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The Addict and the Law
By Alfred R. Lindesmith
Washington Post, 1961
2 | 3
6 | 7
CHAPTER 8 THE MARIHUANA PROBLEM - MYTH OR REALITY?
The primary fact about marihuana which ought to be taken into account by legislators but is not, is that it is not a
habit forming drug, By this is meant that the regular use of marihuana does not produce tolerance, and its abrupt
cessation does not lead to withdrawal distress. As a consequence the problem of controlling or regulating its use is
sharply different from that presented by the genuine drugs of addiction, i.e., the opiates such as heroin and morphine
and their synthetic equivalents. Nevertheless, by federal legislation in 1951 and 1956, the increased penalties
imposed on opiate users and peddlers were also applied to the users and distributors of marihuana. This extension
was made casually with little discussion or investigation and with no apparent appreciation that the use of marihuana
is something almost totally different from the use of heroin.
EFFECTS OF SMOKING MARIHUANA
Marihuana is ordinarily used in this country by smoking. The effects it produces are experienced as exhilaration, loss
of inhibitions, a changed sense of time, and other psychological effects which have sometimes been described and
extravagantly praised by those who have experienced them. These effects are in a general way comparable to the
stimulating effects produced by alcohol in the sense that they are intoxicating, although they differ qualitatively from those of alcohol.
Intrinsically, however, marihuana is less dangerous and less harmful to the human body than is alcohol. It is, for
example, not habit forming, whereas alcohol is. While the alcoholic commonly substitutes alcohol for food,
sharply stimulates the appetite. Chronic alcoholism is associated with various psychotic conditions and diseases
such as Korsakoffs psychosis and cirrhosis of the liver. In comparison, the smoking of marihuana produces relatively
trivial physical effects, although it does appear that immoderate use of the more concentrated products of the hemp
plant also produce deleterious bodily effects. Such effects, however, are not conspicuous among American reefer
smokers, probably because of the relatively small quantities of the essential drug that are ingested from the poor
quality marihuana ordinarily consumed in this country. The American marihuana smoker who inadvertently uses too
much when he switches, let us say, to the more potent ganja plant raised in Mexico and the West Indies is likely to
experience nothing more alarming than going to sleep and waking up hungry.
USE OF MARIHUANA IN OTHER COUNTRIES
Marihuana consists of the dried and crumbled stems, leaves, and seed pods of a plant known as Indian hemp or
Cannabis sativa. These materials are often mixed with tobacco and in the United -States are ordinarily smoked. In
many other parts of the world 2 special type of hemp plant of unusual potency, known commonly as ganja, is used in
a similar manner or it may be brewed and drunk as ganja tea - a common practice in the West Indies, where this
drink is prized for its alleged therapeutic efficacy. In India the uncultivated hemp plant is smoked as marihuana is here
and is also drunk. It is known there as bhang. The essential drug of the hemp plant is cannabis indica or cannabinol
and it, of course, can be taken in this form. This essential drug is derived primarily from the resin of the female hemp
plant. This concentrated hemp resin is commonly known as hashish and is immensely more powerful than either.
ganja or marihuana. The comparison of hashish and marihuana is like that between pure alcohol and beer. Lurid
accounts of the psychological effects and dangers of hemp are often based upon observations made by and upon
hashish users. The mixture smoked as marihuana ordinarily contains very small quantities of the drug and its effects
are correspondingly less spectacular, less dangerous, and less harmful than those of hashish.'
The medical use of cannabis indica has declined in Western medicine but it is still extensively used in the Ayurvedic
and Unani systems of indigenous medicine in India. In various parts of the world folk beliefs attribute great therapeutic
and even divine virtues to the drug. In Jamaica it is known to many persons of the lower classes as "the wisdom
weed" and it is alleged that it stimulates good qualities in the person who uses it and brings him closer to God. The
use of ganja there is supported by references to various Biblical passages which recommend the "herbs of the field."
