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The Addict and the Law
By Alfred R. Lindesmith
Washington Post, 1961
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.
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 practice.
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.
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.
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.
We know that marihuana:
1. Destroys will power, making a jellyfish of the user. He cannot say no.
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 it:
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. . . ."11
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 true? “12
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 crimes.”14
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
The gangster remarked: “Marihuana is the coming thing.”
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.
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 Bugaboo”:
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.
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 wrong.
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. . . .
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
Marihuana Arrests Federal and Local by States 1954 (25)
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
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.