Little Bits of History

August 2

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 2, 2017

1937: In the US, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 is signed into law by President Franklin D Roosevelt. The law essentially placed a tax on cannabis and was drafted by Harry Anslinger, the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and introduced by Robert Doughton (D – North Carolina) on April 14. Hearings were heard from April 27 through 30 and May 4. It was confirmed and then redrafted as HR 6906 and introduced with House Report 792 on May 11. When referenced today, the spelling of marijuana is generally changed to the current usage. The law was overturned in 1969 in Leary vs United States and was repealed the following year.

Regulations and restrictions on cannabis sales began in 1906 and by this time, Anslinger argued that even more people were smoking the substance. The Uniform State Narcotic Act of 1935 set the stage for the vilification of marijuana. Anslinger claimed it caused temporary insanity, overdosing, and suicide. The scare tactics worked and the law passed. Hemp production in the US in 1933 had decreased to about 500 tons per year but saw some increase in the next two years. The fibers remained a low volume.

There is some speculation this 1937 law was passed at the urgings of businessmen Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst, and the DuPont family. The decorticator had been invented and hemp was becoming a cheap substitute of paper pulp used by the newspaper industry. Hearst was heavily invested in timber to support his newspaper industry and Mellon was heavily invested in the DuPont businesses which had just invented nylon, a fiber actively competing with hemp. Using hemp to make paper would have severely impacted these men’s vast fortunes and along with the hysterical propaganda from the Narcotics Bureau, the plant was deemed to be in need of control. The American Medical Association opposed the tax because it also taxed doctors and pharmacists who were using marijuana medically. Regardless, the bill passed.

It went into effect on October 1, 1937 and the Bureau along with Denver City police arrested Moses Baca for possession and Samuel Caldwell for dealing because they did not pay the tax imposed. They were the first convictions under the new law and Baca received an 18 month sentence while Caldwell received four years. During World War II, after the Philippines fell, the Department of Agriculture urged farmers to grow hemp and tax stamps were given to those willing to produce the hemp fibers. With that help, 400,000 acres of hemp were cultivated between 1942 and 1945. The last commercial hemp fields were planted in Wisconsin in 1957. Today, in the US, some states have legalized the use of marijuana and there are efforts to decriminalize it for the entire country, although this has not yet taken place.

Why is marijuana against the law? It grows naturally upon our planet. Doesn’t the idea of making nature against the law seem to you a bit . . . unnatural – Bill Hicks

I think people need to be educated to the fact that marijuana is not a drug. Marijuana is a flower. God put it here. – Willie Nelson

When I was a kid I inhaled frequently. That was the point. – Barack Obama

The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world. – Carl Sagan


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