The same passages, incidentally, are taken by the devotees of peyote (a cactus containing mescaline) to refer to that
plant. A back-to Africa protest cult in Jamaica, known as the Ras Tafari, has adopted ganja as a symbol of the movement and its
members sometimes refer to themselves as the "herb men." In defiance of the Government, members of this cult, and
others who are simply impressed by the fact that ganja is a more profitable crop than any other, grow and harvest the
plant and use some of it themselves. Ganja tea is regarded as a prime ameliorative agent in the folk treatment of
many diseases including asthma, tuberculosis, venereal disease, and many others, especially all types of respiratory ailments. Ganja cigarettes are extensively used by the workers in
the sugar cane fields and some foremen of the sugar producing companies state that, were it not for ganja, they
would have difficulty finding workingmen to harvest their crops.2
On the book jacket of Professor Robert P. Walton's 1938 book entitled, Marihuana America's New Drug Problem,
Frederick T. Merrill and Mr. Anslinger are quoted. The latter observed, "It is a new peril-in some ways the worst we
have met, and it concerns us all." Merrill was even more emphatic and alarmed: "If the abuse of this narcotic drug is
not stamped out at once, the cost in crime waves, wasted human lives, and insanity will be enormous." Quoting
Walton, Merrill notes that marihuana often produces "uncontrollable irritability and violent rages, which in most
advanced forms cause assault and murder." He continues: "Amnesia often occurs, and the mania is frequently so
acute that the heavy smoker becomes temporarily insane. Most authorities agree that permanent insanity can result
from continual over-indulgence." Marihuana has had no noticeable effect in increasing the population of our mental
institutions and whatever crimes of violence it may instigate are as nothing when compared to those that are linked
with the use of alcohol.
Norman Taylor notes that the hemp plant, called Cannabis sativa by Linnaeus in the eighteenth century probably originated in Central Asia or in China, where it was described in a book on pharmacy
written by one Shen Nung nearly three thousand years before the birth of Christ.3 The euphoric potential of the 'resinous female
plant was known then and troubled Chinese moralists, who called it the "Liberator of Sin." Nung, however. recommended the medicine from this plant for "female weakness, gout, rheumatism, malaria,
beri-beri, constipation and absent-mindedness." From China the use of hemp spread westward to India, to the Middle East, and
along both sides of the Mediterranean, and ultimately reached Europe and the Western hemisphere. Nowhere has its use been eradicated, even after thousands of years of effort in
some instances. Recent publications of the United Nations comment on the apparent continued spread of the
The evil reputation of hemp was enhanced when, during the eleventh century, it became linked with a cult headed by
one Hasan which initiated a new political tactic of secret assassination to cleanse the Moslem world of false
prophets. Hasan's full name was Hashishin and he was called the Old Man of the Mountain. The terms hashish and
assassin are linked with the name of Hasan and his cult.
USE BY LOWER CLASSES
It is possible that the bad reputation of marihuana and other forms of this drug reflects in part the bias of upper
classes against an indulgence of the lower strata. Since hemp grows luxuriantly without cultivation in many parts of
the world, it is available to many of its devotees at extremely low cost-in India, for example, at about one-twentieth the
price of good quality whiskey in 1894, when the English carried out an extensive inquiry into the subject.'
Denunciations of the weed come characteristically from persons of those classes which prefer whiskey, rum, gin, and
other alcoholic beverages and who do not themselves use marihuana. Such persons, overlooking the well-known
effects of alcohol, commonly deplore the effects of hemp upon the lower classes and often believe that it produces
murder, rape, violence, and insanity.
Despite the prevalence of these beliefs among the drinkers of rum and whiskey and the upper classes generally,
impartial investigations invariably have shown no such results. The moderate use of hemp, according to the Indian
Hemp Drug Commission in 1894, does not produce significant mental or moral injuries, does not lead to disease, nor
does it necessarily or even usually lead to excess any more than alcohol does. Excess, the Commission said, is
confined to the idle and dissipated.5 Many years later in New York City similar conclusions were stated on the basis of
experimental study and from an examination of violent crimes committed in that city over a period of years.6
In Jamaica, where the lower classes regard the drug with favor, persons of high social status commonly assert that ganja is a potent cause of much of the personal violence which is
relatively frequent there among the working classes. This is staunchly denied by the
ganja users, who contend that the effects are usually in the opposite direction but admit that ganja May bring out the
evil in some persons who are already evil. Police examination of violent crimes in Jamaica suggest that ganja has little connection With them and that they arise rather from sexual jealousy
and the highly informal manner in which sexual matters are arranged on that island among the simpler people of the
MARIHUANA AND ALCOHOL
In general, virtually all of the charges that are made against marihuana tend to shrink or dissolve entirely when they
are closely examined by impartial investigators. The present tendency of the rank-and-file policeman, despite the enormous penalties attached to handling marihuana, is to regard it as a minor
problem hardly deserving serious attention except for those who handle the weed in large amounts for mercenary
purposes or who promote its use among the uninitiated.
