Federal Cannabis Prohibition Turns 75-Years-Old Today

In a milestone that will no doubt go largely unnoticed by the mainstream media, today marks the 75th anniversary of the enactment of federal marijuana prohibition. On October 1, 1937, the US government criminally outlawed the possession and cultivation of cannabis — setting into motion a public policy that today results in some 850,000 arrests per year and has led to more than 20 million arrests since 1965.

But times are changing. Now, for the first time, a majority of Americans say that they favor replacing this failed policy with one of cannabis legalization and regulation. Further, on November 6th, voters in three states — Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — will decide at the ballot box whether to allow for the limited legalization of cannabis for adults. According to the latest polls, voters Colorado and Washington appear ready to take this historic step, while Oregonians remain closely divided on the issue.

That is why we have themed this week’s 41st national NORML Conference in Los Angeles ‘The Final Days of Prohibition’. (Conference registration information is here.) Today we reflect upon the decades of failure imposed by prohibition; tomorrow we look to the very near future when cannabis prohibition is abolished once and for all.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (2009, Chelsea Green) which looks back at how we got into this mess in the first place.

By 1935, most states in the country had enacted laws criminalizing the possession and use of pot, and newspaper editors were frequently opining in favor of stiffer and stiffer penalties for marijuana users. As [US Federal Bureau of Narcotics’ Director Harry J.] Anslinger’s rhetoric became prominent, he found additional allies who were willing to carry his propagandist message to the general public. Among these were the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Hearst newspaper chain – the latter of which luridly editorialized against the “insidious and insanity producing marihuana” in papers across the country.

Members of state and local law enforcement also joined the FBN’s anti-marijuana crusade. Writing in The Journal of Criminology, Wichita, Kansas, police officer L. E. Bowery asserted that the cannabis user is capable of “great feats of strength and endurance, during which no fatigue is felt.” Bowery’s toxic screed, which for years thereafter would be hailed by advocates of prohibition as the definitive ‘study’ of the drug, concluded:

“Sexual desires are stimulated and may lead to unnatural acts, such as indecent exposure and rape. … [Marijuana use] ends in the destruction of brain tissues and nerve centers, and does irreparably damage. If continued, the inevitable result is insanity, which those familiar with it describe as absolutely incurable, and, without exception ending in death.”

… By 1937, Congress – which had resisted efforts to clamp down on the drug some two decades earlier – was poised to act, and act quickly, to enact blanket federal prohibition. Ironically, by this time virtually every state had already ratified laws against cannabis possession. Nonetheless, local authorities argued that the marijuana threat was so great that federal intervention was also necessary.

On April 14, 1937, Rep. Robert L. Doughton of North Carolina introduced House Bill 6385, which sought to stamp out the recreational use of marijuana by imposing a prohibitive tax on the drug. The measure was the brainchild of the U.S. Treasury Department, and mandated a $100 per ounce tax on the transfer of cannabis to members of the general public. Ironically, a separate anti-marijuana measure introduced that same year sought to directly outlaw possession and use of the drug. However this proposal was assumed at that time to have been beyond the constitutional authority of Congress.

Members of Congress held only two hearings to debate the merits of Rep. Doughton’s bill. The federal government’s chief witness, Harry Anslinger, told members of the House Ways and Means Committee that “traffic in marijuana is increasing to such an extent that it has come to be the cause for the greatest national concern. … This drug is entirely the monster Hyde, the harmful effect of which cannot be measured.”

Other witnesses included a pair of veterinarians who testified that dogs were particularly susceptible to marijuana’s effects. “Over a period of six months or a year (of exposure to marijuana), … the animal must be discarded because it is no longer serviceable,” one doctor testified. This would be the extent of ‘scientific’ testimony presented to the Committee.

The American Medical Association (AMA) represented the most vocal opposition against the bill. Speaking before Congress, the AMA’s Legislative Counsel Dr. William C. Woodward challenged the legitimacy of the alleged ‘Demon Weed.’

“We are told that the use of marijuana causes crime. But yet no one has been produced from the Bureau of Prisons to show the number of prisoners who have been found addicted to the marijuana habit. An informal inquiry shows that the Bureau of Prisons has no evidence on that point.

You have been told that school children are great users of marijuana 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 no nothing particularly of it.

… Moreover, there is the Treasury Department itself, the Public Health Service. … Informal inquiry by me indicates that they have no record of any marijuana or cannabis addicts.”

