Schaffer Online Library of Drug Policy

Sign the Resolution
Contents | Feedback | Search
DRCNet Home
| Join DRCNet
DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library

Historical References
Marijuana, the First 12,000 Years

Marijuana - The First Twelve Thousand Years

The Jazz Era

Around the turn of the century, New Orleans became the Marseilles of America, a cosmopolitan port filled with sailors, traders, gamblers, prostitutes, thieves, con men, and gangsters of every nationality. Although every major city in America had its red-light district, New Orleans's Storyville was the best known of all the nation's bawdy houses for not only were the customers entertained by exotic ladies of the night, they were also treated to the strains of a new kind of music called jazz, played exclusively in these whorehouses by black musicians.

It was in these bordellos, where music provided the background and not the primary focus of attention, that marihuana became an integral part of the jazz era. Unlike booze, which dulled and incapacitated, marihuana enabled musicians whose job required them to play long into the night to forget their exhaustion. Moreover, the drug seemed to make their music sound more imaginative and unique, at least to those who played and listened to it while under its sensorial influence.

Jazz musicians in New Orleans's whorehouses were not the only ones smoking marihuana. "Moota", as the drug was known in the city, was popular throughout the red-light district, and eventually its association with this part of town came to the attention of the city's moral crusaders who began to warn of its dangers to the community as a whole.

The alarm was first sounded in 1920 by Dr. Oscar Dowling, president of Lousiana's State Board of Health, after learning of the conviction of a musician who had been caught forging a doctor's signature on a prescription to obtain some marihuana. [1] Marihuana, he warned Louisiana's governor John M. Parker, is "a powerful narcotic, causing exhilaration, intoxication, delirious hallucinations, and its subsequent action, drowsiness and stupor..." [2] and urged that something be done about the threat to the city.

At the same time, he dashed off a plea to the surgeon general of the United States asking that action be taken to control traffic in marijuana on a national level. The surgeon general, Dr. Hugh Cummings, replied that he fully agreed with Dowling's assessment of the dangers associated with marihuana, but no further action was taken. [3] Prohibition Commissioner John F. Kramer likewise took no action after receiving a letter from Governor Parker late in November 1920 informing him that "two people... [had been] killed a few days ago by the smoking of this drug, which seems to make them go crazy and wild." [4] While sympathetic, federal authorities were far too busy enforcing the ban on morphine to think about widening the sphere of proscribed drugs they would have to deal with.

It was not long before the newspapers began to realize that the marihuana issue could boost circulation, and in 1926 the New Orleans Morning Tribune ran a series of articles ballyhooing the growing menace of the drug.


One article claimed that schoolchildren were buying marihuana from "unscrupulous peddlers [who] openly sell the drugs to boys of tender age who appear on streets under its influence." An interview with sixty children, all under age fifteen, revealed that all of them knew what marihuana was, where it could be published, and that all had used it. The reporter failed to mention that the children were Mexican or black, and that marihuana was something not very new or out of the ordinary to them.

When the marihuana peddlers were reported to be working out of saloons and pool halls, large-scale raids were carried out. Most of the 150 people caught in the roundup were from the poorer, lower classes, and the underworld. Satisfied that at last something was being done, Dowling repeated his "warning to parents, guardians and teachers of children against this menace." [5]

Always on the lookout for moral decay in America, the Women's Christian Temperance Union began attacking "soft drink" stands and "corner drug stores which have taken the place of the saloon as a social meeting place. Here is where marihuana and liquors can sometimes be bought." [6]

The alleged marihuana menace in New Orleans was subsequently forgotten for about five years. Then, as happened in the southwest, an antimarihuana campaign followed in the footsteps of the Depression.

To carry on where his colleague Dr. Dowling had left off was a hellfire-and-brimstone physician, Dr. A. E. Fossier, who resurrected all the old myths including that of the Assassins, to ensure that his message would not be lost on his listeners:

During the time of the Crusades, [the Assassins] resorted to every kind of violence. Their utter disregard for death and the ruthlessness of their atrocities presented a formidable obstacle to the arms of the Christians, because under the influence of hashish those fanatics would madly rush at their enemies, and ruthlessly massacre everyone within their grasp. [7]

Having set the proper mood, Fossier then lashed out at the contemporary problem as he saw it:

The underworld was quick to realize that marihuana was an ideal drug to quickly cut of the inhibition, especially in the light of inadequate personality. Under the influence of cannabis indica, these human derelicts are quickly subjugated by the will of the master mind. The moral principles or training initiated in the mind from infancy deter from committing willful theft, murder or rape, but his inhibition from crime may be destroyed by the addiction to marihuana. [8]

Dr. F. F. Young, who was in the audience when Fossier delivered his views on cannabis, urged a note of caution regarding marihuana's link with crime. All the marihuana users he had seen, he said, "were defective in the brain and nervous structure before they began smoking this weed... these smokers are criminals before they become addicted to the weed." [9]

Most law officers dismissed opinions such as Young's without a second thought. Eugene Stanley, district attorney for New Orleans, for example, relied heavily on Fossier's description of the dangers of marihuana in an article he wrote for the American Journal of Police Science in 1931:

It has been the experience of Police and Prosecuting Officials in the South, that immediately before the commission of many crimes the use of marihuana cigarettes has been indulged in by criminals, so as to relieve themselves from the natural restraint which might deter them from the commission of criminal acts, and to give them the fake courage necessary to commit the contemplated crimes. [10]