Ironically, the accusations that are leveled at marihuana are all applicable to alcohol, as has been demonstrated by
innumerable investigations. These studies indicate that much murder, rape, and homicide is committed by persons under the
influence. The special psychoses and ailments of alcoholics are numerous and well delineated in countless scientific and literary
productions, The menace of the drinking driver of automobiles is well understood by all
and is more or less accepted as one of the inevitable hazards of fife in the modern world. It is well known, too, that
the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages advertise their products and seek to enlarge their markets and that the use
of alcohol spreads from those who already have the practice to those who do not- Why, then, so much excitement
about marihuana It is said that marihuana sometimes causes girls and women to lose their virtue and innocence, but
the role of alcohol in this respect is infinitely more important. It seems inconsistent, therefore, that while the decision
to drink or not to drink is viewed as a personal moral decision, the use Of marihuana should be viewed as a heinous
crime subject to long prison sentences.
Among those who have never used hemp or seen it used by others the belief is often found that marihuana acts as a
sexual stimulant or aphrodisiac. Actually its effects, like those of opiates, are in exactly the opposite direction,
tending to cause the user to lose interest in the opposite sex. Users more frequently than not report the absence of
ideas of sex or say that Venus herself could not tempt them when they are under the influence of this drug.
THE EFFECTS OF ANTI-MARIHUANA LEGISLATION
In 1937 the Congress passed a Marihuana Tax Act, modeled after the Harrison Act. It was designed to curb the use
of marihuana by the use of the federal police power, and like the Harrison Act imposed penalties upon both buyers
and sellers. This Act was the result of a publicity campaign staged by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics under Mr.
Anslinger's direction and leadership. The bill was passed with little discussion after brief hearings on the ground that
marihuana was a highly dangerous drug inciting its users to commit crimes of violence and often leading to insanity
The beliefs concerning marihuana which led to this legislation may be represented in a pure and extreme form by
turning to the writing of a hyperactive reformer and alarmist of the period, Earle
Albert Rowell 8 He claimed in 1939 that he had spent fourteen years campaigning against this weed, delivering more
than four thousand lectures in forty states and personally pulling up and destroying many flourishing hemp fields. Mr..
Rowell's zealous opposition to marihuana was only slightly less intense than his disapproval of
alcohol and tobacco. The use of tobacco, he correctly observed, invariably precedes the smoking of the deadly reefer.
Mr. Rowell came into disfavor with the Bureau of Narcotics around 1939 and this agency spent considerable energy and
manpower in an attempt to silence and discredit him. This may have been because of Mr. Rowell's view that opiate addiction is a disease or
perhaps because of his repeated allegations that the police were not sufficiently
diligent in destroying marihuana.
Mr. Rowell summarized the effects of marihuana as follows:
We know that marihuana:
1. Destroys will power, making a jellyfish of the user. He cannot say no.
2. Eliminates the line between right and wrong, and substitutes one's own warped desires or the base suggestions of
others as the standard of right.
3. Above all, causes crime; fills the victim with an irrepressible urge to violence.
4. Incites to revolting immoralities, including rape and murder.
5. Causes many accidents both industrial and automobile.
6. Ruins careers forever.
7. Causes insanity as its speciality.
8. Either in self-defense or as a means of revenue, users make smokers of others, thus perpetuating evil. [Italics in
In 1939 when Rowell published his book, marihuana was regarded as a relatively new drug menace in the United
States. Mr. Rowell thought that he had already detected an increase of the population of mental hospitals because of
Asylums and mental hospitals in this country are beginning to see and feel the influence of marihuana, and are
awaking to its deleterious effects on the brain. As we traveled through the various states, superintendents
of these institutions told us of cases of insanity resulting from marihuana.10
"The baleful mental effects of marihuana," he said, "begin soon after the first reefer is smoked. . .