Woodward further argued that the proposed legislation would severely hamper physicians’ ability to utilize marijuana’s therapeutic potential. While acknowledging that the drug’s popularity as a prescription medicine had declined, Woodward nonetheless warned that the Marihuana Tax Act “loses sight of the fact that future investigations may show that there are substantial medical uses for cannabis.”

Woodward’s criticisms of the bill’s intent – as well as his questions regarding whether such legislation was objectively justifiable – drew a stern rebuke from the Chairman of the Committee. “If you want to advise us on legislation, you ought to come here with some constructive proposals, rather than criticism, rather than trying to throw obstacles in the way of something that the federal government is trying to do,” the AMA’s counsel was told. “Is not the fact that you were not consulted your real objection to this bill?”

Despite the AMA’s protests, the House Ways and Means Committee approved House Bill 6385. House members even went so far as to elevate the Anslinger’s propaganda to Congressional findings of fact, stating:

“Under the influence of this drug the will is destroyed and all power directing and controlling thought is lost. … [M]any violent crimes have been and are being committed by persons under the influence of this drug. … [S]chool children … have been driven to crime and insanity through the use of this drug. Its continued use results many times in impotency and insanity.”

Anslinger made similar horrific pronouncements before members of the Senate, which spent even less time debating than the measure than had the House. By June, less than three months after the bill’s introduction, the House of Representatives voted affirmatively to pass the proposal, which was described by one congressman as having “something to do with something that is called marijuana. I believe it is a narcotic of some kind.”

Weeks later, after the Senate had approved their version of the bill, the House was asked to vote once again on the measure. Prior to the House’s final vote, one representative asked whether the American Medical Association had endorsed the proposal, to which a member of the Ways and Means Committee replied, “Their Dr. Wharton (sic) gave this measure his full support.” Following this brief exchange of inaccurate information, Congress gave its final approval of the Marihuana Tax Act without a recorded vote.

President Franklin Roosevelt promptly signed the legislation into law. The Marihuana Tax Act officially took effect on October 1, 1937 – thus setting in motion the federal government’s foray into the criminal enforcement of marijuana laws which continues unabated today.

35 thoughts

  1. Hopefully as time has passed the ignorant and unjust marijuana prohibition, which as based on lies and scare tactics, will come to an end. I think it should be treated in the same manner as alcohol and legalized for adult recreational use. We the people who live in this land of the “free” should have the actually freedom of whether or not we choose to individually consume marijuana.

  2. Greedy, Powerful, Bored and Controlling Men will always find ways to screw over those less privileged if it benefits them financially. It’s funny that even now, having solid proof of how beneficial it is and all of the myths being debunked by tens of thousands of documented studies and thousands of years of personal experiences by mankind (not even one recorded death in all of history,) these same men, just in a different generation will do everything they can to stop the truth from being acknowledged in the eye of the public and law.

    This is what happens when corporations run the world and the 1% are above the law (or making the laws, rather…)

    This problem goes way deeper than lies from 70-80 years ago… Big Pharma; tobacco; alcohol; oil companies; police organizations (who aren’t even supposed to have opinions;) etc. The biggest problem I see though is the lack of attention this subject gets in the mainstream media and why does NOMRL not push harder to get this stuff in the everyday, 6 o’clock news where the people who are most brainwashed by the propaganda, get most of their values and beliefs.

    The uneducated are ruining this for everyone. Cannabis users like you and I (generally speaking) are just as responsible for this as everyone else. Being too scared to bring it up in conversations with non-cannabis users/consumers and most of us, even lying to our children, just because it is federally illegal.

    I could go on for hours… but I will leave on a positive note:

    I think that it is amazing that within my lifetime, and my child’s lifetime that we may actually see legalization for responsible adults.

    Good luck to you Oregon, Washington and Colorado!

  3. Greedy, Powerful, Bored and Controlling Men will always find ways to screw over those less privileged if it benefits them financially. It’s funny that even now, having solid proof of how beneficial it is and all of the myths being debunked by tens of thousands of documented studies and thousands of years of personal experiences by mankind (not even one recorded death in all of history,) these same men, just in a different generation will do everything they can to stop the truth from being acknowledged in the eye of the public and law.

