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LaGuardia Committee Report on Marihuana - Table of Contents

Organization of Staff

In October 1939 Police Commissioner Lewis J. Valentine designated Deputy Chief Inspector Daniel Curtayne, Lieutenant Edward Cooper, Sergeant Bernard Boylan and Detective Joseph Loures of the Narcotic Squad of the Police Department of the City of New York to cooperate with the Mayor's Committee on Marihuana. These police officials submitted a list of intelligent young officers with a suitable background. From this list six officers were selected: two policewomen, and four policemen, one of whom was a Negro. They were: Mr. James Coen, Mr. William Connolly, Mr. Benjamin Weissner, Mr. John Hughes, Miss Adelaide Knowles and Miss Olive Cregan. These police officers were encouraged to read literature on the subject of marihuana and to familiarize themselves with some of the characteristics of the plant, as well as of marihuana cigarettes. They became expert in detecting the aroma of burning marihuana, and were thus able to recognize it and to identify its use in a social gathering.

Regular assignments were made by the director of the survey. At intervals each officer dictated a general report on his activities and findings to a stenographer engaged by the Committee. Frequent conferences were held in the office of the director of the survey, at which time individual reports were discussed in detail and evaluated.

An attempt was made to give the "marihuana squad" a psychological approach to the performance of their duties. At no time were these officers permitted to make known their activity to other members of the police force, or to make arrests. This arrangement was considered essential in order that they might maintain an effective role of investigator without being in any respect recognized as police officers. Although they were members of the police force and constantly in contact with violators of law, their immediate superiors cooperated to an extreme degree by allowing the "marihuana squad" to report directly to the director of the survey.

While on duty the squad actually "lived" in the environment in which marihuana smoking or peddling was suspected. They frequented poolrooms, bars and grills, dime-a-dance halls, other dance halls to which they took their own partners, theatres -- backstage and in the audience -- roller-skating rinks, subways, public toilets, parks and docks They consorted with the habitues of these places, chance acquaintances on the street, loiterers around schools, subways and bus terminals. They posed as "suckers" from out of town and as students in colleges and high schools.

We highly commend these officers individually for their exceptionally good performances. The aid given by Deputy Chief Inspector Daniel Curtayne, Lieutenant Edward Cooper, Sergeant Bernard Boylan and Detective Joseph Loures throughout deserves mention and appreciation. At times we must have been a source of annoyance to them, but our requests were always cheerfully met and assistance heartily extended.

Method of Retail Distribution

In general, marihuana is used in the form of a cigarette. Occasionally some individuals chew the "weed" and seem to get the same effect as do others through smoking. The common names for the cigarettes are: muggles, reefers, Indian hemp, weed, tea, gage and sticks. Cigarettes made of marihuana differ in size as do cigarettes made of tobacco: they are long, short, thick or thin.

The price varies in accordance with the accepted opinion as to the potency of the marihuana used in the cigarettes, and this appears to be determined by the place of origin. The cheapest brand is known as "sass-fras," and retails for approximately three for 50 cents. It is made of the marihuana that is grown in the United States. Smokers do not consider such marihuana very potent. They have found that they must consume a greater number of cigarettes in order to obtain the desired effect colloquially termed as "high." This opinion, expressed by smokers in the Borough of Manhattan, is at variance with that of some authorities who believe that marihuana grown in the United States is as potent as the marihuana grown in other countries.

The "panatella" cigarette, occasionally referred to as "meserole," is considered to be more potent than the "sass-fras" and usually retails for approximately 25 cents each. The hemp from which the "panatella" is made comes from Central and South America.

"Gungeon" is considered by the marihuana smoker as the highest grade of marihuana. It retails for about one dollar per cigarette. The "kick" resulting from the use of this cigarette is reached more quickly than from the use of "sassafras" or "panatella." It appears to be the consensus that the marihuana used to make the "gungeon" comes from Africa. The sale of this cigarette is restricted to a clientele whose economic status is of a higher level than the majority of marihuana smokers.

A confirmed marihuana user can readily distinguish the quality and potency of various brands, just as the habitual cigarette or cigar smoker is able to differentiate between the qualities of tobacco. Foreign-made cigarette paper is often used in order to convince the buyer that the "tea is right from the boat."

