Third Party & Independents Archives

The History of Cannabis Prohibition, 1937 - 1962, Part Three

For too long marijuana reform has gone stale because the public does not know the history of the lies perpetrated to make the drug illegal. Beginning in 1937, with the Marihuana Tax Act our nation’s war on the drug began. Since that time few have looked back to learn the facts. Without the facts it is hard for one to make an informed decision. Learn the facts involving marijuana law, what follows is part three in a series on the history of cannabis prohibition.

Despite Dr. Woodward of the AMA standing alone as the sole voice of dissent in the Congressional hearings on the Marihuana Tax Act, there was a significant amount of research done around the time of the legislations passage and shortly thereafter. Although Anslinger ignored this research, and the FBN openly discredited persons whose research was in contrast with the opinions of the bureau, many of the findings are very important as they should have been used to educate the legislature about the Marihuana Tax Act. Indeed some of this research was even done within the federal government.

In 1933 a study conducted by the United States Army on the physiological and psychological effects of cannabis smoking by US soldiers in the Canal Zone resulted in views directly in contrast with that of the FBN. The study concluded that cannabis smoking was quite harmless and did not result in maladjustment in the user (Grinspoon 19). Further criticism by a member of the army came in 1943 when Colonel J.M. Phalem, editor of the Military Surgeon published “The Marihuana Bugaboo”. In this writing the colonel dismisses the dangers put forth by the FBN stating “the smoking of the leaves, flowers, and seeds of cannabis sativa is not more harmful than the smoking of tobacco… the legislation in relation to marihuana was ill advised…” (Grinspoon 27).

These results by the US Army directly contrast with the views put forth by Mr. Anslinger, particularly in that the study showed no maladjustment to the user although Anslinger advised dealing with soldiers who use cannabis severely through court-martial. Despite these results by the army Anslinger conducted a campaign in February 1944 involving 3000 cannabis cases in or near military camps (McWilliams 97).

The results in 1933 by the US army are not isolated; in fact many other researchers conducted studies that resulted in similar findings. In 1934 Walter Bromberg reported his results of cannabis in the September printing of “The American Journal of Psychiatry”. Mr. Bromberg’s study found that cannabis was not the primary cause of crime, despite the claims of the FBN. The study showed results of analyzing 2216 convicted felons in New York City. The study found that of the 2216 involved zero were confirmed as addicted to cannabis and more importantly that none of the assault crimes were committed under its influence (Sloman 45).

This study is particularly troublesome for the bureau since they offered that such a great deal of the violent crime could be directly associated with cannabis. It also must be stated that the FBN under Anslinger did not feel compelled to show any such studies to the members of the Congressional committee during the tax act hearings and instead felt compelled to “wow” them with sensationalistic stories from the press. An earlier study by Paul Taylor in northeast Colorado resulted in figures similar to Bromberg’s, finding no mention of cannabis in criminal statistics from the period of 1925-1927 (Helmer 59).

The most conclusive study that disproved the views put forth by the bureau was conducted by the Mayor of New York City and was published in 1942. Dubbed the La Guardia report, after the mayor, the study disproved nearly every opinion used to pass the Marihuana Tax Act that was put forth by the bureau. The committee that instituted the study consisted of: three psychiatrists, two pharmacists, one public health expert, Commissioner of Health, Commissioner of Hospitals, and the Director of the Division of Psychiatry of the Department of Hospitals (Grinspoon 26).

When members of the committee visited “smoking pads” in Harlem they were surprised to see that “a boistering rowdy atmosphere did not prevail”, instead they saw persons rather relaxed, this of course contrary to the statements made by the FBN that cannabis smoking led to increased aggressiveness (McWilliams 103). The committee studied 77 prisoners in a hospital ward to see if the statements of increased violence and insanity caused by cannabis put forth by the FBN were truthful. The study found that the personality and behavioral traits of the individuals did not change when induced by cannabis (McWilliams 104).

Increasingly the committee found that the statements made by the FBN were based more on myth than on fact. Furthermore interviews were conducted with New York City police officers where it was found that there was no proof that major crimes were related to cannabis use (McWilliams 103). The final results of the study found that: cannabis did not lead to addiction, was not prevalent in children, was not the cause of crime, did not lead to aggressive or anti-social behavior and did not cause sexual excess (Grinspoon 26).

Although the La Guardia report was by far the most reliable study conducted to that point on cannabis, the study was dismissed by Anslinger and the FBN. Anslinger openly dismissed the report and its findings going as far as to attack the authors of the report. Anslinger had such a small tolerance for critics of the bureau, especially after such an important report as La Guardia had just been published, that he labeled critics of the bureau as “strange” and “dangerous” people (McWilliams 104).

The reason for Anslinger’s zero tolerance on anything criticizing the bureau was that he believed that anything that resembled education or exploring solutions other than his own would cause the public to become curious and brew potential new victims (King 71). It seems rather evident that opposing all public discussion over an issue that your agency is concerned with is ultimately concealing something, and that is just what Anslinger was doing.

Although there were several studies that disproved the notions of the FBN it would have been likely that there would have been a great deal more. This occurred because after the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act the FBN was the sole issuing authority to persons who wished to conduct studies on cannabis sativa. Needless to say many persons potential studies were ignored (King 82).

