As far back as 1924, the Daily Mirror warned: 'Marijuana Inflames The Erotic Impulses And Leads To Revolting Sex Crimes'.
That year, the Egyptian delegate at an international conference held in Geneva to determine how to regulate the traffic in opiates proposed that cannabis should also be treated as a habit-forming drug and controlled internationally. As a consequence of his hysterical testimony, a sub-committee was set up and it quickly concluded that:
'The abuse of these preparations (of cannabis) which are chewed or eaten and the smoking of the drug are especially dangerous since their immoderate use due to addiction leads to troubles at least as serious as those caused in similar conditions by the use of opium and its derivatives.'
Without any proper scientific study, cannabis had been categorised with heroin and, as a result, proposals to prohibit it were adopted. Although the British delegate to the infamous sub-committee abstained from the vote, the British Government ultimately endorsed its proposals and passed the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1925.
At that time, practically no one in England smoked pot. According to Marek Kohn 'Illegal drug use did not die out altogether in the mid-1920s, either as a fact or a subject of alarms in the media, but its salience was negligible. Official monitoring indicated very low levels of drug use for the rest of the inter-war period. During the Second World War, however, an underground club scene was reborn. It embraced black seamen and GIs, a new generation of jazz musicians, and new drugs, such as cannabis and Benzedrine. After the war ended, these clubs became the crucible of the 'bop rebellion'.
In the United States, where jazz originated, it was a different story. Although hemp had been grown throughout America from the earliest days of white settlement for its fibre, the more miraculous properties of cannabis sativa were practically unknown before the Mexican Revolution of 1910.
'Marihuana' - the Mexican word for cannabis - had always been smoked south of the border and the war forced thousands of Mexicans north, with the weed in their luggage and Pancho Villa's marching song, La Cucaracha, on their lips. The tune was to become a jazz standard. Its original lyrics concern a stoned cockroach: 'La cucaracha ya no puede caminar, porque no tiene marihuana por fumar' - translates (roughly) as - 'The cockroach can't walk anymore, because he doesn't have any marihuana to smoke'.
The first recorded use of 'marihuana' in the United States, in 1909, was in Storyville, the red light district of the port of New Orleans where Louis Armstrong was born in 1901 and is also regarded as the birthplace of Jazz. According to Ernest L.Abel: 'It was in these bordellos, where music provided the background and not the primary focus of attention, that marihuana became an integral part of the jazz era. Unlike booze, which dulled and incapacitated, marihuana enabled musicians whose job required them to play long into the night to forget their exhaustion. Moreover, the drug seemed to make their music sound more imaginative and unique, at least to those who played and listened while under its sensorial influence.'
The jazz and swing music associated with 'Negroes, Mexicans and entertainers' was declared to be an 'outgrowth of marihuana use'. Whites were concerned that itinerant black musicians were spreading a very powerful new 'voodoo' music that forced even decent white women to tap their feet in rhythm and that they also sold the evil weed that caused even the most respectable types to abandon their inhibitions. According to Harry Shapiro, 'In the early Twenties, marihuana, muggles, muta, gage, tea, reefer, grifa, Mary Warner, Mary Jane or rosa maria was known almost exclusively to musicians.'
Since smoking marihuana was associated with wild music and crazy behaviour - and with Negroes - the authorities moved quickly to stamp it out. From 1910 through to the end of the 1930's, New Orleans government officials and media conducted a vicious, racist press campaign that was to set an unseemly precedent for the anti-pot propaganda to come. New Orleans was first to ban the weed, in 1923, and all Louisiana followed suit in 1927. By the time that Prohibition (of alcohol) was repealed in 1933, seventeen States had banned cannabis.
In 1930, The Federal Bureau of Narcotics was formed as a new division within the American Treasury and the most notorious cannaphobe in history, Harry J. Anslinger, was installed as its Commissioner, a he held position for 32 years, until removed by President Kennedy. There were several factors that prompted Ansligner to go after cannabis smokers. His new Bureau was threatened by budget cuts, so its boss sought a new Narcotic to suppress. Plus he was in cahoots with a cabal of businessmen who saw their interests threatened not by drugs, but by the potential of cannabis hemp as a source of industrial fibre.
Maybe Anslinger actually believed his own propaganda, but certainly he made it his mission to get cannabis banned across all the United States. Setting out to associate the use of 'marihuana' in the public mind not only with depraved behaviour, but with heinous criminal acts, Anslinger catalogued rapes and murders supposedly committed under the influence of cannabis. He publicised them in lurid magazine articles with titles like, 'Youth Gone Loco', 'Sex Crazing Drug Menace' and the classic, 'Marihuana, Assassin of Youth', which appeared in American Magazine in 1937: 'No one knows, when he places a marihuana cigarette to his lips, whether he will become a joyous reveller in a musical heaven, a mad insensate, a calm philosopher, or a murderer...'
Anslinger's scare tactic worked and, in 1937, The Marihuana Tax Act effectively banned cannabis throughout the United States. The news merited a scant three and a half lines in the New York Times of August 3: 'President Roosevelt signed today a bill to curb traffic in the narcotic, marihuana, through heavy taxes on transactions.'
|Anslinger's hype: 'If the hideous monster Frankenstein came face to face with the monster marihuana, he would drop dead of fright.'|