There are two channels for the distribution of marihuana cigarettes-- the independent peddler and the "tea-pad." From general observations, conversations with "pad" owners, and discussions with peddlers, the investigators estimated that there were about 500 "tea-pads" in Harlem and at least 500 peddlers.

A "tea-pad" is a room or an apartment in which people gather to smoke marihuana. The majority of such places are located in the Harlem district. It is our impression that the landlord, the agent, the superintendent or the janitor is aware of the purposes for which the premises are rented. The "tea-pad" is furnished according to the clientele it expects to serve. Usually, each "tea-pad" has comfortable furniture, a radio, victrola or, as in most instances, a rented nickelodeon. The lighting is more or less uniformly dim, with blue predominating. An incense is considered part of the furnishings. The walls are frequently decorated with pictures of nude subjects suggestive of perverted sexual practices. The furnishings, as described, are believed to be essential as a setting for those participating in smoking marihuana.

Most "tea-pads" have their trade restricted to the sale of marihuana. Some places did sell marihuana and whisky, and a few places also served as houses of prostitution. Only one "teapad" was found which served as a house of prostitution, and in which one could buy marihuana, whisky, and opium.

The marihuana smoker derives greater satisfaction if he is smoking in the presence of others. His attitude in the "tea-pad" is that of a relaxed individual, free from the anxieties and cares of the realities of life. The "tea-pad" takes on the atmosphere of a very congenial social club. The smoker readily engages in conversation with strangers, discussing freely his pleasant reactions to the drug and philosophizing on subjects pertaining to life in a manner which, at times, appears to be out of keeping with his intellectual level. A constant observation was the extreme willingness to share and puff on each other's cigarettes. A boisterous, rowdy atmosphere did not prevail and on the rare occasions when there appeared signs indicative of a belligerent attitude on the part of a smoker, he was ejected or forced to become more tolerant and quiescent.

One of the most interesting setups of a "tea-pad," which was clearly not along orthodox lines from the business point of view, was a series of pup tents arranged on a roof-top in Harlem. Those present proceeded to smoke their cigarettes in the tents. When the desired effect of the drug had been obtained they all merged into the open and engaged in a discussion of their admiration of the stars and the beauties of nature.

Because of the possibility of spreading disease, note should be taken of what seems to be a custom known as "pick-up" smoking. It is an established practice whereby a marihuana cigarette is lit and after one or two inhalations is passed on to the next person. This procedure is repeated until all present have had an opportunity to take a puff or two on the cigarette.

Occasionally a "tea-pad" owner may have peddlers who sell their wares in other localities and at the same time serve as procurers for those who wish to smoke marihuana on the premises.

One also finds other methods of retail distribution. After proper introduction, one may be able to purchase the cigarette in certain places. This is not an easy procedure, but it can be accomplished. In some bar-and-grills, restaurants, and bars our investigators were able to establish contact with someone who in turn, would introduce them to a peddler who apparently made regular rounds of these places in order to sell cigarettes. It appears that the owners of such places are not aware of this practice, and in many instances they would discharge any employee known to be directly or indirectly associated with the sale of marihuana.

On rare occasions public guides, if properly approached would refer one to a place where the "reefer" could be bought. There was no evidence that the guide received money when acting as go- between. Terminal porters, mainly Negroes, appeared to be more directly connected with the traffic of marihuana. They were more conversant with the subject and it was easier for them to establish contact between purchaser and peddler.

Marihuana smoking is very common in the theatres of Harlem according to the observations of the investigators. We have reason to believe that in some instances, perhaps few in number, employees actually sold cigarettes on the premises. In the Harlem dance halls smoking was frequently observed either in the lavatories or on the main floor. The patrons as well as the musicians were seen in the act of smoking. There was no evidence of sales being made by employees on the premises, or that there was any gain on the part of the owners or employees in permitting this practice. Whereas the smoking of marihuana was not encouraged, nothing was done to prohibit such practice.

There are specific sections in the Borough of Manhattan where the sale of marihuana cigarettes appears to be localized: 1) the Harlem district; 2) the Broadway area, a little east and west of Broadway and extending from 42nd Street to S9th Street. While it is true that one may buy the cigarette in other districts, it is not as easily obtainable as in the two localities mentioned.

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