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Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - Table of Contents
Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - Table of Contents

The Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

I. Control of Marihuana, Alcohol and Tobacco

History of Marihuana Legislation*

ENACTMENT OF THE UNIFORM ACT BY THE STATES

After final acceptance of the Uniform Act, the Bureau set to work at once to secure state enactment-including an adequate marihuana provision. A comprehensive campaign was undertaken in the press, in legislative chambers, and in any other forum to gain public support for the Uniform Act.

In addition, perceiving the absence of public awareness of marihuana and needing to encourage positive action to overcome the drug's optional status, the Bureau also sought to arouse public interest in marihuana through "an educational campaign describing the drug, its identifications and its evil effects" (Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1937 : 59).

That there was little general knowledge about cannabis is illustrated by the fact that as late as 1934, it was necessary to show marihuana to the New York police so that they could recognize it growing or in dried, smokable form (New York Times 1934: 6).

The Bureau's district supervisors and local agents were campaigning actively in the legislatures before which the Act was pending. A press campaign was conducted across the country to gain the support of civic groups and other interested parties. Mr. Anslinger sought editorial support in newspapers (Anslinger, October 22, 1936) and assisted in the, drafting of articles for popular magazines (Anslinger, December 23, 1936). To mobilize the Bar, Bureau officials wrote an article for law journals explaining the need for the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act (Anslinger, 1932: 52; Tennyson, 1932: 55).

Despite these efforts, it appears that the Uniform Act had a rough time in state legislatures during its early life. By April 26, 1933, only two states had enacted it in full. As late as March 1935, only 10 states had enacted the Uniform Law.

A number of significant objections had emerged in the state legislatures considering the passage of the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act. First among these was the potential cost to the state of enforcing the Act. Second, there was concern over the number of registrants who would have to be licensed due to the belief that the Uniform Act would require special licensing of doctors, dentists, and veterinarians. Third, the limit on the amount of exempt preparations which could be sold caused a great deal of technical difficulty with the Act. Fourth, many criticized the right of the court to revoke or suspend the license to practice medicine or pharmacy. And finally, there seemed to be widespread misunderstanding of the record-keeping requirements of the Act.

Although these objections were largely administrative, they nevertheless posed what appeared to be serious stumbling blocks to the successful passage of the Uniform Law in all the states.

The combination of public apathy and administrative resistance necessitated a new approach in generating public interest. Beginning in late 1934, Commissioner Anslinger gradually shifted the focus of the FBN's educational campaign away from the liability of federal law enforcement agencies to deal effectively with the local drug problems to the need to cope with the new drug menace-marihuana.

The clearest reflection of the, change in Bureau policy is found in two official statements of Commissioner Anslinger, one made in 1933 and the other in 1936.

One 1933 statement explains the need for a Uniform Narcotic Drug Law and emphasizes United States international obligations, the need for more effective coordination in law enforcement, and the impact the law will have on the dangers of morphine, cocaine, and opium addiction (FBN Paper, July 1933). In the later statement, however, more than half of the time is devoted to a discussion of the "worst evil of all" the marihuana problem.

To aid the new approach's objective, Commissioner Anslinger made speeches and contributed articles to journals. The most influential of his efforts was "Marihuana Assassin of Youth" which appeared in the widely circulated American Magazine in July 1937 (Anslinger and Cooper,1937).

The FBN files contain more than 50 letters addressed to the Commissioner which say: "Your article was the first time I ever heard of marihuana."

Among the most effective proponents of the Uniform Act was the Hearst newspaper chain. These papers began editorializing in favor of enactment within days after the Act had been approved in 1932.

The Hearst chain was not alone. A Birmingham, Alabama, paper on August 22, 1935, emphasized the need to control marihuana as a reason for adopting the Act (Birmingham Age Herald, August 22, 1935). A Washington Post columnist in September, 1934, devoted three quarters of his article to marihuana with quotes from Anslinger and Stanley urging adoption of the Uniform Act (Washington Post, September 29, 1934).

Other large-city newspapers such as the Cleveland Plain, Dealer and the St. Louis Star Times kept a steady, if intermittent, stream of anti-marihuana articles flowing in the, period just before the passage of the Uniform Act in those areas. In Missouri, especially, local concern generated by the extensive coverage in the Star Times speedily pushed the legislature to adopt the Uniform Act.

Often it has been supposed on the basis of this increased coverage that the use of marihuana increased around 1935. Since there was some larger design involved, however, a firm conclusion is unwarranted. At the same time, it is possible that use, did spread after the publicity campaigns, especially among the young.

Judging from the tremendous expansion in coverage by the New York Times beginning in 1935, the evidence supplied by the LaGuardia Commission in its 1944 Report and the, leap in enforcement activity, marihuana, finally came to New York City in the 1930's, though then probably on a smaller scale than in Denver land the, border towns of Texas.

Apart from the press, another influential participant in the marihuana campaign, especially after the Repeal of Prohibition, was the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Although the WCTU had distributed a pamphlet on marihuana as early as 1927, their publication, the Union Signal, does not reflect any significant interest either in the Uniform Act or marihuana, until 1934. Before that year the "narcotic" receiving the most attention was nicotine. Beginning in 1936, however, the Union Signal had a direct line to the FBN national office, and from then on every issue contained material on marihuana (WCTU bound volumes, yearly).

The World Narcotic Defense Association and its head, Richmond P. Hopson, were also involved in the drive for state enactment. They were continually in postal contact with almost every state legislator in the country (WNDA, 1937). The most well-financed group in the campaign, the Association underwrote national broadcasts and distributed a lengthy pamphlet on marihuana, in 1936.

The General Federation of Women's Clubs also contributed energetically. The Federation educated its membership about the need for the Uniform Act and about the evils of marihuana in particular. The Chairman of the Federation's department of legislation noted:

The situation concerning club women particularly is the accessibility of the frightening degenerating marihuana weed, which is rolled in cigarettes ... and has been playing such havoc with young high school boys and girls (WCTU, 1936: 285).

The state and local clubs immediately began to unite local legislators and to conduct educational campaigns for parents, teachers and children (WCTU, 1937: 36; Wood, January 13, 1936). An FBN agent appeared at a New York meeting of the local Federation with two marihuana plants. They were exhibited at a local flower show:


Marihuana Plant exhibit at Flower Show

of Katrina Trask Garden Club

Tomorrow, 3 P.M. on at the Casino

This plant is the cause of a dread menace which in being fought by the State Department of Health.

Public Invited to Show-25 cents (Saratogian, 1936: 5)


Other groups such as the YWCA , the National PTA and the National Councils of Catholic Men and Women were all in touch with the Bureau and were made, aware of the Bureau's dual aims of "influencing and creating public opinion in favor of the passage of the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act and awakening the parents of the country to the increasing danger of the use of marihuana." (Anslinger, March 28, 1935).

However, arousing public opinion alone was not the ultimate goal of the campaign. The FBN was interested in the enactment of the Uniform Act along with prohibitory marihuana legislation in all the states.

By early 1935, only 10 states had adopted the Uniform Act. And, three of these states had not included marihuana (Anslinger, March 1, 1935). The Bureau embarked upon its marihuana strategy in 1935, the turning point in state enactment. Whether or not public interest actually existed, public opinion-makers influenced legislative opinion and created a "felt need" for legislation.

Within the next year, 18 more states adopted the Act and every one of them which did not have previous legislation included marihuana (Anslinger, January 13, 1936; WCTU, 1937: 75).


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