One such researcher that wished to disprove the notions of the bureau was Dr. Michael Ball of Warren, Pennsylvania. Dr. Ball responded to an article that was sanctioned by the FBN stating that cannabis was not responsible for the numerous societal downfalls that the bureau associated with it (McWilliams 60). Dr. Ball hoped to perform studies on human subjects so that conclusive evidence could be made on the effects of cannabis on humans. Despite Dr. Ball’s good intentions and scientific inquiry Anslinger refused to give any consideration to him or his ideas (McWilliams 61).

Top Marijuana and anti-Drug War Organizations:
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws:

Students for Sensible Drug Policy:

Educators for Sensible Drug Policy:

Drug Policy Alliance:

MAP: The Media Awareness Project:

Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform:

Works Cited:
Grinspoon, Lester. Marihuana Reconsidered. Oakland, CA: Quick American Archives, 1972.

Mcwilliams, John C. The Protectors: Harry J Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of
Narcotics 1930-1962. Newark, NJ: University of Deleware Press, 1990.

Sloman, Larry. Reefer Madness: Marijuana in America. NYC, NY: Grove Press Inc, 1979.

Helmer, John. Drugs and Minority Oppression. Sansbury Press, 1975.

King, Rufus. The Drug Hang-Up: America’s Fifty Year Folly. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C Thomas Publisher, 1974.

Posted by Richard Rhodes at May 31, 2006 10:17 PM
Comment #153234

Um, is all you’re going to post here the papers you did for college?

Posted by: womanmarine at June 1, 2006 12:04 AM
Comment #153237

I have posted mixes of academic and non-academic posts. But I have never been told we can’t post academic posts here. In fact, as many have noted, my academic posts are given great appreciation for the level of research.

Posted by: Richard Rhodes at June 1, 2006 12:14 AM
Comment #153238

Moreover, I believe people post comments such as womanmarine’s not because they have a problem with me posting a paper intended originally for a professor, but instead are trying to use this to discredit my argument without having to come up with an original counter argument.

Posted by: Richard Rhodes at June 1, 2006 12:16 AM
Comment #153240

I’m not trying to discredit anything, I didn’t read it. I was just wondering.

I would very much like to hear your opinions on the things facing us now.

You could post links to your papers for anyone interested.

Posted by: womanmarine at June 1, 2006 12:23 AM
Comment #153243

First I wasn’t necessarily saying you personally were trying to discredit it, I just meant that I have seen similar arguments used on blogs from people who do have that purpose.

Second: The Drug War and marijuana reform are both an issue facing us today (I am just choosing to look at them through a historical perspective). However to be sincere, you will not see the ‘hot’ issues too often from me. My posts will mainly focus on issues which are being overlooked by the media and the mainstream.

Posted by: Richard Rhodes at June 1, 2006 12:31 AM
Comment #153244

I look forward to any of your posts that are not research papers.


Posted by: womanmarine at June 1, 2006 12:37 AM
Comment #153657

I was just reading an article on NORML’s site and it was about using drug sniffing dogs to gain access to a wharehouse, for a bust.

While I know that dogs have extemely good scent tracking abilities, I have always found this to be a bit of what appears to be a phoney game. Does anyone keep statistics on false positive alerts? My problem is dogs cannot testify. A handler has to be trusted to “read” the dogs alert signals. I have met a few dog handlers before and found them to very gung-ho on their own dogs, while often dismissive of other dog handlers. Whenever I’ve watched these dogs work on TV, it’s seems a bit bit seance like to me, the way the handler determines what is a positve response from the dog. I suspect a bit charlatanry goes on here, yet I never hear of legal challenges to this.

Posted by: gergle at June 2, 2006 9:15 AM
Comment #153855

Thank you for writing these articles about this entirely gross misuse of our justice system and our tax dollars. There is a horrible lack of discussion and debate over this issue, especially when it comes to our politicians.

I just watched a short video today that illustrates (very well, I might add) why it is a crime that this issue is being ignored, and felt the need to share it here:
Change the Climate Video

It’s really sad when there is talk about cutting aid programs for the poor, while billions of dollars are being spent going after to people whose only crimes are eating too many potato chips and laughing a bit too hard at stupid jokes.

Posted by: Liberal Demon at June 2, 2006 6:55 PM
Comment #153944

BBurke: I am 23, I own Forty Ounces to Freedom, do you think I dont see a quote from the Sublime song “Smoke Two Joints” when it is right infront of me?

Posted by: Richard Rhodes at June 3, 2006 2:39 AM
Comment #153964

The war in Iraq. Gasoline prices. Tax cuts for the rich. Our dependency on foreign oil. A ballooning trade deficit. Porous borders. With all that is wrong, heinous, and digusting in this world, you post this self-serving crap so you can feel better about yourself for smoking pot? Grow up and join the real world, you loser.

Posted by: scoreggi at June 3, 2006 8:58 AM
Comment #154047

Richard a scholarly work,I am sure you got a good grade. I have become convinced however that the real reason that marijauna,as well as other drugs are illegal,is money.
Lots of money changes hands under tables throughout the country. The proposition could and has been made,that in a free society,all drugs should be legal. You should have the right to take them even if it would lead to your destruction.
Remove the profit motive,regulate and tax them,and you would have much less of a problem. This will never happen however.
While I am sympathetic towards medical usage of marijauna,and have no really strong opposition towards its recreational use by adults,I can’t imagine the social climate that would encourage its legalization.
I think that decriminalizing of small amounts is what we can expect in todays political climate.

Posted by: jblym at June 3, 2006 3:16 PM
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