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Youth Gone Loco
THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY - June 29, 1938 - By Wayne Gard
HIGH SCHOOL, youngsters who turn to banditry for thrills, girls who leap from skyscraper windows, striplings who chop their parents to death -- all have their tragedies spelled; out in front page head lines. But the news stories seldom tell what brings on the crazes that lead to such crimes. Obviously there may be many causes, but in a surprising number of instances the villain is marijuana, the perilous drug that has been sweeping through high schools in many parts of the United States.
In New Jersey, a young woman recently confessed that she and a girl companion lad held up and coldly murdered a bus driver. She had been smoking marijuana cigarettes or "reefers," she said and didn't know what she was doing. In Ohio, a gang of seven youngsters who learned to smoke reefers in high school terrorized a town by making 'thirty-eight holdups. Because they were drugged at the time, they had trouble in recalling their crimes. "If I had killed somebody on a job," said one, "I'd never have known it."
Murder While Drugged
In Florida, marijuana led a young man to kill his father, mother, sister and two brothers with in axe. The list of holdups, sex crimes, murders and suicides by marijuana addicts could be multiplied indefinitely. In some districts, inhabited by Latin Americans, Filipinos, Spaniards and Negroes, half the violent crimes are attributed to marijuana craze. Dr. Lee Rice of San Antonio reports that eighty per cent of all the murders committed by Mexicans are done while the killers are drugged by marijuana.
But although this Indian hemp weed which Asiatics know as hashish is often associated with Mexican, it is no respecter of races. Addiction has spread in the last few years to high school groups in nearly every state. In New York not long ago a federal grand jury indicted sixteen alleged members of a ring that had been producing and distributing hemp in Minnesota, Iowa, Chicago and New York City. Investigator found abandoned in fields in Iowa and Minnesota between 12,000 and 15,000 pounds of harvested hemp -- enough to make thirty billion cigarettes and to drug the whole population of the United States.
For the hemp plant that scientists calf cannabis, and for the narcotic intoxicant derived from it, Americans have borrowed the Mexican word, marijuana or marihuana -- meaning "Mary Jane." But the drug has been in circulation since ancient times and was known to Homer and Herodotus. It has been used by Hindu priests to induce religious hallucination, and as bhang.or hashish it figures in many stories of The Thousand and One Nights. It is the drug that commonly causes Malays to run amuck. Indeed our word "assassin" comes from an Arabic word hashish addict. Today-the drug plays a leading role in the Mexican folk song, "La: Cucaracha," and in such cabaret and radio pieces as "Smoking' Reefer," "That Funny Reefer Man," and the wordless rhumba "Marawanna."
An Ancient Drug
The cannabis plant, which probably originated in central or western Asia, is an herbaceous annual that attains a height of three to sixteen feet. It grows rapidly, maturing within three months after the seed is sown. It has a fibrous stalk, seven-bladed, saw-tooth leaves, small flowers with a distinct odor, and smooth, globular fruit. Hairs on the leaves and bracts of the mature plant secrete amber-colored resin that encases the tops in a sort of protective varnish. This resin contains a substance that, eaten or inhaled induces a dangerous intoxication.
Cannabis or Indian, hemp was cultivated in Colonial days as a fiber for homespun. At present it is used commercially in making twine, rope, hats, textiles, plastics and kinds of paper. For industrial use, the plant is cut before maturity and contains little of the harmful resin. Ten thousand acres, mainly in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Kentucky, are used to produce commercial hemp. Large quantities of the seed, imported from Manchuria, are used as bird food. Oil from the seed is used in paint, linoleum and soap.
Introduced through the southwest for narcotic purposes the plant now grows wild in almost every state and is cultivated for illicit use in vacant lots and backyards in many cities. Even in populous sections of New York City, marijuana patches have been found in the last few years. A fifty-acre field of cultivated marijuana was destroyed within the city limits of Dallas in the summer of 1937, and a few weeks later plants on 580 acres in south Texas were burned. Officials made 377 marijuana seizures in 1936, in 31 states. These raids netted 386 tons of growing plants and bulk marijuana and 15,715 cigarettes.
Marijuana cigarettes are peddled at five cents to more than fifty cents each, the most common price being fifteen cents or two for a quarter. Usually the cigarettes are crudely rolled by hand, but tailor-made ones with pasteboard tips have been found occasionally. Marijuana smoking clubs have been formed in many dance halls, parks and high schools.
When Homer wrote that marijuana made men forget their homes and turned them into swine, he used no more than usual poetic license. Though marijuana is not as hard to break away from as some of the stronger narcotics, its continued use leads to a strong craving. The drug varies greatly in its effects on individuals; but the bodily reactions usually include muscular-trembling, increased heartbeat, accelerated pulse and a ringing in the ears.
Often the user feels hot in the head, becomes dizzy and has sensations of cold in the hands and feet. Later he experiences muscular contractions, constrictions in the chest and dilation of the eye pupils. These effects lead to either vomiting or stupefaction, followed by restless sleep filled with bizarre kaleidoscopic visions.
