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The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937

Transcripts of Congressional Hearings


(The following statements were submitted by Mr. Anslinger)


(By Dr. Frank R. Gomila, commissioner of public safety, and Miss Madeline C. Gomila, assistant city chemist)

Many papers have been written on the effects, physical and mental, of the marihuana weed. Some of the best descriptions that we have read can be found in Bromberg's (1) paper called Marihuana Intoxication; Bragman's (2) Toxic Effects - Weed of Insanity; and Kingman's (3) Green Goddess. But talking and writing of the various results that ensue from constant use of this weed in no way impresses the reading public with the seriousness of the problem that faces it today.

To our knowledge, this is the first time that such a paper as this will be presented. After searching the literature thoroughly we could find no complete record of the situation in this country. We have not deluded ourselves into believing that the information compiled her is in any way a complete record of the situation, but we do believe that it is the best that can be obtained. The difficulty encountered is that any drug addiction is such a secretive affair that not even the authorities in charge know all the culprits. Also, we have encountered some rather unexpected reluctance on the part of some of the state authorities to furnish the information. The large gaps in the table that we compiled are due to this lack of information.

Referring to Table 1, we find that 46 out of 48 states, or 94 percent, have found it necessary to pass some legislation against the use, possession, and sale of this menacing weed. the urgent reason for all these laws was that in many states the discovery was made that scores of youngsters of high school age had become victims of the weed. It was only last year that the St. Louis Star Times in a series of newspaper articles, led the people of Missouri in a stirring fight for the passage of a state law for the protection of their children. Quoting from the St. Louis Start-Times of February 4, 1935, we read: "Those acquainted with the traffic say there are more women smokers than men. If you are a 'right guy' a 'giggle smoke' is available in places of lenient morals and may be purchased from a 'bystander' in many of the cheaper downtown resorts.

"One gentleman of the byways explained, '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 ticker.'" (4)

The article goes on to tell how, when the number of muggle smokers increased, marihuana dives came into existence. Here is a description, "The windows were covered with blankets and a single electric bulb flickers through smoke so dense you can barely see across the room. A dozen person around a penny-ante poker game. They range from boys of 16 to men in their late 20's, all in a state of dazed exhilaration.

"There are only a few rickety charis and the table for furnishings and the gang lolls about the room, some chasing cheap whisky with long muggles drags, others content to smoke, laugh vacuously and 'walk on air.'" (5)

Still quoting from the St. Louis Star-Times of an earlier date we find the case of a young high school student reported. "A case in point is that of a young man, an intelligent high school student, now confined to an institution for the mentally diseased. His experience is entirely the result of acquiring the habit of smoking marihuana cigarettes.

"One of his friends said to a Star-Times reporter, calling the youth by name, 'He was a swell fellow until marihuana got him. Like the rest of us, he thought the weed wasn't habit-forming and had no idea of the possible consequences of smoking it. He smoked so many he couldn't quit. finally he went crazy and his folks put him in a sanitarium.'" (6) From this same article we read: "'Weed' smoking among young St. Louisians appears to be chiefly confined to boys. Girls who indulge do so largely as a result of association with boys who smoke the drug."

"A girl student, still in her teens told a reporter she had seen some of her friends under the influence and named a boy and a girl who lost their senses so completely after smoking marihuana that they eloped and were married.

"'Another boy I know got the habit so bad he didn't have enough money to buy all the cigarettes he craved. To get the money he stole jewelry from his mother while under the influence of marihuana and pawned it. He was arrested, but when his mother found out who the thief was she naturally dropped her complaint.

"'I know at least 20 boys, some of them in school, whom I have seen smoking marihuana cigarettes. Sometimes three or four of them crowd into a telephone booth and puff on a single cigarette.

"'Several girls I know have smoked marihuana and I smoked with them, but I've decided its bad business and haven't smoked lately.

"'Sometimes we would go to a beer tavern and smoke, the boys always supplying the muggles.'"

