The origin of the Anti-Medical Marihuana Laws

Cannabis is unique in one respect; unlike other botanical medicines which were allowed to die a natural death as other better medicines or treatments came along, Cannabis instead was cut down in its prime---literally speaking it was outlawed.

It seems that the doctors, who had been prescribing Cannabis for their patients for almost a hundred years, had all failed to notice one little thing.   That among other things, many of their patients were going around grabbing axes or meat cleavers or whatever and chopping innocent people to death.   Or at least that was what the newspaper headlines, spurred on by police and federal narcotics officials, would have had us believe.   Perhaps the following dictionary definition best describes the situation.
Marijuana: ----a subtle, crazing drug which is being surreptitiously sold in U.S. in the form of cigarettes. Narcotic officials named it "The Assassin of Youth," and state that it is as dangerous as a coiled rattlesnake. Its effects when smoked vary with different Individuals. It may make of its victim a philosopher, a joyous reveler, a mad insensate, or a fiendish murderer. Its purveyors whisper into the ears of Am. youth the wonders of a new cigarette with a real thrill, and without harmful effects. Students are lured to its use by promises of resultant keenness of mind, the easy solving of problems, an aid in exams. An addict was hanged in Baltimore in 1937 for a criminal assault on a ten-year-old girl. In Florida, a crazed youth killed his father, mother, two brothers, and a sister. In more than 30 cases of murder or degenerate sex crimes in 1937, marijuana proved to be a contributing cause. -- WEBSTER'S ENCYCLOPEDIC DICTIONARY of the ENGLISH LANGUAGE
And while many of us will find such a definition a bit amusing and of questionable accuracy, it should be noted that the wording was taken almost word for word from federal narcotics officials and their publications.


By the mid-1930s magazine articles were full of reports about the most bestial crimes being committed while under its deadly influence.   Such titles as "Marijuana - Sex-Crazing Drug Menace" or "Marihuana-the Evil Weed" become common place.   Religious leaders began screaming from the pulpits about the "Weed of Madness."   Even comic books were having their ace detectives opposing the deadly weed.

Smash_Comics Smash_Comics
Smash comics April 1940

This book (essentially an antique price guide) is not the proper forum for the subjects of sex and politics, and has endeavored to avoid them altogether.   However, the concept (propagated by our highest government officials) that Cannabis (now renamed Marihuana by them) was causing its users to go out and rape, kill and mutilate innocent people may indeed need some explanation.   Unfortunately, without writing an entire new book, I can offer the reader none.

The following chart shows some of the contradictions between: Cannabis, its historical medical uses and what the D.E.A. (America's ministry of public morals and narcotics control) was claiming.

Table: Listing but a few of the contradictions given during the Reefer Madness Campaign:
Historical Name -- Cannabis Now re-named --Marihuana
Used experimentally to treat opium drug addiction Now called a dangerous habit forming drug
Medially recognized as an anti-Spasmodic agent It use leads to uncontrollable muscle twitching
Medically recognized as a sedative Causes violent reactions, which often lead to acts violence and murder
Recognized and was used to treat Mental Illness Its use leads to and was the cause of insanity
Was medically used to treat nervous Tension Such a dangerous stimulant that its use causes young girls to jump out of windows
A harmless medical agent that not even quacks wanted to use A dangerous drug, as deadly as a coil rattle snake
Users were called Patients Users were now being called drug Addicts

The list of contradictions can very literally go on and on---seemingly with no apparent logic behind it.   And for students of disinformation, maybe it would be best not to look for logic where logic is not there to be found.

What is known is this: Starting in California (1909) one by one, states and local municipalities started outlawing the possession and cultivation of cannabis under various poison control laws.   Which of and by itself is a bit odd, as mentioned previously, not one person has ever died from its use.

LATimes But suffice it to say the first recorded medical Cannabis arrest took place in Los Angeles (July 6, 1919) and many more would follow.   Although there may have been some confusion, a look at magazine articles from the 1910s, 1920s seems to lump numerous poison plants including loco weed, cannabis and a new drug called "marihuana" all together as if they were all one plant.   Additionally, despite the fact that white people continued to use Cannabis for their medical needs at the time. Newspapers made it sound as if only Mexicans, Blacks, and (what was termed) whites of the lower classes, were making use of Cannabis -- now relabeled MARIHUANA (an obvious derogatory reference to Mexican Americans).