    This is what happens when corporations run the world and the 1% are above the law (or making the laws, rather…)

    This problem goes way deeper than lies from 70-80 years ago… Big Pharma; tobacco; alcohol; oil companies; police organizations (who aren’t even supposed to have opinions;) etc. The biggest problem I see though is the lack of attention this subject gets in the mainstream media and why does NOMRL not push harder to get this stuff in the everyday, 6 o’clock news where the people who are most brainwashed by the propaganda, get most of their values and beliefs.

    The uneducated are ruining this for everyone. Cannabis users like you and I (generally speaking) are just as responsible for this as everyone else. Being too scared to bring it up in conversations with non-cannabis users/consumers and most of us, even lying to our children, just because it is federally illegal.

    I could go on for hours… but I will leave on a positive note:

    I think that it is amazing that within my lifetime, and my child’s lifetime that we may actually see legalization for responsible adults.

    Good luck to you Oregon, Washington and Colorado!

  4. 1. 2.5 ounces (allowable per patient) is over 2000 single tokes (after sifting out the cellulose which goes in tea) in a 25-mg-capacity long-stemmed one-hitter.

    Legal safety hi(n)t: carry up to 40 tokes (1 gram) in a cannister and have on hand also a quarter-inch-diameter-screened-crater one-hitter clearly intended for Moderate Use (as comp0ared to a 500-mg hot-burning monoxide joint or secret sacred $igarette papers).

    2. The original $100 “tax”, clearly intended to make the herb many times more expensive than tobacco even if anyone dared use it, reminds me that most of today’s typical $200/ounce price is the “prohibition/black-market tax” created by ‘law-enforcement’ to make the herb many times more expensive than tobacco (in high-tax New York 2 packs of $igarette tobacco, about an ounce net weight, are barely over $20, or a tenth of the cannabis price) so that YOUNGSTERS ARE DRIUVEN TO NICOTINE.

  5. If you think few people trust the government now,,wait until the population finally figures out the war on drugs and the federal drug war machine was and still is about keeping hemp off the open market.

    And now the machine they built and spin-off industries created by the policies initiated by the machine are adding their lobby money to the original backers to keep hemp banned using marijuana as justification.

    While corporations may be able to buy legislation,,they can’t buy the people and WE WILL OVERCOME.

    Keep spreading the herb and the word,,they got us this far and they will take us the rest of the way.

  6. I’m not celebrating.

    The marijuana prohibition that remains active for so long is what gives the federal government agencies the authorized power to bully. These federal government agencies do not have the right according to the U.S. Constitution, but they have the power provided by the Control Substance Act of 1970. That is the document the DEA is sworn by, not the U.S. Constitution.
    Many states are challenging this.
    Major cities need to challenge as well.

    Save the United States!
    Audit the Fed.

  7. Quote:”Wichita, Kansas, police officer L. E. Bowery asserted that the cannabis user is capable of “great feats of strength and endurance, during which no fatigue is felt.”

    Alright!!!!why haven’t we made an extract that GNC or the Vitamin Shop can market and sell as a sports supplement for athletes?

    I guess their goal is, was- to cage the “Homo Sapiens ” and create a self generating – sustaining infrastructure

    sick, sick, monopolising bastards. What will they think of next?

    oh,yeah! lets outlaw organic vegetables and bullshit the media about the dangers of isolated lysteria outbreaks in cantaloupes so we can tighten the noose even further!

    “after all, those vitamins and minerals contained in the cantaloupe can cause a man to have unatural abilities of health- strength and vigor and could cause them to outlive their insurance benifits.Plus their is a remote possibility that ‘it can cause an erection in a 80 year old man”

    “have you ever seen an 80 year old man with an erection ? Its not for the faint- hearted…Yes,we must ban it at once!

  8. Back then there was no research or anything put into the effects of Marijuana consumption…. Now the answers are out after 75 years people can now stand and say that the government’s “war on drugs” is complete bullshit and the people need to continue to stand what they believe in because it is the right thing to do! Why have they not banned cigarettes that kill 400,000 a year oh wait they dont give a fuck!

