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POPULAR SCIENCE - May 1936 - Published Popular Science Publishing.

Uncle Sam Fights a New Drug Menace --- Marijuana" By William Wolf (page 14)



ONE DAY last summer, a squad-of men suddenly descended upon a vacant lot in a large eastern city. Attacking a patch of innocent-looking weeds, they first burned the stalks down to the ground and then spread chemicals to make sure that every vestige of life in the roots was destroyed.

The weed was marijuana---better known as Indian hemp---and within that one vacant lot there was enough, if converted into cigarettes or "reefers" and peddled through underground channels, to be the potential cause of half a dozen murders and other brutal crimes.

Its destruction was but one of the skirmishes along a nation-wide front in the almost unheralded war being waged on this insidious drug. Federal, state, and city officials are engaged right now in combating what was described by Secretary of State Hull in a report to the League of Nations as "one of the major police problems of America." They are carrying on the fight, against enormous handicaps, in practically every state in the Union.

Within the past decade, marijuana smoking has ceased to be a Mexican Border problem and has become a national menace. Another ten years of its phenomenal spread and the suppression of opium, heroin, cocaine, and similar drugs will seem like child's play in comparison. A strange combination of circumstances is responsible for its rapid sweep through the nation.

The plant is nothing new. It has been in this country ever since the earliest settlers in the New England colonies brought hemp seed to grow the plants from which rope fiber was, and still is, obtained. For several centuries, Indian hemp was cultivated and used in America for legitimate purposes. The fact that the American plant was exactly the same as that from which hashish was obtained in the Orient was not generally known. It emerged from the limbo of forgotten drugs only within the past few years.

Today, the small towns of the nation are being invaded by the drug, while the large cities already have vast numbers of smokers. It is being sold to school children in more than one state. Marijuana cigarettes, or reefers," are peddled at fifteen cents to several dollars each by men, who either raise the drug in back yards or in carefully concealed plots in the country, or gather it along the roadside. Before Pennsylvania passed laws against it, the chief of Philadelphia County detectives declared that any particularly, horrible crime was committed---especially one pointing to perversion---his officers searched first in marijuana dens, and questioned -marijuana smokers for suspects.

The curious history of how the Indian hemp plant, Cannabis Indica or Cannabis saliva, reached such unsavory prominence in America offers an example of how a natural product, innocent in itself, can remain unnoticed and not used for evil purposes for centuries, only to plunge into sudden disrepute. It-also reveals why its use is a problem and how the average citizen can help stamp it out.

The New England colonists used hemp for the manufacture of rope and for homespun cloth. Soon it was being grown in the Virginia and Pennsylvania colonies, and it appeared, at an early date in the Kentucky settlements. Its spread westward to Missouri followed and, at various times, hemp was grown in Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Iowa, California, and other states.

It was employed solely for its utilitarian purposes, chief of which was, of course, the making of rope. Practically all the rope and twine used in America until the introduction of abaca, or Manila fiber, came from the hemp, plant.

The date of the introduction of hemp in Mexico is not known; but it probably arrived with the earliest Spanish settlers.

Thus the stage was set for its skyrocket climb within recent years to become the foremost menace to life, health, and morals in the list of drugs used in America.

In all the years of its early use in America, it was not smoked. The, colonists had tobacco, and weren't interested, in experimenting with hemp. But somebody---who either knew that hashish sometimes is burned instead of eaten, and the fumes inhaled, or who lacked tobacco and tried hemp as a substitue---learned that it had powerful narcotic effects when smoked. This probably occurred in Mexico.

Suddenly, the nation awoke: to, the fact that it had a major drug problem on its hands. Marijuana smoking, which was confined at first to Mexico and the. Southwestern States, started to spread. And worst of all, the plant from which, the narcotic came not only could be grown anywhere, but actually was growing wild in many states!

Early this year, a house was raided in a small New Jersey town, and marijuana worth $6,000 was seized. The persons arrested had in his possession a large quantity of the dried and prepared weed. He confessed that it was grown on a small plot of ground belonging to the house he rented.

The commercial production of marijuana is as simple as that---a field is planted and the weed grows. It needs no special preparation before being sold as a drug, other than drying the leaves and flowers. The only thing that led to this arrest was a quarrel with somebody who knew what the "patch of weeds" was and told police officials about the secret back-yard crop.

Federal authorities reported last fall at the end of the growing season that large acreages of Cannabis saliva were destroyed in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, California,: and Georgia. At the same time, evidence of its widespread cultivation was contained in the additional report that, within a few days time, investigations and seizures were made at points as widely separated as Rochester, N.Y., Fremont, Ohio, Sacramento, Calif., and Columbus, Ga. Because it was circulated so generally in this, nation's early history, Marijuana now is a roadside weed in many sections of the country.

For that reason, Federal authorities regard it as a puzzling problem. Furthermore, over fifteen states failed to adopt the uniform narcotic drugs act under which the Federal authorities could prosecute peddlers and growers of the weed. Some of these states only forbid the importation of marijuana; and, since it grows anywhere, such laws obviously are useless.