When Mr. Anslinger appeared before the Senate subcommittee which was investigating the illicit drug traffic in 1955
under the guidance of Senator Price Daniel, there were only 2 few offhand discussions of marihuana. Mr. Anslinger
observed that the Bureau in its national survey was "trying to keep away from the marihuana addict, because he is
not 2 true addict." The real problem, he said, was the heroin addict. Senator Daniel thereupon remarked:
"Now, do I understand it from you that, while we are discussing marihuana, the real danger there is that the use of
marihuana leads many people eventually to the use of heroin, and the drugs that do cause complete addiction; is that
Mr. Anslinger agreed:
"That is the great problem and our great concern about the use of marihuana that eventually if used over a long period,
it does lead to heroin addiction."13
Senators 'Welker and Daniel pursued the subject, and Mr. Anslinger, when prompted, agreed that Marihuana was
dangerous. Senator Welker finally asked this question:
"Is it or is it not a fact that the marihuana user has been responsible for many of our most sadistic, terrible crimes in
this nation, such as sex slayings, sadistic slayings, and matters of that kind?"
Mr. Anslinger hedged:
"There have been instances of that, Senator. We have had some rather tragic occurrences by users of marihuana. It does not follow that all crime can be traced to marihuana. There have
been many brutal crimes traced to marihuana, but I would not say that it is a controlling factor in the commission of
Eighteen years earlier, in 1937, the year in which the federal anti marihuana law was passed, Mr. Anslinger had
presented a very different picture of marihuana. Prior to 1937 Mr. Anslinger and the Bureau of Narcotics had
spearheaded a propaganda campaign against marihuana on the ground that it produced an immense amount of violent crime such as rape, mayhem, and
murder, and that many traffic accidents could be attributed to it. During the 1937 hearings before a House subcommittee, Representative John Dingell of Michigan asked Mr. Anslinger: I am just
wondering whether the marihuana addict graduates into a heroin, an opium, or a cocaine user."
Mr. Anslinger replied: "No, sir; I have not-heard of a case of that kind. I think it is an entirely different class. The marihuana addict does not go in that direction. "15
A few months later in the same year, before a Senate subcommittee which was considering the antimarihuana law
which the Bureau of Narcotics had asked for, Mr. Anslinger commented-. "There is an entirely new class of people
using marihuana. The opium user -is around 3 5 to 40 years old. These users are 20 years old and know nothing of
heroin or morphine."16
The theme stated by the Commissioner of Narcotics in 1955, that the main threat in marihuana is that it leads to the
use of heroin, is now ordinarily cited as the principal justification for applying to it the same severe penalties that are
applied in the case of heroin. Reformer Rowell in 1939 was more logical and consistent than either the Senators or
the Commissioner when he emphasized that cigarette smoking invariably preceded reefer smoking. Mr. Rowell told of
a shrewd gangster whom he engaged in what now appears as a prophetic discussion of the prospects of the dope
The gangster remarked: "Marihuana is the coming thing."
"But," I protested in surprise, "marihuana is not a habit-forming drug like morphine or heroin; and, besides, it's too
cheap to bother with."
He laughed. "You don't understand. Laws are being passed now by various States against it, and soon Uncle Sam will Put 2 ban on it. The price will then go up, and that will make it
profitable for us to handle."
The gangster, according to Mr. Rowell, then commented on the shrewd manner in which the tobacco companies had
popularized cigarettes among the soldiers of the First World War and on the enormous increase in cigarette
consumption by young persons. He grew eloquent: "Every cigarette smoker is a prospect for the dope ring via the
marihuana road. Millions of boys and girls now smoke. Think of the unlimited new market!"