  9. “… the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”
    – Harry J Anslinger

  10. I’ve been checking out all the latest news and, no suprise, not one word about marijuana… Me thinks that maybe the DEA controls all the major networks in this country. The only time I ever see anything reported about marijuana on CBS, NBC, or ABC networks is when it is something negative; i.e. the latest propaganda or people getting busted…

  11. If we LET the government lie, cheat, and steal, ignoring its OWN laws, taking money people don’t OWE, and putting people in CAGES for keeping what morally and legally belongs to them, then the sooner this country dies, the better. What could be a better definition of absolute tyranny than an empire which is not bound by ANYTHING? Not morality, not the Constitution, not their own laws, not anything.” – Larken Rose

  12. could you all just imagine….what living was like back before ’37 for those who enjoyed cannabis? i understand life then was so much harder then now but, a little peace of mind (a belt or two from the corncob pipe) had to have helped them thru….it always has for me. now that my employer feels they must drug test, ive not felt the same. i have used cannabis all of my adult life and have found it an acceptional benefit on damm near a daily occurance. all the while, being part of a loving family, friends that are second to none,being a decent neighbor and working for what i want or need! it made it all worth while to burn a small peace of mind….peace to you all..

  13. Hey Anslignerees, what exactly is a “degenerate race”? Is that what happens everytime we have an election? The degenerate politicians come out and have their “race”?

    And what’s the problem? The degenerates might lose for a change? If pot is legal, they’ll have one less thing to lie about?

  14. to clay gooding,
    that is a fact dude. i been preachin a form of that as well but, you have made a good point- its the hemp they are afraid of….its not the stuff you get a great buzz from..its the money the crystal palace would lose if hemp were legal. it is perfect sense people. controled by those industry tycoons who have cornered the big markets and who can spread the monitary joy politicly to keep their loses from legalization at bay….and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to keep it that way….our government has probably offered american companies some kind of tax breaks or something to drug test, which you know in these days of leaner corporate operations, of course u.s. companies will go for it to stuff more green into c.e.o’s pockets…..this is the BIG PICTURE folks…

  15. The brain-washed morons who favor prohibition ought 2 B glad that medicine isn’t on a 1937 level should they need medical attention because that’s exactly what the laws are. They didn’t even know about DNA back then. It was clearly based on irrational fear & superstition. Those excerpts R laughable!

  16. 75 years of lies and propaganda shoved down our throats and up our asses with MARIJUANA PROHIBITION. The INQUISITION still goes on in the 21st century because we are the non-believers of MARIJUANA PROHIBITION and nothing more than a bump in the road to be smoothed out by FEDERALISM. Another new year of UNICORNIZATION in AMERIKA has started and the KING IS STILL DEAF-DUMB-BLIND when it comes to MARIJUANA PROHIBITION. HAIL TO THE MONARCHY! If Romney gets in we are all really SCREWED.

  17. described by one congressman as having “something to do with something that is called marijuana. I believe it is a narcotic of some kind.”

    So millions of us have been enslaved thanks to one small group of people that didn’t even know what they where talking about I bet none of them have ever even seen marijuana probably didn’t even know it was a plant. Stupid fucking politicians why do we still keep these people around and pay them good money?

  18. I will tell you why Cannabis Sativa is not legalized and a crime to possess and use by the Federal United States Government. The mind of the USA Citizen from birth is programmed what the government want the people to think they are and what the world is.

    Those under the influence of marijuana a psyche active drug begin to think for themselves and question the world and government they live in.

    The Government begins to see it has no control over people who think for their selves. The government cannot so easily lie to the people and they accept the collage of thoughts and actions told their public to think and live in.

    The government of each nation on Earth exist on the deprivial of it’s citizens freedom, rights and liberties. Those that worship at their feet and supply the government with it’s citizens obedience whether law enforcement, political propaganda to hide its crimes, produce entertainment that supports and idolizes it are paid well above the masses.

  19. I will tell you why Cannabis Sativa is not legalized and a crime to possess and use by the Federal United States Government. The mind of the USA Citizen from birth is programmed what the government want the people to think they are and what the world is.

    Those under the influence of marijuana a psyche active drug begin to think for themselves and question the world and government they live in.

    The Government begins to see it has no control over people who think for their selves. The government cannot so easily lie to the people and they accept the collage of thoughts and actions told their public to think and live in.

    The government of each nation on Earth exist on the deprivial of it’s citizens freedom, rights and liberties. Those that worship at their feet and supply the government with it’s citizens obedience whether law enforcement, political propaganda to hide its crimes, produce entertainment that supports and idolizes it are paid well above the masses.

    Governments don’t like Marijuana because mind controlled individuals are easy to order about. Citizens exist under pollution and side effects of the chemicals in their water, food and air that they are non-thinking, easily led and predictable drones.

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