Referring to table II, we find then that Colorado reports that the Mexican population there cultivates on an average of 2 to 3 tons of the weed annually. This the Mexicans make into cigarettes, which they sell at two for 25 cents, mostly to white high school students. Strangely enough, it has been noted that when this weed is grown at altitudes considerably higher than sea level, it is much more potent. Colorado, a state that has an average altitude than sea level (sic), can therefore grow a plant that is much more powerful than one grown in Louisiana. (8)

From Massachusetts we learn that cigarettes sell for 25 cents apiece and that they are chiefly used among the younger people between the ages of 18 and 21. In Louisiana the age range is 18-37 years. Minnesota, like Missouri, has its difficulties with high school addicts. Oklahoma is another of the afflicted states,. Reports state that the weed is used widely among the high school students there.

The tragic picture of all these youngsters coming under the influence of the drug certainly must have some significance. It means that more drastic action is necessary. All these states have passed laws concerning this drug but though the law has curbed the use of marihuana to a certain degree it has by no means eradicated it. This is still a very important problem. Why shouldn't our Federal government, with its wheels of action already set in motion, take over the control of the use of this dangerous drug in the United States? We said "wheels of action, already set in motion", because in many large cities the Federal narcotic squads are cooperating with the local police in stamping out the danger threatened by this drug. The states, individually, are doing what they can, though in many instances they are sorely handicapped by lack of experience with this problem, insufficient funds and ignorance of the proper methods. Referring to Table 1, again, we find that the narcotic squad is even now helping curb this menace in Louisiana, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Wyoming.

In New Orleans we were called in a case in which Federal narcotics agents had made the wholesale arrests of 36 peddlers simultaneously. This is just one case out of many handled by the Federal men this year. These men are more thoroughly trained and much better equipped to handle the situation than the local police. Certainly our government could help out in this deplorable situation by amending the Harrison Narcotic Act to include marihuana as a potent and dangerous drug. As long ago as 1931 our country was one among 57 other countries that met at Geneva Switzerland, in order to draw up a treaty convention for restricting the manufacture and cultivation of narcotic drugs. Included among the narcotics listed by this treaty convention is marihuana. by the end of the year 1935, 55 nations had ratified this convention, the United States being the second nation to do so in 1932. Why then should our Government ratify this treaty convention and not include marihuana in our own Harrison Narcotic Act(11)?

The increasing prevalence of this menace is another matter for serious thought. From Table 1, we find that eight states enacted legislation against the use, sale, and possession of this weed in 1935 and 1936. by glancing over Table II you'll find that New York State alone destroyed 187 tons of the weed in 1935. There seems to be no shortage there. In Louisiana, in recent months, the state police have destroyed more weed here than every before. there are many states in a similar dilemma. This problem seems in no way to be solved butt on the contrary is growing to be a more dangerous one every day.

From table II we ascertain that out of 450 persons arrested in New Orleans, La. in 1934, 125 were marihuana addicts; out of 37 murders 177 were addicted to the use of marihuana, and out of 193 convicted of thefts, 34 were under the influence of this drug. Therefore, the ratio is that approximately 1 out of every 4 persons arrested in this city has become a victim of this dangerous drug. (12)

In the state of New Mexico, 4 percent of the inmates of the penitentiary are confessed users of the weed. In New York we find that ten percent of all the narcotic violators are marihuana cases. The warden of the state penitentiary in North Dakota reports that some of the prisoners are addicted to the drug but that there are none there at present. In Minnesota 10 out of 348 cases at the reformatory confessed to being addicts, while in Mississippi 6 confessed users were arrested. Illinois reports having arrested 30 marihuana addicts since 1933.

In the case of the city of New Orleans, if we refer to table III for the year 1936, we find that in the first 4 months of that year 36 arrests were made. This number does not include the arrests made by the Federal narcotics men which greatly exceeds this figure. If we consider this figure 36 as an average figure for that period we find that the total number of arrests for the year of 1936 will substantially exceed the total for any one of the preceding years. This is a significant fact and proves that the danger is growing instead of abating.