Mr. Rowell got the idea and commented as follows to his readers: "Slowly, insidiously, for over three hundred years,
Lady Nicotine was setting the stage for a grand climax. The long years of tobacco using were but an introduction and
training for marihuana use. Tobacco. which was first smoked in a pipe, then as a cigar, and at last as a cigarette,
demanded more and more of itself until its supposed pleasures palled, and some of the tobacco victims looked about
for something stronger. Tobacco was no longer potent enough."
Mr. Rowell was not optimistic about the future: "Marihuana will continue to be a problem for both police and educators, be
cause it is so easy to grow, to manufacture, and to peddle, and is such a quick source of easy money The plant can be grown any
where; it can be harvested secretly prepared in twenty-four hours without a penny of investment for equipment; and every cigarette
user is a prospect. As our laws are enforced and the weed becomes scarcer, the price will rise, and greater profit accrue to venture
some and successful peddlers. Whereas now it is usually peddled by lone wolves, as soon as the weed becomes scarcer and the price rises, organized crime will step in and establish a monopoly.""
While Mr. Rowell, in the manner of reforming alarmists, exaggerated the evil with which he was preoccupied, the
above appraisal of the effects of the Marihuana Tax Act has been reasonably well home out by subsequent events.
Certainly it was a more realistic assessment of the law's effects than any that were made by the legislators who passed the bill or by the officials
who promoted it. Mr. Rowell was also completely right in pointing out that virtually every marihuana smoker graduated
to this practice from cigarette smoking. His gangster informant was correct in his calculation that state and federal
laws prohibiting marihuana would make the weed more expensive and more profitable for peddlers to handle, and
21SO correctly foresaw that with the same merchants handling both marihuana and heroin it would become a simple
matter for marihuana users to switch from the less to the more dangerous drug, as they have done.
In the United States during the nineteenth century, and the early decades of the twentieth, addiction to opiates
frequently developed from the abuse of alcohol. This still occurs to some extent and is frequently reported from other parts of
the world, for morphine provides a potent means of relieving the alcoholic hangover. An American doctor once
advocated as a cure of alcoholism that alcohol addicts be deliberately addicted to morphine, arguing with
considerable plausibility that of the two habits the latter was obviously the lesser evil.19 Moreover, he practiced what
he preached and recommended his technique with considerable enthusiasm for use by others.
The truth of the matter, of course, is that very few cigarette smokers go on to marihuana, very few marihuana users go
on to heroin, and very few alcohol users graduate to the use of heroin. Since some barbiturate and amphetamine
users progress to heroin it should be added that it is also only a very small proportion who do. If all of these
substances were to be prohibited because they are sometimes involved in the progression toward heroin addiction
there is little doubt that the illicit traffic in marihuana and heroin would be expanded to include the other offending
substances and that the movement from less to more serious habits would be greatly facilitated.
No one, of course, recommends the use of marihuana nor does anyone deny that there are evil effects and
consequences associated With using it. The fact that the use of marihuana is outlawed, for example, means that it is
often obtained through association with unsavory types, often used in an underworld environment, and the user takes
the risk of criminal prosecution. It is also undeniable that marihuana intoxication may sometimes lead to automobile
accidents and to irresponsible or criminal acts. The controversy with respect to marihuana is solely concerning the
relative prevalence or frequency of such results in comparison to similar consequences following from the use of
alcoholic beverages. All empirical investigations indicate that alcohol constitutes a far greater social danger than does
LAGUARDIA'S COMMITTEE ON MARIHUANA
Mayor LaGuardia's Committee on Marihuana, on the basis of a close examination of the matter in New York City,
stressed the relative triviality of the effects of marihuana use in a report published in 1945.20 In the July 1943 issue of
the Military Surgeon, the editor, Colonel J. M. Phalen, commented as follows in an editorial on "The Marihuana
The smoking of the leaves, flowers and seeds of Cannabis sativa is no more harmful than the smoking of tobacco or
mullein or sumac leaves. ... The legislation in relation to marihuana was ill-advised ... it branded as a menace and a
crime a matter of trivial importance .... It is hoped that no witch hunt will be instituted in the military service over a
problem that does not exist.21
Similar statements have been made by many other competent investigators and observers.
