medical Association . . . .  I had no knowledge that such a bill as this was proposed until after it had been introduced.  Before proceeding further, I would like to call your attention to a matter in the record wherein the American Medical Association is apparently quoted as being in favor of legislation of this character. . . . In an editorial . . . the Washington Herald quoted the Journal of the American Medical Association in part, as ‘The problems of greatest menace in the United States seem to be the rise in the use of Indian hemp (marihuana) with inadequate control laws.’

“. . . that editorial [cites from an] editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association [and does] not correctly represent the views of the Association.  The Herald is not discussing marihuana alone, but is discussing the narcotic invasion of America. . . . The quotation has reference to the seeming situation that results from the statement of the Commissioner of Narcotics [Anslinger] and not from any evidence that is in possession of the American Medical Association. . . . There is nothing in the medicinal use of Cannabis that has any relation to Cannabis addiction.  I use the word "Cannabis" in preference to the word "marihuana", because Cannabis is the correct term for describing the plant and its products.  The term "marihuana" is a mongrel word that has crept into this country over the Mexican border and has no general meaning, except as it relates to the use of Cannabis preparations for smoking.  It is not recognized in medicine, and I might say that it is hardly recognized even in the Treasury Department. . . . In other words, marihuana is not the correct term.  It was the use of the term "marihuana" rather than the use of the term "Cannabis" or the use of the term "Indian hemp" that was responsible, as you realized, probably, a day or two ago, for the failure of the dealers in Indian hemp seed to connect up this bill with their business until rather late in the day. . . . To say . . . as has been proposed here, that the use of the drug should be prevented by a prohibitive tax, loses sight of the fact that future investigation may show that there are substantial medical uses for Cannabis. . . . It has surprised me . . . that the facts on which these [derogatory] statements [about Cannabis] have been based have not been brought before this committee by competent primary evidence. . . . no one has been produced from the Bureau of Prisons to show the number of prisoners who have been found addicted to the marihuana habit.  An informed inquiry shows that the Bureau of Prisons has no evidence on that point.  You have been told that school children are great users of marihuana cigarettes.  No one has been summoned from the Children's Bureau to show the nature and extent of the habit among children.  Inquiry of the Children's Bureau shows that they have had no occasion to investigate it and know nothing particularly of it.  Inquiry of the Office of Education . . . indicates that they have had no occasion to investigate and know nothing of it. . . . It has only been very recently, apparently, that there has been any discovery by the Federal Government of the supposed fact that Federal legislation rather than State legislation is desirable.”

Another opponent of the Marihuana Tax Act was the Mayor of New York City Fiorello LaGuardia who later assembled the LaGuardia Commission that reported in 1944 that earlier reports of addiction, madness, and overt sexuality were untrue.

Dr. Woodward wisely saw that further research into the medical qualities of hemp and cannabis would be stifled by the national tax.  Further, the national tax was not even designed to raise revenue.  It was designed to end the trade in Cannabis.  Importers, manufacturers, and compounders of marijuana were only required to pay a yearly tax of $24 per year.  However, selling any marijuana to a person who had not also paid the yearly tax would result in a tax of $100 per ounce of marijuana, $1,725 in today’s dollars, and detailed sales logs needed to be constantly maintained.  Further, notorious “Regulation No. 1" propagated under the Act allowed for constant inspection by the Treasury Department of any transaction, and to comply with the Act, one needed to circumvent a bewildering tangle of regulations requiring the taking of depositions and the filing of affidavits and sworn statements.  Any person convicted of a single violation of the Marihuana Tax Act could be fined $2,000 ($34,500 in today’s dollars) and imprisoned for five years.  As a result, doctors, physicians, and scientists feared to even experiment with hemp-related preparations.   Pictured below are the tax stamps one could purchase.

Prior to the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, Anslinger’s Bureau of Narcotics played a role in making of the 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film “Reefer Madness,” which depicted marijuana as a means by which all reason was lost and by which sinister men seduced innocent women.  This movie also had its effect on members of the House Ways and Means Committee who chose to ignore Dr. Woodward and, instead, follow Anslinger’s lead.  The picture of the poster below paints “Reefer Madness” as the pornography of its day.  Other films which attempted to capitalize on marijuana being a drug of seduction were “Devil’s Harvest” (1942) and “The Burning Question” (1943).

A preview trailer for the movie “Reefer Madness,” can be seen here.  In the trailer, the audience is warned “In this startling film you will see dopesters lure children into destruction. . . . you will meet Phil, who once took pride in his strong will, as he takes the first step toward enslavement. . . . smoking the sole-destroying reefer, they find a moment’s pleasure, but at a terrible price, debauchery, violence, murder, suicide . . . and the ultimate end of the marijuana addict, hopeless insanity. . . . See this film now, before it is too late!”  “Reefer Madness” is now considered a cult classic because of its grossly exaggerated scenes which are now laughable, but Anslinger promoted the movie as providing the public a truthful warning of what was to come if marijuana was not outlawed.

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was always illegal because it required someone who could be violating state laws related to possession and use of marijuana to declare themselves to the federal government and thereby face state prosecution, but it wasn’t until May 19, 1969, when the case of Leary v. United States, 395 U.S. 6, 89 S.Ct 1532, 23 L.Ed. 57 (1969), was decided, that a unanimous United States Supreme Court found the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 violated one’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively brought an end to the growing of industrial hemp despite it not having a level of THC which could possibly get a person high, much less lead to reefer madness.  Then came World War II and the cutting off of America’s supply of a strong, natural fiber from which rope could be made.  That’s where Hemp 103 begins and explores the evolution of America’s Cannabis laws up to the present day.

Go to Hemp 103

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