Stanley then called upon the federal government to help eradicate the menace:

Inasmuch as the harmful effects of the use of marihuana are daily becoming more widely known, and since it has been classified as a narcotic by the statutory laws of seventeen American States... the United States Government, will unquestionably be compelled to adopt a consistent attitude towards it, and include it in the Harrison Anti-Narcotic Law, so as to give Federal aid to the States in their effort to suppress a traffic as deadly and as destructive to society as that in the other forms of narcotics now prohibited by this act. [11]

Dr. Frank Gomila, New Orleans's public safety commissioner, felt that the main difficulty in eliminating the marihuana vice in the city was that the drug's effects were too well known, "especially among the negro population. Practically every negro in the city can give a recognizable description of the drug's effects." [12] According to Gomila, tons of marihuana were processed and sold in warehouses and storerooms throughout the city.

To what extent the New Orleans campaign against marihuana was racially motivated is difficult to judge. From Gomila's remarks, it is clear that he, at least, was motivated by racial prejudice. Fossier, perhaps the most influential of the marihuana demagogues, also revealed his biases:

The debasing and baneful influence of hashish and opium 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 opium, some of which once attained to heights of culture and civilization, have deteriorated both mentally and physically. [13]

Which "races" Fossier had in mind he never stated. He could not have meant the Mexicans since by 1930 there were only 991 Mexicans in all of New Orleans, a mere two-tenths of 1 per cent of all the people in the city. [14] Although Gomila indicted the blacks, 25 percent of the Negro population across the state had moved north by this time. [15] Moreover, arrest figures for the city argued against his racial theory of drug-inspired deterioration. In 1928, for instance, 75 percent of all those arrested for violation of Louisiana's 1924 law against sale or possession of marihuana were American-born whites. [16] Nevertheless, blacks had the worst criminal records in the city, [17] and Fossier was probably of the same mind as Gomila in his indictment of "races... addicted to hemp".

Interestingly, Fossier, Stanley, and Gomila each enjoyed greater credibility in other parts of the country than in his own state or city. In 1933, Stanley's article was cited in Utah vs. Navaro as proof that marihuana provoked crime and insanity, and in 1937 it was again cited during the congressional hearings on federal prohibition of marihuana, along with Fossier's article.

In New Orleans itself, and throughout Louisiana, the populace could not have cared less. Blacks were no economic threat, most whites had no idea what all the fuss was about, and no one paid any attention to the WCTU.

New York

The next major American city in which marihuana was allegedly epidemic was New York. While Mexican immigrants had been pouring into the south and midwest, New York's Harlem was the scene of a vast influx of Negroes from the West Indies and the southern United States. By 1930, New York's black population numbered over 300,000. More blacks lived in New York than in Birmingham, Memphis, and St. Louis combined. [18]

Some of these newcomers eventually became prominent business and civic leaders in the community; most found opportunities as limited as they had been back home. Unable to better their condition, they sought ways of making the intolerable tolerable. Some resorted to music with its "charms to soothe the savage beast". Others resorted to drugs such as heroin and especially marihuana, a drug that was no stranger to the West Indian. On July 30, 1914, the New York Times had commented that "devotees of hashish are now hardly numerous enough here to count." By January 11, 1923, it proclaimed that marihuana had become the city's "latest habit forming drug". Even Scientific American noted an increase in the use of marijuana in the city. [19] By 1932, the Bureau of Narcotics also felt that it was widespread enough in the city to warrant at least passing mention in its annual report on "Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs for the Year Ended December 1931":

The abuse of the drug is noted among the Latin-American or Spanish-speaking population. The sale of cannabis cigarettes occurs to a considerable degree in States along the Mexican border and in cities of the Southwest and West, as well as in New York, and, in fact, wherever there are settlements of Latin Americans. [20]

Most of the marihuana users in the city lived around 110th Street and Fifth Avenue, with some spillover into the Broadway area above 42nd Street. Hundreds of marihuana dens were said to be flourishing in Harlem. Some estimated that there were more "tea pads" than there had been speakeasies at the height of Prohibition.

Most of the drug in Harlem was distributed either through independent peddlers or in the "tea pad". By the 1940s, three different grades were available. The cheapest, known as "sass-fras" was made from American-grown plants and was rather weak. Connoisseurs would resort to it only if nothing else were available since a lot of it had to be smoked before a good "high" could be reached. The second, and more potent variety, was called "mezzrole" or "messrole". Moderately priced, it was the favorite variety of Harlem's marihuana users. Its country of origin was usually somewhere in Central or South America, and it was sold by the "Baron Munchausen of jazz", Milton "Mezz" Mezzrow.

Mezzrow was a white musician who called himself a "voluntary Negro". He moved to New York from Chicago in 1929 and soon began selling marihuana on the streets of Harlem. "Overnight I was the most popular man in Harlem," he says in his autobiography, Really the Blues. [21]

Mezzrow, in fact, became a fixture in Harlem known as the "White Mayor of Harlem", the "Link Between the Races", and the "Man that Hipped the World". A new word for marihuana was coined after his name - "mezz"; a "mezzrole" was a fat, well-packed marihuana cigarette. Eventually, "mezz" transcended its literal meaning and came to mean anything genuine or superior in Harlamese.

The third and most potent grade of marihuana came from Africa. Called "gungeon", it was the most expensive variety of the three and only those whose incomes were above average could afford the luxury of smoking such a high grade of drug.