On the other hand, as has been pointed out, a sharply divergent view has been presented by law enforcement
officials, particularly by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and also by many individual writers. The sharp divergence of views among the
scientifically oriented evidently depends upon the manner in which the research is done. Investigators who rely on the
opinions of high echelon officials, who have no direct acquaintance with the use of marihuana and who base their
opinions on anecdotes rather than actual statistical data, usually reach the conclusion that marihuana is a highly
dangerous drug which produces much violent crime and insanity. These conclusions, as we have suggested, may be
a reflection of upper-class hostility toward an unfamiliar lower-class indulgence. More critical and skeptical
investigators, who look for basic statistical evidence, invariably fail to find it and end up writing debunking articles for
which they are roundly abused by the moralists.
It is often felt that, even if the dangers of marihuana are exaggerated, these exaggerations and misstatements should
be allowed to stand so that they may frighten adolescents away from the drug. The implication that adolescents are
influenced to any appreciable degree by articles appearing in scientific journals is probably absurd. Those who use
marihuana probably come to do so on the basis of personal associations and direct observations of their own.
The deliberate circulation of false information is self-defeating in that the adventurous, experimentally inclined youth
can quickly discover for himself, by trying the weed or talking to those who have smoked it, that much of the officially
circulated view is false. He is then prepared to believe that everything he has been told about narcotics is equally
When Mayor LaGuardia's Committee on Marihuana made its report, it was strongly attacked by those committed to a
belief in the marihuana menace. The Journal of the American Medical Association in 1943 published a letter from Mr.
Anslinger in which he criticized an article by Drs. Allentuck and Bowman on findings derived from the New York study
in which they had participated.22 There were rumors that the New York marihuana
study was to be suppressed, but after considerable delay,
it was ultimately released in 1945. On April 28, 1945, the Journal of the American Medical Association editorially
assailed the report, using language and arguments of a type not ordinarily found in learned journals:
For many years medical scientists have considered cannabis 2 dangerous drug. Nevertheless, a book called
"Marihuana Problems" by the New York City Mayor's Committee on Marihuana submits an analysis by seventeen
doctors of tests on 77 prisoners and, on this narrow and thoroughly unscientific foundation, draws sweeping and
inadequate conclusions which minimize the harmfulness of marihuana. Already the book has done harm. One
investigator has described some tearful parents who brought their 16 year old son to a physician after he had been
detected in the act of smoking marihuana. A noticeable mental deterioration had been evident for some time even to
their lay minds. The boy said he had read an account of the LaGuardia Committee report and that this was his
justification for using marihuana. He read in Down Beat, a musical journal, an analysis of this report under the caption
"Light Up, Gates, Report Finds Tea a Good Kick."
A criminal lawyer for marihuana drug peddlers has already used the LaGuardia report as 2 basis to have defendants
set free by the court. . . .
The book states unqualifiedly to the public that the use of this narcotic does not lead to physical, mental or moral
degeneration and that permanent deleterious effects from its continued use were not observed on 77 prisoners. This
statement has already done great damage to the cause of law enforcement. Public officials will do well to disregard
this unscientific, uncritical study, and continue to regard marihuana as a menace wherever it is purveyed.23
Despite the fact that this editorial continues to be cited and reproduced to discredit the New York study, the
conclusions of the report enjoy considerable status and are undoubtedly far closer to the realities of the situation than
is the view represented by the A.M.A_ editorial. Indeed, if one judges the law enforcement agencies by their actions rather than their words, it appears that even the police, to a considerable extent, have swung
over to the viewpoint of the Mayor's Committee.
After 1951 the budget and field force of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics were substantially enlarged. Nevertheless, the number of marihuana arrests has steadily declined and by I
960 it was close to the vanishing point, with only 169 such cases.. In previous years the numbers of federal
marihuana violations were reported as follows. 24
Of the 169 federal marihuana violations reported in 1960, 88 ocurred in California, 16 in Maryland, and 3 in Kentucky. No other state had as many as ten, and no violations were
reported from 28 states. We have already noted that the Bureau does not bother to
count marihuana users in its national survey of addiction and does not regard marihuana as an addicting drug. The
above figures on enforcement suggest that, at the federal level at least, the marihuana laws are being largely ignored
since it is not claimed that the use of marihuana is diminishing.
