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Hemp Around Their Necks

From The Murderers



U. S. Commissioner of Narcotics



In 1930 there was no federal law against smoking marijuana, and the average American citizen in an average community had probably never heard of "reefers" or "tea" or other words in the argot of marijuana users. But by the middle thirties we began to see the serious effects of marijuana on our youth. An alarming increase in the smoking of marijuana reefers in 1936 continued to spread at an accelerated pace in 1937. Before this, use of reefers had been relatively slight and confined to the the Southwest, particularly along the Mexican border.

Seizures by state officers in these two years, however, had increased a hundred percent and by hundreds of pounds. Reports I received from thirty states showed an "invasion" by this drug, either by cultivation or underworld importation.

Marijuana was something new and adventuresome. The angle-wise mobsters were aiming their pitch straight at the most impressionable age group-America's fresh, post-depression crop of teenagers.

One adolescent gave a picture to an agent of a typical "smoker" in an apartment or "pad":

"The room was crowded. There were fifty people but it seemed like five hundred. It was like crazy, couples lying all, over the place, a woman was screaming out in the hall, two, fellows were trying to make love to the same girl and this, girl was screaming and crying and not making any sense. Her clothes were mostly pulled off and she was snickering and blubbering and trying to push these two guys away.... The place was nothing but smoke and stink and these funny little noises I could hear but they were way out, that far I could hardly hear them and they were right there in the room, that laughing and crying and the music and all that stuff. It was crazy wild. But I didn't want to do anything, I didn't want to sleep with those women or like that. I just wanted to lie down because the room seemed big and Eke a great tremendous crowd like at a ball game or something. . . ."

Made from the hemp plant known as Cannabis sativa americana, marijuana is almost a twin brother to Cannabis sativa indica, otherwise called hashish. There are said to be almost three hundred names for the varieties of the hemp weed. In some parts of Asia it is called bhang; in South Africa it is called dagga. It is also challed chira and ganja. And many other names.

The hemp weed grows best in warm climates but has also been found along roadsides north of Boston. It grows to heights of from five and a half to fifteen or sixteen feet. Its leaves, seeds and flowers contain a substance which when chewed or smoked produces hallucinatory effects.

Elaborate technical processes have been developed for the manufacture of Cannabis cigarettes from the resin in the plants. Although pharmacists have never been able to isolate completely the nature of the Cannabis "principal" that produces the narcotic effect, it is known to exist in the fringes or hairs on the leaves and in the flowers, and in the thick resin that flows through the stalk and other parts of the plant.

Cannabis grows wild in many parts of the world, and is cultivated in India, and illegally in certain areas of Africa, Mexico, Brazil and the United States. It also grows wild in parts of the United States, although we have been able to root the wild Cannabis out of most communities.

Origins of hemp weed are ancient. Rites that go back thousands of years, in temples long vanished, may wen have evolved around the effects of some variant of the hemp weed. Worshipers of the Hindu god Siva were said to use Cannabis indica. In the eleventh century A.D., the Mohammedan sect called the Assassins, used hashish in so-called religious observances. They made homicide a high ritualistic art. Their name itself is today a synonym for murder.

Marijuana effects on the average user are described in a brochure we published in the Bureau for the information of lay groups. "The toxic effect produced by the active narcotic principle of Cannabis sativa, hemp, or marijuana," the report states, "appear to be exclusively to the higher nerve centers. The drug produces first an exhaltation with a feeling of well being, a happy, jovial mood, usually; an increased feeling of physical strength and power, and a general euphoria is experienced. Accompanying this exaltation is a stimulation of the imagination followed by a more or less delirious state characterized by vivid kaleidoscopic visions, sometimes of a pleasing sensual kind, but occasionally of a gruesome nature. Accompanying this delirious state is a remarkable loss in spatial and time relations; persons and things in the environment look small; time is indeterminable; seconds seem like minutes and hours like days.

"Those who are accustomed to habitual use of the drug are said eventually to develop a delirious rage after its administration during which they are temporarily, at least, irresponsible and prone to commit violent crimes. The prolonged use of this narcotic is said to produce mental deterioration."

One of the great difficulties with Cannabis is its unpredictability. Physicians who have made hundreds of tests with Cannabis report that there is no way to predict what effect it have on the individual, both under controlled and noncontrolled conditions. One man has no reaction at all; the next may go berserk and try to stab somebody or harm himself. The medical profession after many such experiments was forced to drop the narcotic as a possible analgesic because of this unpredictable quality.

Much of the most irrational juvenile violence and that has written a new chapter of shame and tragedy is traceable directly to this hemp intoxication. A gang of boys tear the clothes from two school girls and rape the screaming girls, one boy after the other. A sixteen-year-old kills his en tire family of five in Florida, a man in Minnesota puts a bullet through the head of a stranger on the road; in Colorado husband tries to shoot his wife, kills her grandmother instead and then kills himself. Every one of these crimes had been proceeded (sic)

by the smoking of one or more marijuana "reefers." As the marijuana situation grew worse, I knew action had to be taken to get the proper legislation passed. By 1937 under my direction, the Bureau launched two important steps First, a legislative plan to seek from Congress a new law that would place marijuana and its distribution directly under federal control. Second, on radio and at major forums, such that presented annually by the New York Herald Tribune, I told the story of this evil weed of the fields and river beds and roadsides. I wrote articles for magazines; our agents gave hundreds of lectures to parents, educators, social and civic leaders. In network broadcasts I reported on the growing list of crimes, including murder and rape. I described the nature of marijuana and its close kinship to hashish. I continued to hammer at the facts.