Practically every article written on the effects of the marihuana weed will tell of deeds committed without the knowledge of the culprit, while he was under the influence of this drug. There are many arguments for and against this statement, and many cases reported which uphold it, and still others which contradict it. Our opinion is that both arguments for and against are correct because of the inconsistency of the action of this drug on individual victims. The reactions resulting depend to a large extent on the innate characteristics of the individual. The person who is so unfortunate as to come under the influence of this drug, in many cases, becomes the unwilling offender of the law because the central nervous system has become affected, as is the case with other habit-forming drugs. As a representative case, note the tragic predicament of this Californian. "A man under the influence of marihuana actually decapitated his best friend; and then, coming out of the effects of the drug, was as horrified aas anyone over what he had done" (9). Then we have the case of a young boy in Florida. The story runs as follows: "A young boy who had become addicted to smoking marihuana cigarettes, in a fit of frenzy because, as he stated while still under the marihuana influence, a number of people were trying to cut off his arms and legs, seized an axe and killed his father, mother, two brothers and a sister, wiping out the entire family except himself." (10)

Those of us who are native New Orleanians must well remember the tragic incident that happened in our city last year. In a downtown section a man under the influence of the weed became so frenzied and angered at his wife as to kill her out on the street in front of many witnesses.

These are only three cases of which there are hundreds. Each one is a blot on the history of the State where the crime was committed and so it is very difficult to unearth such information.

Is marihuana sufficiently like any other habit-forming drug that it should receive recognition as a real menace? For an answer we have only to glance over table IV, where we find that in comparison with other habit-forming drugs, heroin, morphine, opium, and cocaine, marihuana has an established place. Like these drugs named, it , too, derives it effects chiefly from resultant changes to the central nervous system. It decreases pain and in certain instances dispenses it completely. Comparable to the other drugs mentioned, a certain amount of tolerance is set up rather easily with marihuana.

In its action of depression and stimulation it is very much like that noted under small doses of morphine. Habit-forming drugs in ever case disturb the vision and heart. In this instance marihuana reacts like cocaine, in that the pupils become dilated and the pulse is accelerated. Habitual use of heroin weakens judgment, self-control, and attention. IN this sense, marihuana is like heroin as constant use results in loss of judgment and measurement of time and space. Marihuana makes the imagination run rampant and the dreams that result are as extravagant as those reported by opium eaters. Social dangers that ensue from the use of marihuana are comparable to those that result from heroin. The heroin habit produces an utter disregard for conventions and moral; similar results ensue from the smoking of the weed. Here, however, the skeptic has a point which he can dispute. The action of marihuana is much less constant than heroin, as it depends to a certain extent on the disposition and intellectual activity of the victim. However, we must remind friend skeptic that the great majority of users are ignorant and inexperienced youngsters and members of the lowest strata of humanity. When you think this fact over there should be no room for argument on that point.

After an exhaustive search on marihuana from its earliest history to the present time, it is easy to see that the destruction of the plant is absolutely essential in all communities in this country. To this end we believe that the members of the Orleans Parish Medical Society should lend their wholehearted cooperation.

In conclusion we wish to state that we have proved conclusively:

1. The seriousness of the problem as it concerns youngsters who are willing to take a chance at all times.

2. The increasing prevalence of this menace which results in a large percentage of criminal users.

3. The tragedy of persons who use the weed becoming unwilling offenders of the law because the central nervous system has been so affected.

Table III -- Statistics of number of arrests, number of cigarettes confiscated, and pounds of weed destroyed in the city of New Orleans for the years of 1928 to April, 1936.

Year Number of arrests Number of white arrests Number of colored arrests Number color not recorded Number of cigarettes confiscated Pounds of weed confiscated
1928-29 19 9 6 4 406 4.2 ounces
1930 30 17 4 9 527 27 pounds, 10 ounces, 7 stalks of freshly cut herb
1931 18 6 1 11 405 2 pounds, 6 ounces
1932 20 11 5 4 94 1 pound 2 ounces
1933 13 6 3 4 62 1 ounce
1934 20 9 7 4 236 3 pounds, 6.4 ounces; 2 3/4 pounds seeds and fragments of leaves
1935 82 22 32 28 2,752 3 pounds, 11 ounces
1936 (January through April 36 18 15 3 149 3.01 ounces

Table IV. An interesting comparison of the action of heroin, morphine, opium, cocaine, and marihuana

Heroin Morphine and opium Cocaine Marihuana
Action on cerebrum and medulla seems to be stronger than morphine. Senses dulled. Decided action on cerebrum and medulla. Depression of sensibility. Most important effect is that on central nervous system. Applied locally, paralyzes sensory nerve terminations. Injections anesthetize all areas where drug penetrates, complete loss of sensation in lower part of body but movements unimpaired. Effects due chiefly to changes in central nervous system.