Statistics on marihuana prosecutions as such are extremely difficult to obtain and data that are available are very
unreliable and incomplete. The Federal Narcotics Bureau presented to the Daniel Subcommittee a summary of
marihuana prosecutions for the year 1954, giving both federal and nonfederal cases. It is not claimed that the latter
are complete; they are merely figures from some of the main cities in the indicated states.
Marihuana Arrests Federal and Local by States 1954 (25)
|District of Colombia
From this table it will be seen that 3,263 of the total Of 3,918 arrests were made in the six states of California, Texas,
Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Louisiana. These states are, in one way or another, centers of the marihuana traffic. High arrest rates in California, Texas, and Louisiana no doubt arise from
the fact that considerable quantities of marihuana are smuggled into the country there from Mexico and the Caribbean
area. The rates in Illinois, Michigan, and New York reflect mainly police activity in the three large cities of Detroit,
Chicago, and New York, all of them narcotics distribution centers. Heroin arrests are also highest in the states of
California, New York, Illinois, and Michigan, while Texas and Louisiana are farther down on the list.
The penalty provisions applicable to marihuana users under state and federal law are about the same as those applied to heroin
users. These penalties are entirely disproportionate to the seriousness of the offending behavior and lead to gross injustice and undesirable
social consequences. For example, it is well known that many Jazz musicians and other generally inoffensive persons use or have used
marihuana. To send these persons to jail is absurd and harmful and serves no conceivable useful purpose. The moderate or occasional
marihuana user is not a significant social menace. Jails and prisons, chronically overcrowded, should be used for those who present
a genuine threat to life and property. The absurdity is compounded
when an occasional judge, ignorant of the nature of marihuana, sends a marihuana user to prison to cure him of his nonexistent
addiction. The writer was once in court when a middle-aged Negro defendant appeared before the judge charged with having
used and had in his possession one marihuana cigarette during the noon hour at the place where he had
worked for a number of years. This man had no previous criminal record and this fact was stated
before the court. Nevertheless, a two-year sentence was imposed to "dry up his habit."
The President's Advisory Commission which reported on narcotic and drug abuse in 1963 took cognizance of the
relatively trivial nature of the marihuana evil by suggesting that all mandatory sentences be eliminated for crimes involving it and that judges be granted full discretionary power in dealing with
offenders.26 These suggestions are excessively timid and not entirely logical, for there is no good reason why a mere
user of marihuana should be subjected to 2 jail sentence at all. The marihuana user probably ought to be dealt with
by the law along the same lines that are used with persons who drink alcohol.
If it is deemed in the public interest to punish smokers of marihuana, such punishments should ordinarily consist of
fines only, up to some maximum of perhaps $500.00, depending upon the offense and the defendant's ability to pay.
These fines might be scaled down or eliminated entirely for persons who provided information concerning their source
of supply. Police efforts should be focused primarily on the traffic rather than on the user. Persons driving automobiles
under the influence of the drug might be fined and deprived of their driving licenses for a period of time. Crimes which
could be shown to the satisfaction of a court of law to be linked with the use of marihuana ought to be dealt with
about the way that crimes arising from the use of alcohol are handled.
Laws such as this, with penalties of -a reasonable nature, would probably be more effective than those now in effect
because they would be more enforceable and more in accord with the nature of the problem being dealt with. They
would have the effect of reducing the discrepancy that now exists between the laws as written and the 12WS as they
are actually enforced. A more matter-of-fact and realistic handling of the marihuana problem would also probably
reduce the aura of sensationalism which now surrounds the subject and diminish the illicit glamor which is now
attached to the hemp plant.
It is argued by some that the marihuana industry should be brought under control by legalization, taxation, licensing,
and other devices like those used to control alcohol-and to exploit it as a source of revenue. Advocates of this view might well argue that there should be no unfair discrimination among
vices; that if the greater evil of alcohol use is legal, the lesser one of marihuana smoking should be so as well. Since
the smoking of marihuana will undoubtedly continue regardless of legislation against it, it can also be argued that it
would be better to accept the inevitable than to wage war for a lost cause.
