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Marijuana Prohibition: Unraveling the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937

In Part 1 of our series on marijuana prohibition, we delved into the key figures, Harry Anslinger and William Randolph Hearst, who contributed significantly to the demonization of marijuana in the United States. In this installment, we continue the series by examining the pivotal Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and the circumstances that led to its enactment.

The Great Depression and Anti-Immigrant Sentiment

During the 1930s, the United States grappled with soaring unemployment rates caused by the Great Depression. This economic turmoil coincided with a rising anti-immigrant sentiment, mainly targeting Mexican immigrants. It was during the aftermath of the 1910 Mexican Revolution that recreational marijuana found its way to the U.S., bringing with it the seeds of prejudice and unwarranted fear.

During this period, we have witnessed the emergence of anti-marijuana research that linked the drug to violence, crime, and social deviance. These unfounded claims fueled an extensive propaganda campaign against marijuana, epitomized by the notorious film “Reefer Madness,” directed by Louis Gasnier.

Harry Anslinger’s Propaganda Campaign

Harry Anslinger, who had ascended to the position of director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, spearheaded the campaign against marijuana. Anslinger dedicated years to amassing dubious “evidence” of marijuana’s dangers. His efforts included exploiting articles written by his ally, William Randolph Hearst, which depicted gruesome scenarios involving ax murderers and their alleged marijuana use.

In 1937, Anslinger presented his collected data to Congress, where he encountered opposition from Dr. William C. Woodward of the American Medical Association (AMA). Woodward challenged Anslinger’s manipulation of previous AMA statements to misrepresent the association’s support for his views (which it did not endorse). Moreover, Woodward criticized Anslinger’s use of the term “marijuana” in the bill’s name as a fear-mongering tactic. At the time, many Americans were unaware that marijuana and cannabis/hemp were the same plant and that cannabis had numerous practical uses. Woodward methodically discredited the lack of credible evidence from reputable organizations demonstrating any significant danger posed by marijuana beyond the potential for addiction. It was, essentially, built on hearsay.

The Marihuana Tax Act’s Enactment

Despite Woodward’s efforts, Congress invoked William Randolph Hearst’s articles to validate Anslinger’s claims. The prevailing sentiment was: “If it’s in the press, it must be a significant problem. Everything in the newspaper must be true.” While not a direct quote, this sentiment captured the essence of the decision.

As the bill moved to the House floor, it was swiftly signed into law after a committee member informed the Speaker of the House that an AMA doctor had endorsed the bill entirely. Thus, the federal ban on marijuana became a reality, underpinned by a series of deliberate falsehoods.

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 is a testament to the power of propaganda and misinformation in shaping policy decisions. It marked the beginning of marijuana prohibition at the federal level in the United States. Understanding the historical context and the role of figures like Anslinger and Hearst helps shed light on the origins of marijuana prohibition. In today’s landscape of evolving marijuana laws, consulting with knowledgeable legal experts, such as our DUI defense attorneys at Thomas & Ahnell, LLC, is crucial for individuals facing drugged driving charges in Denver.

Do you have further questions or concerns? Call us or contact the attorneys at Thomas & Ahnell, LLC, and we will be happy to help.

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