Mental effects, which are even more variable, commonly include a feeling of exaltation, followed by a delirium in which sense of space and time is lost. Recent experiments have tended to confirm the description of marijuana's effects published by Dr. J. Moreau of' Tours nearly a century ago. He listed eight stages: first euphoria, or unnatural lightheartedness; second, excitation, dissociation of ideas, and exaggeration of emotions; third, illusion in regard to time and space; fourth, auditory insensibility in which musical sound is distorted; filth, fixation of ideas derived from nearby stimuli; sixth, overbalancing emotional disturbances; seventh, impulses to commit irresponsible acts; eight, varied and often terrifying hallucination.
Effect on the Mind
With effects that vary from fits of idiotic laughter to the wildest sexual debauchery, anything can happen. In his annual report, H. J. Anslinger, United States commissioner of narcotics, writes, "The principal effect of the drug is upon the mind, which seems to lose the power of directing and controlling thought. Its continued use produces mental deterioration in many cases. Its more immediate effect apparently is to remove the normal inhibitions of the individual and release any antisocial tendencies which may be present. Those Who indulge in its. habitual use eventually develop a delirious rage after its administration, during which time they are, temporarily at least, irresponsible and prone to commit violent crimes.
The illusion of time and space is especially dangerous to automobile drives. The drugged motorist is likely to think a bridge or a train is much father away than it is, and he may assume that he is going only twenty miles an hour when he is hitting seventy. This illusion also accounts for the common use of marijuana by players in "hot" dance orchestras. Marijuana makes the beat seem to come much slower than it does and enables the musician to play at a furious speed, interpolating as many as a dozen notes in the time normally allowed for one.
In Egypt and India continued use of marijuana has been known to cause many cases of mental derangement and insanity, some medical authorities considering it more potent than opium in this respect. The influence of marijuana as a cause of crime would be hard to overestimate. With the victim experiencing hallucination and violent rages, he is likely to run-amuck and commit crimes he would not have nerve enough to attempt if he were in his right mind.
Legal Forces in -Action
Reports of the bureau of narcotics list stores of murders and other crimes committed by marijuana addicts. In Baltimore, a young man, sentenced to be hanged for criminal assault on ten-year-old girl, testified that he had been temporarily insane from smoking marijuana cigarettes. In Columbus, Ohio, a man sentenced to the electric chair for robbing and murdering a hotel clerk, made the same plea of' insanity from marijuana. In New Jersey, a similar, but ineffectual excuse was made by a young man sentenced to a long prison term for killing another youth and smashing his head and face to a pulp.
A New Orleans prosecutor attributes half that city's murders to marijuana addiction, and similar reports come from Denver and other cities. The marijuana invasion, coming almost entirely in the last decade, caught legislators and police off officials unprepared.
No mention of this drug was made in the Harrison narcotics act, passed in 1914 and amended in 1922. The same was true of the Hague Opium Convention of 1912 and the Narcotics Limitation Convention of 1931. Even today, few local policemen know the marijuana plant when they see it.
In the last few years, however, both the state legislature and Congress have taken steps to cope with the marijuana peril. A uniform narcotics law, which applies to marijuana, has been enacted in more than half the states; and all the others now have some sort of restriction on sale of the drug, though loopholes are still available in some instances. The demand for a federal check on marijuana resulted in adoption of the marijuana revenue act of 1937.
This act, which I became effective October 1, 1937, is ostensibly an internal revenue measure but should have some indirect effect in limiting the marijuana plant and its products to industrial and medicinal channels. Legitimate producers, importers and dealers are required to register and to pay an occupational tax. An unregistered vender is subject to a tax of $ioo per ounce on all the marijuana he sells. If he fails to pay this, he is liable to penalties that run to a maximum of two years in prison and $5,000 fine. Severe penalties are provided also for unregistered production.
Several years may be needed to test the effectiveness of this act, but it already has resulted in numerous raids and arrests, with indictments in a number of important cases. Complete wiping out of the marijuana menace however, will require increased vigilance on the part of parents and policemen. Marijuana addiction has become so widespread that its eradication cannot safely be left entirely to a skeleton force of federal narcotics agents.
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Major Studies of Drug and Drug Policy
Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - The Report of the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse
Licit and Illicit Drugs
Short History of the Marijuana Laws
The Drug Hang-Up
Congressional Transcripts of the Hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
Frequently Asked Questions About Drugs
Basic Facts About the Drug War
Charts and Graphs about Drugs
Information on Alcohol
Guide to Heroin - Frequently Asked Questions About Heroin
LSD, Mescaline, and Psychedelics
Drugs and Driving
Children and Drugs
Drug Abuse Treatment Resource List
American Society for Action on Pain
Let Us Pay Taxes
Marijuana Business News
Reefer Madness Collection
Medical Marijuana Throughout History
Drug Legalization Debate
Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition
Marijuana, the First 12,000 Years
DEA Ruling on Medical Marijuana
Legal References on Drugs
GAO Documents on Drugs
Response to the Drug Enforcement Agency
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