Sensation of pain decreased or entirely absent. Sense of touch dulled.

Tolerance set up rapidly Tolerance easily maintained for large doses. Tolerance can be attained by habitual use. Some tolerance is rapidly acquired.
Has little effect in intestines. Movement of bowels irregular.

Depression and stimulation follow each other in rapid fashion.

Movement of intestines are augmented.

Depression succeeds stimulation in some order; 2 statges not divided and often overlap.

Causes diarrhea.

Depression and stimulation that results is comparable to that noted under small doses of morphine.

Vision disturbed. Pupils contracted Pupils dilated. Pupils dilated.
Slow small pulse Heart irregular

Appetite bad

Pulse accelerated

Loss of appetite

Pulse accelerated.

Appetite increased.

Judgment, self-control attention weakened; resembles morphine in its general effects Results in nervousness, weak character and lack of energy; utterly unfit for work unless supplied with drug; tremors and unsteadiness in walking may be apparent. Reflexes more easily excited. tremors or slight convulsive movements often occur; has surprising power of removing fatigue; small doses, mental powers increased; large doses stimulant effect spreads to lower areas and produces a great increase of movement. Results in loss of judgment; imagination runs rampant; measurement of time and space lost; dream state followed by unconsciousness and then by restful sleep; action less constant that any other drug; depends greatly on disposition and intellectual activity of victim; large doses result in loud disturbances and violence
Social dangers greater that in the case of morphine as it produces marked changes in personality, utter disregard for conventions and morals; degenerative changes in individual progress more rapidly than in the case of any other drug; addict quickly becomes a mental and moral degenerate. No evidence of physical deterioration or unfitness from addiction to drug. Melancholia and dementia follow continued use of drug. Sleeplessness, tremors, occasional convulsions and hallucinations often occur, also delirium, indefinite disturbances of sensation and motion; mental, moral, and physical deterioration more rapid than in the case of morphinism. Often produces disregard for conventions and morals.
Habit most difficult to cure. Habit difficult to cure; relapses after withdrawal are exceedingly common. View of some doctors is that habit can be broken as easily as smoker's habit, as there seems to be no after effects upon withdrawal. Habit can be easily broken as there are no withdrawal effects, but as is the case with all drugs the increased desire due to abstinence causes continued relapses.


(1) American Journal of Psychiatry, Marihuana Intoxication, Clinical Study of Cannabis Sativa Intoxication. Walter Bromberg, Volume 91, Pages 303-330, September, 1934.

(2) Medical Journal and Record, The Weed Insanity. Louis J. Bragman, Syracuse, NY, October 7, 1925, pages 416-417.

(3) Ibid., October 19, 1927, pages 470-475. The Green Goddess (A Studyin Dreams, Drugs, and Dementia). Robert Kingman, Brooklyn, NY

(4) St. Louis Star Times, February 4, 1935. Louisville Paper Finds Marihuana a Menace There.

(5) Ibid.

(6) St.. Louis Star Times, January 18, 1935. Young Slaves to Dope Cigaret Pay Tragic Price For Their Folly. Hulius Kleen.

(7) Ibid.

(8) World Narcotic Defense Association. Marihuana or Indian Hemp and Its Preparations.

(9) Ibid.

(10) Ibid.

(11) World Narcotic Defense Association. Narcotic Drug Addiction and How to Fight It.

(12) World Narcotic Defense Association. Marihuana or Indian Hemp and Its Preparations. US Treasury Department, Bureau of Narcotics, Washington, DC, Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs, 1934. Cushny's Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Edmunds and Gunn, pages 278-293, 1934.

The New Orleans Times-Tribune

Cannabis. W. G. Walker, Chief, Division of Narcotic Enforcement, San Francisco, California, July 1, 1934.

Annual Report on Narcotic to Governor Lehman for 1935, New York State.

Legal Mediciine and Toxicology. Webster, W. B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, United States of America, 1930.

(Thereupon the committee adjourned to meet tomorrow, Wednesday, Apr. 28, 1937, at 10:30 a.m.)

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