The "tea pads" were rooms or apartments located throughout Harlem. These were the speakeasies or social clubs of the marihuana aficionado, places where one could relax and talk with strangers or friends, over a "reefer", sanctuaries wherein one could escape the realities of the outside world for a moment. The ambience was always one of peace and tranquillity. Any sign of belligerence was squelched immediately; the patron either relaxed or he was forcibly ejected.

Each "tea pad" was furnished in line with the clientele it served. Usually there was a radio, a record player, or a jukebox to entertain the customers. The furniture was comfortable and soft, the lighting dim. Burning incense mingled and flirted with marihuana smoke. The walls were typically covered with lewd pictures, but rarely was sex offered on the premises.

For those who preferred to buy their marihuana from independent peddlers on the street, the favorite places to smoke the drug were dance halls where both musicians and those who listened to their music lit up. Theaters were another popular spot to relax in.

In the 1930s, "reefer" songs were the rage of the jazz world. Distinctive and characteristic, it was music written and played by black musicians for black audiences. The music had a special feeling. It was a tangible medium through which minority experiences could be shared by large numbers of people dispersed throughout the country. It gave musicians and their audiences a sense of solidarity.

Among the tunes that topped the black hit list of the era were Louis Armstrong's "Muggles", Cab Calloway's "That Funny Reefer Man", Fats Waller's "Viper's Drag", and many more by lesser known artists, like "Viper's Moan", "Texas Tea Party", "Smokin' Reefers", "Mary Jane", and the "Mary Jane Polka", recorded by studios like Columbia, Victor and Brunswick. Even Benny Goodman got into the act with "Sweet Marihuana Brown".

In 1932, a musical number "Smokin' Reefers" opened in a review on Broadway starring Mr. Belvedere, Clifton Webb. Lyrics from the song called marihuana "the stuff that dreams are made of", a line later used by Humphrey Bogart in reference to the Maltese Falcon. Another line from the show acknowledged marihuana as "the thing that white folks are afraid of".

It was not an idle statement. White folks were becoming concerned over what marihuana might do to blacks. To emphasize the menace to white society, American Mercury carried an article by A. Parry entitled "The Menace of Marihuana", in which the author cited an incident calculated to arouse white readers. As described by Parry, a Negro man was arrested and brought to a New York hospital after threatening two white women in the street. His actions were attributed to a marihuana-induced dream in which he saw "a bunch of naken wimmin, some of 'em in bed, black an' white together, like dey was expectin' men." [22]

The relationship between marihuana and jazz reached across the Atlantic to England, where it began to alarm the white music establishment. On February 22, 1936, the English music periodical Melody Maker carried a full-page expose on the use of marihuana by British musicians. In an ominous tone, the article reported that

The time has come for light to be thrown on an astonishing situation which is likely to become a serious menace to the jazz world on two continents. This concerns the "reefer" or dope habit which is spreading rapidly amongst musicians, and has been going on comparatively secretly for a number of years. [23]

The magazine traced the spread of the marihuana habit from Mexico to New Orleans and from there to Chicago, quoting as its source a clarinettist who, it said, "is now in an insane asylum in Louisiana."

According to the Melody Maker, the marihuana traffic in New York was run by "a celebrated hot clarinettist" who "has sent supplies to coloured musicians touring Europe". [24]

Later that year, when the senior surgeon of the US Public Health Department visited the Bureau of Narcotics to obtain information about the dangers of marihuana, Commissioner Harry Anslinger produced this issue of the Meldoy Maker from the bureau's files to prove that the dangers of this drug had not been exaggerated. [25]

Although marihuana had found a home in Harlem, the rest of New York's boroughs were relatively free of the drug. The police, in fact, had had such little contact with it that they had to be given special classes to enable them to recognize it if they came across it growing in vacant lots. [26]

After these classes New York's finest discovered an estimated three million dollars worth of the drug in Brooklyn and set it ablaze. Commissioner Valentine, who supervised the conflagration, stated that "this is an extremely dangerous weed... it causes temporary insanity. It is a great menace to our young people and we'll do everything in our power to stamp it out." [27] Later that year, "squads of WPA workers specially trained to recognize marihuana" were likewise educated to spot the drug and were "placed on duty in the boroughs of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Richmond to eradicate the weed from vacant lots.

Elsewhere throughout the country, various newspapers and magazines also began heralding the spread of marihuana to other cities. Gary, Indiana, Kansas City, Kansas, and Chicago were all allegedly infested by the weed. Sensationalistic news items became the order of the day. Typical was the following from the October 24, 1926, issue of the Chicago Herald-Examiner:

A Kansas hasheesh eater thinks he is a white elephant. Six months ago they found him strolling along the road, a few miles out of Topeka. He was naked, his clothes strewn along the highway for a mile. He was not violently insane, but crazy - said he was an elephant and acted as much like one as his limited physique would let him. Marihuana did it.

In 1925, shortly after Mexico, the country from which most of the marihuana that entered the United States originated, officially outlawed cultivation of marihuana, the correspondent for the Associated Press who covered the story reported that "scientists say its effects are perhaps more terrible than those of another drug." [29]

The Assassins of America

For more than a century after its publication, Joseph von Hammer-Pugstall's book on the Assassins remained the standard reference on the murderous gang of cutthroats who allegedly used hashish before going out on their errands of mayhem. During the early twentieth century, anyone calling for the prohibition of marihuana merely had to cite the connection between hashish and the Assassins to get across the point that marihuana - the American counterpart of hashish - was capable of inciting uncontrollable violence.

