Although most states had local laws prohibiting marijuana use and possession, it wasn’t until 1937 that the federal government passed the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act. Interestingly, the congressional hearings on marijuana prohibition lasted all of two hours (in direct contract to most congressional hearings on new laws which last for days and days). There were exactly three bodies of testimonies testifying at these hearings. The first was Commissioner Harry Anslinger, the newly named commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (who happened to be appointed by his uncle-in-law, Andrew Mellon, who was the Secretary of the United States Treasury).
Commissioner Anslinger testified on the government’s behalf. Not surprisingly he was working from a text which he had not written himself but which had been written for him by a New Orleans District Attorney. Reading directly from this text Commissioner Anslinger told the Congressmen at the hearings, "Marihuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death." That was the Commissioner’s brilliantly insightful government testimony to support the marijuana prohibition.FN9
The second body of testimony to testify at this congressional hearing were industrial spokesmen. The first of these spokesmen was, believe it or not, a man representing the rope industry. This industry representative testified that it was cheaper to import from the Far East the hemp needed to make ropes and therefore the United States no longer needed to grow any more hemp to make rope. (Interestingly, five years later, in 1942, the United States was cut off from its sources of hemp in the Far East and, since we needed a lot of hemp to outfit our ships with rope for World War II, the Federal Government went into the business of growing hemp on gigantic farms throughout the Midwest and the South.FN10)
The paint and varnish spokesmen didn’t seem to care either which way. The only industrial spokesperson who objected to the Marihuana Tax Act at all was the birdseed representative who sung the praises of hemp seeds for the birds coats. Based on this objection the birdseed industry got an exemption from the Marihuana Tax Act for "denatured seeds."
The third body of testimony were two representatives of the medical field. The first testimony came from a pharmacologist who claimed that he had injected the active ingredient in marihuana into the brains of 300 dogs, two of which died. When asked by the Congressmen if he choose dogs for the similarity of their reactions to that of humans the answer of the pharmacologist was, "I wouldn't know, I am not a dog psychologist." (Interestingly, the active ingredient in marijuana was first synthesized in a laboratory in Holland after World War II therefore it is unknown to this day what this pharmacologist injected into the dogs.)FN11
The second testimony on behalf of the medical field came from the Chief Counsel to the American Medical Association, Dr. William C. Woodward. Dr. Woodward was the hearing to testify at the request of the American Medical Association. His exact quote to the congressmen was, "The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marihuana is a dangerous drug." to which one of the Congressmen said, "Doctor, if you can't say something good about what we are trying to do, why don't you go home?" Another Congressman then said, "Doctor, if you haven't got something better to say than that, we are sick of hearing you."FN12 Remember, this testimony came from the Chief Counsel of the esteemed American Medical Association!
It should be no surprise that the bill passed.
The act did not itself criminalize the possession or usage of marijuana but instead levied a tax of approximately one dollar on anyone who dealt commercially in marijuana. The penalty provisions for violators of the proper procedures could result in a fine of up to $2000 and five years' imprisonment. The intended result (and indeed, the...
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