Where it is grown for sale as "dope," considerable ingenuity is expended in concealing the fields containing it. In the Ohio case reported by Federal officials, a large stand of Indian hemp was hidden by surrounding cornfields. That is a favorite trick of growers, to hide the marijuana with higher-growing crops.

The average citizen can help stamp out marijuana by reporting to the proper authorities any suspicious growth hidden by corn, alfalfa, or similar crops. The weed grows four to eight feet or more in height, has a sticky surface when touched, and gives off a strong narcotic odor. When grown for its fiber, it, is cut before reaching full growth; but when intended ,for illegal uses it is allowed to blossom, since it is the flowering tops, the leaves and the small stems that are gathered and dried for smoking.

The plant has erect, branching, and angular stems, while the leaves are alternate and opposite on long, lax footstalks. The leaves have sawlike edges and may be odd or even in number, but usuall about eight leaves are in one group.

What, are the (Continued on page 119) most common effects of Cannabin, Which is the active narcotic principle, affects the higher nerve centers, almost, exclusively. A person smoking several marijuana cigarettes will first experience a: feeling of exaltation and well-being. A happy, jovial mood is induced and everything takes on a humorous aspect. Tell a person at this stage that his mother has just died and he will laugh loudly at the news.

With this increased happiness, there comes a feeling of greater physical and mental strength. Nothing seems impossible. Musicians and cabaret entertainers are said to furnish one of the largest classes of users for this reason--- it stimulates their imagination and temporarily increases their ability. Visions sometimes of a pleasant nature, but more often gruesome.

THE smoker's sense of space and time becomes distorted. The room in which he is located may appear minute, and everything in it is an infinitesimal spot upon which he gazes curiously like some giant in a doll house. Time becomes interminable. A second seems like a minute, a minute like an hour, and an hour assumes the aspect of a whole day. The time consumed in walking from one chair to another may seem like days on end.

Noises sometimes are magnified. A match dropping to the floor will sound like a gigantic thunderclap reverberating through the universe, rolling on and on until it fades away and is succeeded by deathlike silence. The flame of a match or the glow from a lamp will fascinate the smoker. This delirious state will, merge, if the dose is large enough, into a feeling of general weakness accompanied by fatigue and a desire to sleep.

If the effects of marijuana were confined to such sensations, it would affect the average person only as a moral problem. Unfortunately, it has a still worse side.

Continued use of the drug, for example, will lead to a delirious rage in which the addicts are temporarily irresponsible and inclined to commit the most horrible and violent crimes. Any increase in crime in a community usually is attributed by authorities to marijuana. Many murders are committed either by persons not responsible while under the influence of the drug, or by persons who deliberately smoke it to gain a false courage for the commission of a planned slaying. Prolonged use is said to lead to mental deterioration and eventual insanity.

THE dangers to which addicts are exposed and to which they expose others are shown in some of the term associated with Indian hemp. In Malay, where it is eaten as hashish the murderous frenzy in which the native dashes with a weapon into a crowd screaming: "Amokl Amokl" (Kill! Kill!) is due to the drug, according to some travelers. Our common expression "to run amuck" is derived from this source.

The origin of the word "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," "hashshash" or "hashishi" and from those terms comes the modem and ominous "assassin."

It ha, been said that the followers of Pancho Villa, the (Continued on page 120) Mexican bandit, derived their reckless courage from smoking marijuana, and, that most of their outrages were committed under its influence.

Where Indian hemp is used as hashish or bhang, the leaves are rubbed between the hands or pieces of carpet until the resin is expressed. This is then scraped into a container and the product is treated with ether and eaten or, occasionally, cooked and the fumes inhaled. This was the "emerald green" drug of the Arabs, and the Count of Monte Cristo in Dumas novel was addicted to hashish eating.

Authorities Federal and local, are employing the only possible weapon against the drug---that is, destruction of any plants suspected of being used for narcotic purposes. It is particularly abundant as a wild plant in western Missouri, Iowa, Southern Minnesota, the Southwest, and the Western States. The "slough district" of the Illinois River valley has large stands of the wild plant but, curiously enough, it is used very little there as a drug. Gathering the plant and seeds for legal purposes is a local industry in this district. In addition to rope fiber, the plant yields a commercial oil used by artists; the seeds are constituents of most manufactured bird foods, and dust from the dried seed pods is sold to pharmaceutical companies.

Kentucky furnishes most of the legal crop for medicinal purposes. Little is grown now for the fiber, the last survey showing only 2,400 acres under cultivation; of that number, 1,700 were in Wisconsin and 300 more were reported in Illinois.

As a result of Federal drives, states are gradually adopting and enforcing laws against marijuana; but even so, the apathy of the public helps to prevent the eradication of America's foremost drug. As one captain of a narcotics bureau put it:

"We cleaned it up pretty well in this city after the state passed laws against marijuana; but it is returning gradually because the public won't cooperate with us. They don't know or don't care what it does. As for the smaller towns---well, they don't even attempt to wipe it out until something horrible happens, and by that time it usually has, too firm a hold on its victims to yield to attempts at suppression."

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