One of the earliest American writers to arouse the public concerning the perils of marihuana was a physician, Dr. Victor Robinson. Robinson's sensationalistic account of the Assassins, published in the 1912 Medical Review of Reviews, set the tone for all subsequent treatments of the subject in the American press:

When a devoted One was selected to commit murder, he was first stupefied with hasheesh, and while in this state was brought into the magnificent gardens of the sheikh. All the sensual and stimulating pleasures of the erotic Orient surrounded the excited youth, and exalted by the delicious opiate he had taken, the hot-blooded fanatic felt that the gates of heaven were already ajar, and heard them swing open on their golden hinges. When the effect of the drug disappeared and the Devoted One was reduced to his normal condition, he was informed that through the generosity of his superior he had been permitted to foretaste the delights of paradise. The Devoted One believed this readily enough - disciples are always credulous - and therefore was eager to die or to kill at a word from his master. From these hasheesh-eaters, the Arabian name of which is hashashin, was derived the term "assassin". [30]

In this lurid account, Robinson is generally true to Marco Polo's original story. The Assassins do not kill while under the influence of hashish but only after they have savored the delights of paradise revealed to them by the drug. The murders they commit are not the acts of frenzied psychotic butchers, but the cool, calculating, premeditated deeds of a loyal and devoted gang of trained killers.

Fifteen years later, Robert Kingman further developed the theme of the hashish-crazed killer for readers of the Medical Journal and Record. Although not suggesting that the Assassins killed while under the influence of hashish, Kingman wrote that the drug was given to assuage any doubts the killer might have concerning the morality of his mission. [31]

By the 1930s, however, hashish itself had become the instigator of the Assassins' murders:

Dr. A. E. Fossier, New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal (1931): "Under the influence of hashish those fanatics would madly rush at their enemies, and ruthlessly massacre every one within their grasp." [32]

William Wolf, Popular Science magazine (1936):

..."assassin" has two explanations, but either demonstrates the menace of Indian hemp. According to one version, members of a band of Persian terrorists committed their worst atrocities while under the influence of hashish. In the other version, Saracens who opposed the Crusaders were said to employ the services of hashish addicts to secure secret murders of the leaders of the Crusades. In both versions, the murderers were known as "haschischin". [33]

In 1937, readers of American Magazine were aroused by yet another hysteria-rousing version, this time written by the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger:

In the year 1090, there was founded in Persia the religious and military order of the Assassins, whose history is one of cruelty, barbarity, and murder, and for good reason. The members were confirmed users of hashish, or marihuana, and it is from the Arabs, "hashashin" that we have the English word "assassin". [34]

The more often the story of the Assassins was told, the more ludicrous it became. The image of the demented, knife-wielding, half-crazed hashish user running senseless through the streets, slashing at anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path, became part of the American nightmare of lawlessness. As a nation raised on violence, Americans soaked up these tales of mayhem like a sponge. Mutation, dismemberment, uncontrollable passion, fanaticism - in short, anything that evoked terror, came to be associated with hashish through the embellishment of the Assassin story.

Although frequently denounced in the Western world as an inciter of violence, there is, however, virtually no mention of disorderly conduct on the part of hashish users in any Arab writings for the past thousand years. Modern scholars have concluded that the identification of hashish as the mysterious potion referred to by Marco Polo cannot be proven. [35] Nor is there any historical basis between the connection between hashish and the murderous activities of the Assassins. The Assassins may have used hashish, but not before they took anyone's life. To do so would have jeapardized their mission.

Nevertheless, hashish, murder, and treachery became inextricably interwoven in cannabis folklore. For example, even as late as 1962, although he clearly acknowledged that "we do not know of any objective study showing a direct or causative relationship between marihuana and violent crime in a significant number of cases," Victor Vogel, chief medical officer of the Narcotics Treatment Center in Lexington, Kentucky, still offered the etymological premise that the words "assassin" and "hashish" are connected to argue in favor of such a relationship:

Any remarks concerning the relationship of marihuana to crime should be prefaced with the note that marihuana is a form of hashish, a most dangerous drug in its unadulterated form. We get the word assassin from the Italian assassina which in turn is derived from the Arabic Hashshashin, meaning one who uses hashish; this etymology reflects rather accurately the cultural pedigree of the drug, which has been known for centuries to release impulses toward violence. [36]

Marihuana and the Law

Between 1926 and 1936, eight major cases came before state courts in which marihuana was an issue. [37] The decisions rendered in these cases are noteworthy for the fact that typically the judgments relied on mythology and opinion rather than on any scientific evidence of the dangers of marihuana.

In 1931, for example, a Louisiana court quoted the story of the Assassins to support its finding that marihuana posed a threat to the community (State vs. Bonoa). [38] In a 1933 decision in the Utah courts (State vs. Navarro), an article by a Wichita detective was cited as evidence for the criminogenic properties of the drug.

"The courts, like the legislatures," two University of Virginia law professors have recently concluded in reference to these decisions, "assumed marihuana caused crime and insanity, and assumed that had popular opinion crystallized on the question it would have favored suppression of a drug with such evil effects." [39]

What these decisions also show was that the lurid sensationalistic copy of the day was read by the nation's lawmakers and the courts, and that these carried a certain amount of weight insofar as general policy toward marijuana was concerned.

