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LaGuardia Committee Report on Marihuana - Table of Contents


E. H. L. Corwin, PhD, Secretary


On September 13, 1938, The New York Academy of Medicine was informed of Mayor LaGuardia's concern about the marihuana problem and of his desire "that some impartial body such as The New York Academy of Medicine make a survey of existing knowledge on this subject and carry out any observations required to determine the pertinent facts regarding this form of drug addiction and the necessity for its control." The Mayor's request was referred to the Committee on Public Health Relations of the Academy, which Committee on October 17, 1938, authorized the appointment of a special subcommittee to study the Mayor's request.

This Subcommittee, consisting of Dr. George B. Wallace, Chairman, Dr. E. H. L. Corwin, Secretary, and Drs. McKeen Cattell, Leon H. Cornwall, Robert F. Loeb, Currier McEwen, B. S. Oppenheimer, Charles Diller Ryan, and Dudley D. Shoenfeld, reviewed the existing literature on the subject. On the basis of this review, the Subcommittee could come to no conclusion regarding the effect of marihuana upon the psychological and physiological functions of the human being. Nor were attempts to learn the extent of the use of marihuana in New York City any more successful. A conference with representatives of the Police Department, the Department of Education, the Department of Correction, the Psychiatric Division of the Department of Hospitals, the Court of Domestic Relations, the District Attorney's office, and the Citizens Committee on the Control of Crime served to emphasize the existing differences of opinion regarding the extent of the use of marihuana in this city and its relationship to crime.

The Subcommittee therefore came to the conclusion that, in view of the possibility that marihuana smoking might constitute an important social problem, it was time that a study of its effects be made based upon well-established evidence, and prepared an outline of methods of procedure for the study of the problem. It recommended that such a study should be divided into two parts: ( 1 ) a sociological study dealing with the extent of marihuana smoking and the methods by which the drug is obtained; in what districts and among what races, classes or types of persons the use is most prevalent; whether certain social conditions are factors in its use, and what relation there is between its use and criminal or antisocial acts; and (2) a clinical study to determine by means of controlled experiments the physiological and psychological effects of marihuana on different types of persons; the question as to whether it causes physical or mental deterioration; and its possible therapeutic effects in the treatment of disease or of other drug addictions.

The Committee on Public Health Relations adopted the report of its Subcommittee and recommended to Mayor LaGuardia that he appoint a special committee to carry out the proposed study. Accordingly in January 1939 he appointed the Mayor's Committee on Marihuana, composed of the members of the Subcommittee of the Committee on Public Health Relations which recommended the study and four ex-officio members: Dr. Peter F. Amoroso, First Deputy Commissioner (later Commissioner) of Correction; Dr. Karl M. Bowman, Director of the Psychiatric Division of the Department of Hospitals; Dr. S. S. Goldwater, Commissioner of Hospitals- and Dr. John L. Rich, Commissioner of Health. Upon his accession to the commissionership of the Department of Hospitals, Dr. Willard C. Rappleye succeeded Dr. Goldwater as a member of this Committee. This Committee studied the broad outlines of the proposed plans for about a year before work was actually begun.

At its first meeting in March 1939 two subcommittees were appointed; one, consisting of Drs. Shoenfeld, Ryan, and Corwin, to plan the sociological study, and the other, composed of Drs. Cattell, Bowman, Cornwall, and Loeb, to work out the details of the clinical study. Drs. Bowman and Wechsler were appointed as special advisers for the clinical study and Dr. J. Murray Steele and Dr. S. Bernard Wortis as the supervisors of this study.

The studies were made possible by the financial support of three Foundations, the Friedsam Foundation, the New York Foundation, and the Commonwealth Fund, each of which donated $7,500. The whole amounts granted by the Friedsam Foundation and the Commonwealth Fund and $5,000 of the New York Foundation's grant were to be applied to the clinical study- the remaining $2,500 given by the New York Foundation was earmarked for the sociological study. The Research Council of the Department of Hospitals undertook the financial supervision of the clinical study and The New York Academy of Medicine that of the sociological study.