In any case, by the late 1930s the word Cannabis was seldom if ever used, and marihuana (a word suggesting something akin to a diseased brown skin Mexican) had been substituted by the nation's newspapers.   Some suggest that the lawmakers themselves were so confused by the wording that they did not even know they were outlawing a common medicine.   And as the horror stories spread, more and more states passed anti-Cannabis laws.

All this culminated in the passage of federal legislation known as the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.   On October 8, 1937 the first federal conviction occurred under the new law.   During the sentencing Judge J. Foster Symes, Denver Colorado, stated the following which shows best the mood of the era:

"I consider marihuana the worst of all narcotics---far worse than the use of morphine or cocaine.   Under its influence men become beasts…Marihuana destroys life itself.   I have no sympathy with those who sell this weed."
And while exceptions for the medical uses were made, high taxes and other forms of harassment made it prohibitively expensive to even cultivate the plant.   As one large botanical and pharmaceutical dealer wrote to the D.E.A.:
"I have decided to discontinue the collection and sale of the herb owing to the fact that it has been placed in the narcotic list by both State and Federal laws. I have no cannabis *** and have not made any collection this season as practically all of the manufactures and dealers whom I have done business with have decided to discontinue the use and sale of this herb." - J.T. Huffman, of Manito, Illinois
By Dec. 1937, a survey of Drugs containing Cannabis was compiled by the Bronx County Pharmaceutical Association and is as follows:
    (1) Cannabis; Cannabis seeds; Extract Cannabis
    (2) Fluid Extract Cannabis; Powder Extra Extract Cannabis; Tincture Cannabis
    (3) Cannabinon; Cannobene
    (4) Corn Collodium (Squibb); Corn Collodium P. R. B. I. (Pharmaceutical Recipe Book)
    (5) Collodium Salicvllcum Compound N. F. Cosadein (Parke Davis & Co.)
    (6) Elixir Chloral & Potassium Bromide Compound (as per National Formulary)
    (7) Elixir Bromides & Belledonna Compound (Eli Lilly)
    (8) Chloranodyne; Elixir Passiflora Compound
    (9) Cannabin Compound, Red; Cannabin Compound, Green
    (10) Allxttire Chloroform & Morphine Compound (per National Formulary---5th edition).
    (11) Tablets Chloranodyne; Tablets Chloranodyne half strength
    (12) Tablets Sedative Dr. Brown; Tablets Sedative Modified "A" (Eli Lilly)
    (13) Tablets Cannabin Compound (Stoddard)
    (14) Tablets Hvdrastine Compound (B. & W.)
    (15) Tablets Menovarian
    (16) Tablets Orchic Compound (National Drug Co.)
    (17) Tablets Gano-dyne
    (18) Cannabin Tannate (B. & W.) (Known as Hydrastina Comp. B. & W.)
    (19) Pill Neuralgic (Brown Sequard)
    (20) Colic Mixture Veterinary (Parke Davis & Co.)
    (21) Utroval (Piscidia Compound) (Parke Davis & Co.)
    (22) Syrup Tolu Compound (Eli Lilly)
    (23) Syrup Lobelia & Tolu Compound (Eli Lilly)
    (24) T.T. Cannabis 1/4 Gr.
    (25) Hypno Bromic Compound; Neurosine
    (26) Bromidia; Bromidonia Elixir (McNeil)
    (27) Mentholated Cough Balsam (P. D. Co:)
A very poor showing from a drug that only a few years before was as common as aspirin.   Obviously the Reefer Madness campaign had done its work.

In 1942, under heavy pressure, Cannabis was officially removed from both the U.S. Pharmacopoeia as well as the National Formulary.   And by the time (the late 1940s) when the following words were spoken even the memory of its medical uses had been forgotten.
"Opium or any of its derivatives *** have a therapeutic value. They bring consolation to the sick and dying; they make their last days on this earth comfortable.   But marihuana has no therapeutic value whatsoever.   It has been responsible for the commission of crimes of violence, of murder and of rape. * * * I don't say misuse of it. It has no value of any kind. " - Hon. William T. McCarthy; U. S. District Judge, Boston, Mass., 1949
The origin of the anti-medical marihuana laws (a.k.a. the reefer madness era), is a somewhat complex subject, way beyond the scope of this "Brief History of Cannabis."   For those interested in the subject, reference should be made to   [ ]   one of our sister museums which deals exclusively with the subject of Reefer Madness.