Seducing the Young

By far the most emotional issue surrounding marihuana was the contention that schoolchildren were being seduced into using it by drug pushers who, more often than not, were identified as foreigners, Mexicans, or blacks.

Nowhere was the seduction issue ballyhooed more loudly than in New Orleans where the Item and the Morning Tribune ran a series of sensationalistic articles describing marihuana's infiltration into the city's schools. According to Dr. Frank Gomilla, commissioner of public safety for the city, the marihuana wholesalers in New Orleans were "made up mostly of Mexicans, Italians, Spanish-Americans and drifters from ships." [40] The inference was obviously that American children were being seduced by foreigners.

Other newspapers were soon running similar stories. The September 10, 1929, issue of the Tulsa Tribune described the arrest of a Mexican "hot-tamale salesman" who, the paper claimed, had been selling marihuana to girls and boys in school. Two years later, a Tulsa attorney got so caught up in the marihuana scare that, in his opinion, "the general use of this drug among young people is making it imperative that the state or the government of the United States take immediate steps to cope with this deadly drug, the dope which is used by murderers." [41]

As early as 1928, the Kansas City Star had begun publishing reports of boys and girls using marihuana. By 1933, Detective L. E. Bowery of the Wichita Police Department claimed that

no denial can be made of the fact that marihuana smoking is at present a common practice among the young people of the city, and that it is constantly becoming more prevalent. Due to its relatively recent introduction into this territory, habitual smoking is at present almost exclusively confined to young persons among the white people. It is interesting to note that the habit has recently spread among the negroes and that they are known to be trafficking in it. [42]

In Gary, Indiana, 25 percent of the Mexican population were said to be smoking marihuana, and of these, many were said to be earning their livings by peddling the drug. [43]

On June 22, 1929, the Chicago Examiner reported on the antimarihuana crusade of the local United States attorney, who had moved against storehouses in the city from which marihuana was being "sold to school pupils and other youthful thrillseekers." Of the nine men arrested, "most of them [were] Mexicans."

The Chicago Tribune also took up the issue. The marihuana habit, it said on June 3, 1927, had been introduced into the city by Mexicans and "has become widespread among American youths... even among school children."

In September 1934, a New York Times correspondent described the widespread use of marihuana in Colorado and quoted "some authorities" to the effect that "it is being peddled to school children".

In 1935, the New York Times quoted a Sacramento crusader who claimed that "Mexican peddlers have been caught distributing sample marihuana cigarettes to school children."

In 1936, in an article on marihuana ominously prefaced: "Public Health Enemy No. 7." author C. M. Weber reviewed the alleged dangers of the drug to Americans and repeated previous news reports that about two hundred New Orleans school children were "demand[ing] their reefers". [44]

In Detroit, an "American woman" was said to be peddling marihuana for local Mexicans. "She gives the reefers to her own children to sell to their schoolmates." [45]

"A few years ago," declared an anonymous writer, "the startling discovery was made in St. Louis that scores of youngsters of high school age had been victims of the weed." Quoting an unnamed marihuana peddler, the writer added, "the worst thing about that loco weed is the way these kids go for them. Most of them, boys and girls, are just punks and when they get high on the stuff you can write your own ticket." The writer added that one of the effects of marihuana is that it unleashes uncontrollable passions in the young, backing this up with what to him was a horrible turn of events. "A boy and a girl who had lost their senses so completely after smoking marihuana," he said, actually "eloped and were married"! [46]

Feeling that the elopement may not have been shocking enough, the writer dropped his final bombshell: "While it cannot be proved, the increasing number of suicides by jumping from tall buildings may have in fact resulted from the use of the drug. Once started, an addict may be led to commit all of the previously mentioned crimes and the end may be in the gallows, as has been so often the case in recent years. [47]

In Richmond, Virginia, readers of the Times-Dispatch were told that "school children were being induced to become addicts of marihuana cigarettes and that the weed was being cultivated in and near the city on a wide scale... A youth who said he was a former addict of the drug testified before the Council that inhalation of one of the cigarettes would produce a 'cheap drunk' of several days duration." [48]

In Here's to Crime, author Courtney R. Cooper, who collaborated with Anslinger on at least one antimarihuana article, charged that

there is only one end for the confirmed marihuana smoker, and that is insanity. Therefore, it might be of interest to know that one of the main selling places of marihuana in the United States is in the vicinity of high schools...

The use of marihuana has spread within the last few years so rapidly as to constitute a menace which should receive the attention of every thinking parent in America.

After describing the dangers of marihuana, Cooper next indicted every apartment building owner in the United States: "Apartments are run by ghoul-minded women; in such apartments high school students gather on the promise that reefer-smoking will put music in their souls and a release from all moral restrain; nothing is said about eventual insanity."

Cooper then introduced the sexual promiscuity theme:

Then suddenly a girl wanted to dance. Immediately everyone wanted to dance... The movements were of sensuosity. After a time, girls began to pull off their clothes. Men weaved naked over them; soon the entire room was one of the wildest sexuality. Ordinary intercourse and several forms of perversion were going on at once, girl to girl, man to man, woman to woman.

This is one of the great reasons why girls who are little more than children are now being placed in whorehouses by members of prostitution syndicates, why young boys of otherwise straight habits suddenly join up with dangerous gangs, why there are constantly more murders committed by youth... [49]

It was gutsy stuff. Although he meant to scare readers away from marihuana, Cooper's prose probably pricked the curious to try the drug for themselves more than it frightened anyone.