In opposition to this extremely permissive position, the more conservative reformer can call attention to the fact that,
outside of a few Asian and African countries, the use of this substance is everywhere disapproved of and subject to
legal restrictions. It is possible that legal sanctions exercise some deterrent effect and that without them the use of
this drug might spread even more rapidly and assume more virulent forms. Should the use of marihuana become
anywhere nearly as widespread as that of alcohol it might be too late to talk of effective restrictions since the users
would command too many votes. A legal marihuana or ganja industry which advertised its product and sought to
improve it through research and experimentation would be 2 distinct embarrassment to the nation as a whole as well
as being a direct economic threat to the alcoholic beverage industries and possibly to the tobacco industry. A final
and decisive argument seems to be that public opinion is not likely in the foreseeable future to accept indulgence in
marihuana a as an equivalent of, or substitute for, indulgence in alcohol.
The long history of the use of marihuana, the spread of the practice throughout the world in the face of determined and
sometimes fanatical opposition, and the persistence of the practice once it is established-all suggest that the
smoking of marihuana will continue in the United States for some time to come. The practical question seems to be
one of minimizing and controlling the practice while avoiding the extreme tactics of prohibitionists. A comprehensive, impartial public inquiry, into the matter, based on the assumption that marihuana is not the same as heroin,
might help to bring about a more sober and rational approach to an indulgence which merits some concern but which
is far less serious than is presently suggested by the harsh inflexibility of current laws.
1. For general discussions of mariht~ana see: Robert P. Walton, Marihuana: America's New Drug Problem
(Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1938). and Norman Taylor, Flight from Reality (New York:
Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1949).
2. From observations and interviews with Jamaicans by the writer during a visit to that island.
3. N. Taylor, Flight from Reality, p. 27.
4. Report of the Indian Hemp Drug Commission (7 vOls.; Simla, India, 1894), cited by N.
Tavlor, Flight from Reality, P34.
5. N. Taylor, Flight from Reality, pp. 34-35
6. The Marihuana Problem in the City of New Yoik: Sociological, Medical, Psychological and Pharmacological
Studies by the Mayor's Committee on Marihuana, George B. Wallace, Chairman (Lancaster, Pa.; Jaques Carrell
7. See Taxation of Marihuana. Hearings before the Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives,
75th Cong., ist sess., April and May, 1937 (hereafter called House Marihuana Hearings, 1937); and Taxation of
Marihuana: Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Finance, U.S. Senate, 75th Cong., ist
H.R. 69o6 (hereafter called Senate Marihuana Hearings, 1937).
8. Earle Albert Rowell and Robert Rowell, On the Trail of Maribuana, the Weed of Madness (Mountain View, Cal.;
Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1939). See also Earle Albert Rowell, Dope: Adventures of David Dare
(Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Publishing Association, 1937)
9. E. A. Rowell and R. Rowell, On the Trail Of Marihuana, P- 33
10. Ibid., p. 5 x.
I I. Ibid.
12. Daniel Subconmiittee Hearings, Part 5, 1955, P. 16. .. . 13- Ibid.
14. Ibid., p. 18
15- House Marihuana Hearings, 1937, p- 24.
16. Senate Marihuana Hearings, 1937, PP. 14-15.
17- E. A. Rowell and R. Rowell, On the Trail of Marihuana, pp. 69~74
18. Ibid., pp. 88-89.
19. J. R. Black, "Advantages of Substituting the Morphia Habit for the Incurably Alcoholic," Cincinnati Lancet-Clinic,
XXII, ns. (ing),
Part 1, 537-41
2o. The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York.
2 1. Cited by N. Taylor, Flight from Reality, P. 36.
22. J.A.M.A., 12 1, NO, 3 (Jan. z6, 1943), 211-13
23. I.A.M.A., 127, No. 17 (April 28, 1945), ii2q,
24. From the annual reports of the Bureau of Narcotics for the years indicated. In 1962 the number of marihuana
cases was 242. (Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs, 1962, p. 62.)
25. Daniel Subcommittee Hearings, 1955, PP- z67-71, exhibit 7. Note the unexplained discrepancy between the
federal total given here and that of the preceding citation.
26. Final Report: The President's Advisory Commission on Narcotic and Drug Abuse, P- 42
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