The sociological study proceeded under the active direction of Dr. Dudley D. Shoenfeld and was carried out by six police officers who were trained by Dr. Shoenfeld as social investigators. In acknowledgment of the great help rendered to the Committee by these officers, the Committee passed the following resolution at its meeting on March 18, 1941.

Now that the sociological study of the marihuana problem in New York City has been completed, the Mayor's Committee on Marihuana wishes to record its appreciation of the Mayor's interest in this problem and his placing at the disposal of the Committee the services of the Narcotic Squad Division of the Police Department. Without the cooperation of Commissioner Valentine, Inspector Curtayne, Lieutenant Cooper, Sergeant Boylan, and Detective Loures, this study would have been impossible. They helped in planning it and assigned to the Committee six members of the Force, four men and two women, whose intelligence, interest in the work, and desire to obtain the facts of the situation were of invaluable aid in obtaining the information on which the sociological report is based. The four men and two women assigned to us made painstaking observations and reports, acted as investigators and social workers and not as police officers, and brought to the performance of this task a native intelligence, specialized training, and civic interest. The thanks of the Committee are due to them and through them to their superiors.

The clinical study consisted of two parts; the medical, including psychiatric, and the psychological. Dr. Karl M. Bowman directed the medical and psychiatric part of this study and Dr. David Wechsler the psychological part. The members of the Committee closely supervised the work during the course of the study. The staff of the clinical study included:

  • Samuel Allentuck, MD, Psychiatrist, who was in charge.
  • Louis Gitzelter, MD
  • Frank Anker, MD Assistant Physicians
  • Robert S. Morrow, PhD
  • Florence Halpern, MA
  • Adolph G. Woltmann,MA Psychologists
  • Miss Rose Horowitz, who was the secretary-stenographer and bookkeeper.

The Committee is indebted to the Department of Hospitals for making available two small wards and office space in the Welfare Hospital (now known as the Goldwater Memorial Hospital), to Dr. Chrisman G. Scheri, the Superintendent of the hospital, and to the laboratory staff of the Third Medical Division for their assistance in the conduct of laboratory experiments. Acknowledgment should also be made of the services of Dr. Robert C. Batterman who interpreted the electrocardiograms and Dr. Hans Strauss for the electroencephalographic work. Professor Walter R. Miles of Yale University assisted in the planning of the psychological part of the study. This whole undertaking would have been impossible without the help and cooperation of Dr. Peter F. Amoroso, of the Department of Correction, who, aside from his services as a member of the Committee, was responsible for arrangements for volunteers from among the prisoners of the Riker's Island Penitentiary. Thanks are due also to the medical staff of the Riker's Island Hospital for their assistance in the narcotic addiction study.

At the suggestion of Dr. Cattell a pharmacological study was done in the Department of Pharmacology of Cornell Medical School by Dr. S. Loewe. Dr. W. Modell collaborated in this work. We are indebted to Dr. Roger Adams, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois, and to Dr. H. J. Wollner, Consulting Chemist of the United States Treasury Department, who supplied some of the active principles of marihuana which were used in the study.

The names of those who conducted the investigations are given under the different chapters. Those sections of the report for which no author is indicated have been written by the Chairman of the Committee.

The tremendous task of compiling, editing, and revising the reports was undertaken by Dr. George B. Wallace, the chairman of the Committee, and Miss Elizabeth V. Cunningham of the staff of the Committee on Public Health Relations of The New York Academy of Medicine. They had the assistance of Dr. Dudley D. Shoenfeld, who prepared the sociological report, Dr. David Wechsler, who revised the psychological reports, and Dr. McKeen Cattell, who edited the pharmacological report.

In the judgment of the Committee, this painstaking study should be of considerable value from a scientific and social viewpoint.

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