An article by Dr. Arthur La Roe, president of the American Narcotic Defense Association, in the American Weekly (1940), is deserving of recognition as the most ludicrous of the marihuana seduction literature. The article, entitled "Growth of the Marihuana Habit Among Our Youth", shows a posed photograph of a "slick", as La Roe calls him, loitering outside a school waiting for the students to leave. This "slick" is described as "dapper" and "suave" and is shown wearing a sport jacket and tie. He is, however, only a decoy for the seedy pusher. It is his job to lure students to the pusher who is waiting at a table somewhere for his naive prey. Once seated at the table, the "slick" and the pusher "then smoke the reefers; inhalation of the smoke in the room 'pre-conditions' the 'guests' so that moral resistance is lowered." [50]

Another popular example of the unsuspecting youth and diabolical pusher motifs appeared in On the Trail of Marihuana, the Weed of Madness, a short, hysterical antimarihuana polemic written by Earle Albert Rowell and his son Robert. According to this father and son duo, "one of the methods used in making marihuana users is for the peddler, with an unlighted marihuana cigarette in his hand, to step up to a high-school boy or girl who is smoking a tobacco cigarette and say, 'Give me a light, I haven't a match.'"

Having caught the unsuspecting student's attention, the pusher then makes his pitch: "Forthwith the peddler extends a hand filled with marihuana, and says persuasively; 'Try one of my cigarettes. They are new special kind; got a real kick in 'em. You'll like 'em; take two or three." [51]

In all fairness to the Rowells, they were not racially motivated when they spoke out against marihuana. Rowell senior was an active campaigner against all vices. He had started out as northwestern organizer and lecturer for the White Cross National Anti-Narcotics Society and later took up the post of state organizer and lecturer for the California branch of the White Cross. While vehemently an antinarcotics group, the White Cross differed from most other institutions, however, in that it supported local treatment of addicts in narcotic clinics rather than sending them to prison The group was rather influential during the 1920s and 1930s, but it disappeared after World War II.

It was while he worked for the White Cross that Rowell paraded up and down the southwest lecturing against marihuana. But although he claimed that he had been "on the trail of marihuana" since 1925, and had given more than 4000 lectures in forty states, and had personally uprooted and burned many thriving marihuana fields, in an earlier book titled Battling the Wolves of Society, which was published in 1929, Rowell included only one paragraph on marihuana and most of that was a quote from De Quincey's Confessions of an Opium Eater. [52]

While Rowell may have gotten carried away on the extent of his evangelistic stumping throughout the southwest, he and those like him who crusaded against marihuana were no doubt responsible for the mounting pressure to place legal restrictions on the drug.

Marihuana as a Plot Device

Newspapers and news magazines were not the only media to exploit and sensationalize the marihuana issue. Having exhausted the drug diaries and confessions of the hashish user genre that had been so Popular among the French, inventive novelists and pulp magazine writers saw that they could still use marihuana to sell their works.

In 1900, James Lane Allen's The Reign of Law dealt with the history of the Kentucky hemp fields, but the book had nothing to say about marihuana. The first of the modem marihuana horror stories appeared in 1915, in what in retrospect is an amusing story entitled "The Poison Ship," published in Harper's Magazine. The author, Morgan Robertson, had heard that the hemp plant had narcotic-like effects when smoked, but he knew little else. To him, all hemp was Cannabis sativa and in story he has "burning jute (New Zealand hemp)" giving "off the soporific fumes of hashish" which "produces drowsiness, then wild dreams and waking ecstasy."

In Robertson's imaginative story, a passenger ship carrying jute in its hold catches fire and the fumes overwhelm and intoxicate the passengers. First, they become excited and talkative, but soon they thrown into a stupefying frenzy. The crew is likewise rendered senseless and unable to function. Most of those on board perish, but a few are rescued.

A 1917 thriller by Carl Moore appeared in Spicy-Adventure Stories and is just as ridiculous. Set in London, it has Scotland Yard detective surreptitiously getting a murder suspect to take some hashish. Overcome by the drug, the suspect loses consciousness, convulses, and subsequently reenacts the crime he has been arrested for (rape and murder). Convicted by the evidence, he is later hanged.

Sax Rohmer, the well-known author of the Fu Manchu mysteries, also used hashish to heighten the excitement of Dope (1919), one of books in which the Chinese (but not Fu Manchu) are the villains. Although about opium and its effects, Rohmer intimates that hashish is far more evil. In a scene in which Mrs. Sin is entertaining Mollie, Mollie says she just read Hector France's Musk Hashish, and Blood (published in 1900):

"Hashish!" said Mrs. Sin, and laughed harshly. "One night you shall eat the hashish, and then -"

"Oh really? Is that a promise?" asked Morne eagerly.

"No, no," answered Mrs. Sin. "It is a threat!" [53]

Other writers also tried to add mystery to their characters by having them use hashish. Carl Van Vechten's Peter Whiffle (1925) was an avid experimenter with mind-expanding drugs, among which was hashish. Whiffle had been told that hashish causes uncontrollable laughter but his reaction is only one of melancholy and despair. The experience so upsets him that his "nerves revolved under the strain" and he is forced to remain in bed for four days to recover.