I believe we did a thorough job, for the public was alerted and the laws to protect them were passed, both nationally and at the state level. We also brought under control the wild growing marijuana in this country. Working with local authorities, we cleaned up hundreds of acres of marijuana we and uprooted plants sprouting along the roadsides.

The 1937 law does not prohibit the sale of marijuana b puts a tax of $100.00 an ounce on any sale or transfer of drug and makes such sale or transfer illegal without proper registration and approval from the Bureau. Possession without proper authorization can bring a prison term.

The Marijuana Tax Act is patterned in general after the Harrison Act, but with some major technical variations, principally based on the fact that while marijuana is used in laboratory tests it is not used for medical purposes.

There were still some WPA gangs working in those days and we put them to good use. just outside the nation's capital, for some sixty miles along the Potomac River, on both banks, marijuana was growing in profusion; it had been planted there originally by early settlers who made their own hemp and cloth. The workers cleaned out tremendous river bank crops, destroying plants, seeds and roots. AR through the Midwest also, WPA workers were used for this clean-up job. The. wild hemp was rooted out of America.

During the Second World War, after Axis powers in the Far East and Europe cut off our access to countries where hemp was grown for the making of cord and cloth, we developed, under strict controls, our own hemp growing program on the rich farmlands of Minnesota. Less than one thousandth of one percent was ever diverted into illegal channels. After the war this production stopped and the fields went back to ,corn and wheat. With the war's end, however, the narcotic branch of the underworld was given a new lift by the publication of an extraordinary document which has come to be known as the La Guardia Report.

The title was a misnomer, it was actually a report of a committee on marijuana which had been appointed by the "Little Flower" of New York to give an objective picture of marijuana from a scientific point of view. La Guardia was always not only an honest official who warred against the syndicate "tin horns," as he called them, but was also a good friend of Bureau of Narcotics. In Congress he fought consistently for increases for our Bureau to help us to achieve the power needed to do our job.

The men who issued this document were men of science doctors, technicians, authorities Published as a book by the Jacques Cattell Press in 1945, the report bore the tide: The Marijuana Problem in the City of New York: Sociologic Medical, Psychological and Pharmacological Studies, by the Mayor's Committee on Marijuana.

This report declared, in effect, that those who had been denouncing marijuana as dangerous, including myself and experts in the Bureau, were not only in error, but were spreading baseless fears about the effects of smoking Cannabis. I say the report was a government printed invitation to youth and adults-above all to teenagers-to go ahead and smoke all the reefers they felt like.

Relying solely on a series of experiments with a group of 77 prisoners who volunteered to make the tests, the Mayor's experts asserted that they found no major menace in the use of this narcotic, which they termed "a mild drug smoked by bored people for the sake of conviviality."

The report further claimed that there was "no apparent" connection between "the weed" and crimes of violence, that smoking it did not produce aggressiveness or belligerence as a rule, that it could be used for a number of years without causing serious mental or physical harm and that while it might be habit forming it could be given up abruptly without causing distress; in other words, it did not produce the bodily dependence found in heroin, cocaine, morphine and other drugs.

Finally, the report suggested that the drug is so mild that it might well be used successfully as a substitute in the process of curing addiction to other drugs, or even in the treatment of chronic alcoholism.

Doctors and other authorities who studied the effects of this drug, however, tore the report apart for its inaccuracies and misleading conclusions. The Journal of the American Medical Association joined the. Bureau in condemning it as unscientific.

"For many years medical scientists have considered Cannabis a dangerous drug," the Journal's editorial of April 26, 1945 stated. "Nevertheless. . . . the Mayor's Committee on Marijuana submits an analysis by seventeen doctors of tests on 77 prisoners and, on this narrow and thoroughly unscientific foundation, draws sweeping and inadequate conclusions which minimize the harmlessness of marijuana. Already the book has done harm. One investigator has described some tearful parents who brought their 16-year-old boy to a physician after he had been detected in the act of smoking marijuana. . . . The boy said he had read an account of the La Guardia committee report and this was his justification for using marijuana..

A criminal lawyer for marijuana drug peddlers has already used the La Guardia report as a basis to have defendants set free by the Court.

"The value of the conclusions," continued the editorial, "is destroyed by the fact that the experiments were conducted on 77 confined criminals. Prisoners were obliged to be content with the quantities of drug administered. Antisocial behavior could not have been noticed, as they were prisoners. At liberty some of them would have given free rein to their inclinations and would probably not have stopped at the dose producing 'the pleasurable principle. . . .' Public officials will do well to disregard this unscientific, uncritical study, and continue to regard marijuana as a menace where it is purveyed," the Journal concluded.

There can be no doubt of the damage done by the report. Syndicate lawyers and spokesmen leaped upon its giddy sociology and medical mumbo-jumbo, cited it in court cases, tried to spread the idea that the report had brought marijuana back into the folds of good society with a full pardon and a slap on the back front the medical profession.

The lies continued to spread. They cropped up on panel discussions, in public addresses by seemingly informed individuals. They helped once again, in a new and profitable direction, to bewilder the public and make it unsure of its own judgments. This carefully nurtured public doubt was to pay off with extra millions in the pockets of the hoods. One killer who helped to nourish that doubt-a hoodlum called Lepke took a multi-million-dollar cut in exchange for the terror inspired by the mere mention of his name.

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