Thomas Burke's Tai Fu and Pansy Greers presents another picture of hashish. [54] Capitalizing on the anti-Chinese sentiment in Britain so well exploited by Sax Rohmer, Burke's Tai Fu is depicted as a repulsive Chinese denizen of London's underworld who has many vices, among which is hashish.

Algernon Blackwood's A Psychic Invasion gives hashish black magic veneer. In this story, hashish is a drug which "has partially opened another world to you by increasing your rate of psychical vibration, and thus rendering you abnormally sensitive" to the spirit world, [55] the main character informs his client who has come to him because he has become disturbed by strange things that go bump in the night. He has been sensitized to these poltergeists as a result of taking hashish.

The Dope Adventures of David Dare marks the high or low point in this genre. [56] Written by Earle Albert Rowell, the novel is set in middle America amid a quintessential all-American-boy-next-door, apple-pie mom-and-motherhood setting. David Dare exposes the marihuana menace in his hometown and is rewarded by being made an honorary police officer.

While the impact of these naive stories was less than minimal, they show that during the early decades of the nineteenth century familiarity with marihuana, even on the part of those who wrote about the drug, was negligible and the attitudes toward the drug were all negative.

The movies also capitalized on the marihuana-evil sentiment. In 1927 Notch Number One appeared on the silver screen starring Ben Wilson as a ranch foreman intent on keeping his cowhands from falling victim to marihuana's heinous spell. As the audience watched the drama unfold, Wilson holds a marihuana cigarette out for a headstrong cow-puncher to inspect, cautioning him that he is holding "a devilish narcotic" in his hand, which if smoked, will send him to "the bughouse, loco....... [and will make him] want to raise H - - - in general." The ranchhand does not take the fatherly advice, however, and tries it out - and sure enough, he goes berserk. [57]

Janey Canuck

Across the Forty-ninth Parallel in the Dominion of Canada, marihuana was virtually unknown, although hemp was a fiber crop across the country until the days of the Depression. Up until 1908, in fact, there were no national restrictions against any drugs. But an economic crisis and anti-Chinese sentiment in the province of British Columbia on the west coast stirred racist fires. Stories of white women and children being lured into opium dens, rumors of huge profits in opium, and moral indignation over drug abuse in general, eventually caused Deputy Minister of Labor (who would later become Prime Minister) William Lyon Mackenzie King to recommend to the House of Commons suppression of opium traffic in Canada. There was little opposition to such a proposal, and in 1908 it became illegal in Canada to import, manufacture, sell, or possess for sale opiates for nonmedical use. As in the United States, however, possession for personal use was not outlawed since Canadians were not as yet ready to make criminals out of drug users.

In 1908, Canada also passed the Patent and Proprietary Medicine Act. Like the American Pure Food and Drug Law of 1906, the Canadian law required the labeling of certain ingredients in medicines. Although the presence of opiates had to be indicated, the amount of alcohol limited, and cocaine banned outright, no restrictions were placed on cannabis.

In 1909, Canada participated in the international conference on opium in Shanghai. As a result of his previous activities in the outlawing of opiate traffic in Canada, Mackenzie King was included in the Canadian delegation. The fact that Canada did not support the American and Italian initiatives to include cannabis in the list of proscribed drugs being considered by the delegates likewise indicates how little importance Canada attached to marihuana during these early years. In 1911, Canada passed the Opium and Drug Act. The new law broadened the ban against opium by adding morphine, cocaine, and their derivatives to the list of proscribed drugs. Again, cannabis was not mentioned.

Marihuana continued to be ignored in the 1910s and would have remained so in the 1920s had it not been for a Canadian crusading feminist who wrote under the pen name of "Janey Canuck".

Janey's real name was Mrs. Emily F. Murphy. She was a tough-minded woman who had the persistence and aggressiveness to overcome the barriers placed against women in her time. As a feminist she fought for the right for women to be tried in court by other women and before female judges, and for her efforts, in 1916 she was appointed the first woman judge in the British Empire.

In 1920, the Canadian government indicated that it was once again about to amend its drug laws, and Maclean's magazine asked Judge Murphy if she would be willing to write some pieces on the drug problem in Canada. Murphy was more than willing.

Although sincerely interested in helping many of those who appeared before her, Murphy had no sympathy for drug sellers or users. Writing under the name of "Janey Canuck," her indictment of these "dregs of humanity," as she called them, was pure racism. These people, she told her readers, were mostly nonwhite (Chinese and Negroes) and non-Christians, who, next to drugs, craved nothing better than the seduction of Canadian women. Behind these outcasts, she maintained, was an international conspiracy of yellow and black drug pushers whose ultimate goal was the domination of the "bright-browed races of the world." Among her recommendations for dealing with these drug fiends were long prison sentences, whippings, and deportations if the offenders were aliens.

In anything, Janey was consistent. She was against all drugs associated with minorities, even marihuana, a drug that was totally unknown in Canada. Quoting American authorities, she said that marihuana drove its users completely insane: "The addict loses all sense of moral responsibility. Addicts to this drug, while under its influence, are immune to pain.... While in this condition they become raving maniacs and are liable to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other persons, using the most savage methods of cruelty without, as said before, any sense of moral responsibility." [58]

So sensational and popular were Janey's writings on the drug evil in Canada that they were eventually collected into a book, The Black Candle (1922). More significantly, Janey single-handedly succeeded in altering Canadian views of drugs and drug users. Hitherto, drug users had been merely been regarded as moral degenerates. After Janey's expose, they became public enemies, bent on the destruction of the White race. And whereas Canadians had never heard of marihuana before Murphy, after reading about marihuana in Maclean's and The Black Candle, Canadian lawmakers were quick to add it to the list of regulated substances in the Opium and Narcotics Drug Act of 1929.

According to a 1934 editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the first indication that marihuana had entered the country occurred in 1931. By 1932, the drug had worked its way to Ottawa, Ontario, the nation's capital. In Windsor, across the border from Detroit, "it was learned that some thirty young people in that city were addicted to marihuana. These cigarettes," the editorial noted, "were peddled in dance halls" and were being brought in from across the border in Detroit. By 1933, the drug had spread to Montreal, and by 1934 it had even worked its way to Toronto "the Good [city]." In assessing marihuana's inroads into Canada, the editorial warned that

the menace is a serious one, for the experience of all countries is that the hashish habit has a special appeal to the young, not, necessarily, that they crave for the drug, at least at first, but they use it with the desire to appear "smart" Then comes the urge for more, and a dangerous habit is created. [59]

There were also reports on the international scene of marihuana's inroads into Canada. In 1933, the Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs of the League of Nations noted in its annual report that "a smuggling trade in cigarettes containing Indian hemp ('marijuana' cigarettes) appears to have sprung up between the USA, where it grows as a wild plant freely, and Canada." [60]

Despite Janey Canuck's dire warnings and the marihuana "menace" uncovered by the Canadian Medical Association, and League of Nations, there were only twenty-five convictions in Canada for marihuana possession between 1930 and 1946. [61] The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Canada's counterpart to the FBI), note that "prior to 1962, isolated cases of cannabis use were encountered, but generally in connection with entertainers and visitors from the United States. Although marihuana arrests were effected sporadically in the middle 40s, its use on a more frequent basis appeared in Montreal only in 1962, in Toronto in 1963 and in Vancouver in 1965." [62]

Although cannabis could no longer be legally grown in Canada without a permit after 1938, it was still dispensed in pharmacies as an over-the-counter medicinal until 1939 and was used in prescriptions until 1954. [63]

In 1961, cannabis was included in the Narcotic Control Act and stringent penalties were applied for possession. In 1970, the law was amended and sentences were considerably softened. In 1972, revisions in the Canadian Criminal Code fixed the penalty for simple possession at a minimal fine.

The International Debate

The United States was not the only country to become overly concerned with marihuana during the early decades of the twentieth century. The government of South Africa was also concerned lest drugs turn its black population into an unruly mob. Dagga was a popular intoxicant with natives throughout Africa and the government of South Africa felt that it posed a tangible danger to the white minority. Accordingly, when the Advisory Committee of the League of Nations met in 1923, the South African delegation urged that the League classify cannabis as a habit-forming narcotic and recommended that international traffic in the drug be brought under the control of The Hague convention.

Anxious that such a measure might affect England's cannabis revenues in India, the British delegate managed to block adoption of such a measure by urging that more information be obtained on such a motion and that the issue be taken up again at the next meeting of the Second Geneva Opium Conference scheduled for 1925.

Owing to some manoeuvring by England, the matter was not even included in the agenda in 1925, but nevertheless the issue was introduced by M. E. Guindry, who headed the Egyptian delegation. Like the South African government, Egypt was also concerned about the social impact of cannabis on its people.

Steven Porter, the head of the American delegation, likewise spoke on behalf of a resolution to ban international traffic in cannabis, but his support was given mainly in the spirit of "reciprocity," as he put it, for the support the other nations had given the United States in its crusade against opium. If the United States had a cannabis problem, Porter was not aware of it.

Next came the turn of countries opposed to such a policy. The delegation from India pointed out that cannabis held a unique place in Indian life and emphasized that "there are social and religious customs which naturally have to be considered, and there is doubt whether the total prohibition of drugs easily prepared from a wild-growing plant could in practice be made effective." [64]

Sir Malcolm Delevigne took a different tack. He protested that the delegates had not been prepared for any discussion regarding cannabis and consequently they had not been given any instructions on how to vote on such an issue by their governments.

Bourgeois, the French delegate, concurred with Delevigne on the inappropriateness of adopting such a measure without first having time to consider it in detail. Furthermore, he contended that while it might be possible to outlaw the use of cannabis in France, it would be impossible to do so in the French Congo where there were "several tribes of savages and even cannibals among whom the habit is very prevalent. It would therefore be hypocritical on my part," he told the gathering, "to sign a Convention laying down strict measures in this respect." [65]

The issue was ultimately referred to a subcommittee which later reported certain major problems associated with placing sanctions on cannabis: "It should ... be remembered that all derivatives of hemp are capable of providing, in addition to products injurious to public health, fibers which can be used in industry (cloth, cordage, matting, etc.) and that the oil seeds may also be employed for domestic purposes. That being the case, it would not appear to be any easy matter to limit the amount grown." [66]

After due consideration was given to these various problems, a recommendation was offered whereby export of cannabis resin would be prohibited to any country unless the recipient signed a special import certificate stating that such importation was to be used exclusively for medical or scientific purposes.

The recommendation was voted on and approved but the proposal was not signed by all the delegate nations, thereby making international control unworkable. Among the nations not signing the proposal were the United States and Egypt, which had brought the problem up in the first place.

References and Notes


Library Highlights

Drug Information Articles

Drug Rehab