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The LaGuardia Committee Report on Marihuana

The Mental Attitude of the Marihuana Smoker Toward Society and Marihuana

Most of the smokers of marihuana coming within the scope of our survey were unemployed, and of the others most had part-time employment.

Occasional, as well as confirmed, users were all aware of the laws pertaining to the illegal use of the drug. They did not indulge in its use with a spirit of braggadocio or as a challenge to law as has been reported by some investigators in other districts. They did not express remorse concerning their use of marihuana, nor did they blame this habit as a causative factor in the production of special difficulties in their personal lives. Except for musicians there appeared to be no attempt at secretiveness on the part of the habitual smoker. This attitude is in marked contrast to that usually taken by those addicted to morphine, cocaine, or heroin.

The consensus of marihuana users is that the drug is not harmful and that infrequent or constant use of marihuana does not result in physical or mental deterioration.

In describing the most common reaction to the drug they always stated that it made them feel "high." Elaboration of just what the smoker meant by "high" varied with the individual. However, there was common agreement that a feeling of adequacy and efficiency was induced by the use of marihuana and that current mental conflicts were allayed. Organic illness was not given as a cause for smoking "reefers."

A person may be a confirmed smoker for a prolonged period, and give up the drug voluntarily without experiencing any craving for it or exhibiting withdrawal symptoms. He may, at some time later on, go back to its use. Others may remain infrequent users of the cigarette, taking one or two a week, or only when the "social setting" calls for participation. From time to time we had one of our investigators associate with a marihuana user. The investigator would bring up the subject of smoking. This would invariably lead to the suggestion that they obtain some marihuana cigarettes. They would seek a "tea-pad," and if it was closed the smoker and our investigator would calmly resume their previous activity, such as the discussion of life in general or the playing of pool. There were apparently no signs indicative of frustration in the smoker at not being able to gratify the desire for the drug. We consider this point highly significant since it is so contrary to the experience of users of other narcotics. A similar situation occurring in one addicted to the use of morphine, cocaine, or heroin would result in a compulsive attitude on the part of the addict to obtain the drug. If unable to secure it, there would be obvious physical and mental manifestations of frustration. This may be considered presumptive evidence that there is no true addiction in the medical sense associated with the use of marihuana.

The confirmed marihuana smoker consumes perhaps from six to ten cigarettes per day. He appears to be quite conscious of the quantity he requires to reach the effect called "high." Once the desired effect is obtained he cannot be persuaded to consume more.

He knows when he has had enough. The smoker determines for himself the point of being "high," and is ever conscious of preventing himself from becoming "too high." This fear of being "too high" must be associated with some form of anxiety which causes the smoker, should he accidentally reach that point, immediately to institute measures so that he can "come down." It has been found that the use of such beverages as beer, or a sweet soda pop, is an effective measure. Smokers insist that "it does something to the stomach" and that it is always associated with "belching." A cold shower will also have the effect of bringing the person "down."

Smokers have repeatedly stated that the consumption of whisky while smoking negates the potency of the drug. They find it is very difficult to get "high" while drinking whisky, and because of that smokers will not drink whisky while using the "weed." They do, however, consume large quantities of sweet wines. It is their contention that this mild alcoholic beverage aids the drug in producing the desired effect. Most marihuana smokers insist that the appetite is increased as the result of smoking.

We have been unable to confirm the opinion expressed by some investigators that marihuana smoking is the first step in the use of such drugs as cocaine, morphine, and heroin. The instances are extremely rare where the habit of marihuana smoking is associated with addiction to these other narcotics.

Marihuana and Eroticism

In the popular agitation against the use of marihuana, its erotic effects have been stressed repeatedly. As previously stated in this report, our investigators visited many "tea-pads" in the Borough of Manhattan. It is true that lewd pictures decorated the walls but they did not find that they were attracting attention or comment among the clientele. In fact one of the investigators who was concentrating his attention on the relation between marihuana and eroticism stated in his report that he found himself embarrassed in that he was the only one who examined the pictures on the wall.

Numerous conversations with smokers of marihuana revealed only occasional instances in which there was any relation between the drug and eroticism. At one time one of our investigators attended a very intimate social gathering in an apartment in Harlem, having succeeded in securing the position of doorman for the occasion.

There was a great deal of drinking, and the dancing was of the most modern, abandoned, "jitter-bug" type. This form of dancing is highly suggestive and appears to be associated with erotic activity. The investigator made careful observation of those who were dancing, and found that there was no difference between the ones who were and the ones who were not smoking "reefers." Similar impressions were received after careful observations in public dance halls, places where they knew that some persons were under the influence of marihuana.

Visits to brothels which occasionally also served as "teapads" revealed that the use of marihuana was not linked to sexuality. These observations allow us to come to the conclusion that in the main marihuana was not used for direct sexual stimulation.


One of the most important causes of the widespread publicity which marihuana smoking has received is the belief that this practice is directly responsible for the commission of crimes.

During our investigation many law enforcement officers, representing various federal, state and local police bureaus, were interviewed and asked for a confidential expression of opinion on the general question of crime and marihuana. In most instances they unhesitatingly stated that there is no proof that major crimes are associated with the practice of smoking marihuana. They did state that many marihuana smokers are guilty of petty crimes, but that the criminal career usually existed prior to the time the individual smoked his first marihuana cigarette. These officers further stated that a criminal generally termed as a "real" or "professional" criminal will not associate with marihuana smokers. He considers such a person inferior and unreliable and will not allow him to participate in the commission of a major crime.

In the period beginning October 1939 and ending November 1940, the Police Department made 167 arrests for the possession and use of marihuana. Classified according to race they were: white, 33 men, 4 women; Latin-American, 26 men, 2 women; Negro, 83 men, 6 women; Latin-American (colored) 9 men, 1 woman- British East Indies 1, Filipino 1, Chinese 1. Classified according to age, 12 per cent were between the ages of 16 and 20, 58 per cent between the ages of 21 and 30, 24 per cent between the ages of 31 and 40, and 6 per cent between the ages of 41 and 50.

During the period under discussion, the Police Department confiscated approximately 3,000 pounds of marihuana.

The sale and use of marihuana is a problem engaging the vigilance of the New York Police Department. However, the number of officers available for such duty is limited. Officers specifically assigned to the Narcotics Division of the Police Department are acquainted with the problem, but the majority of the officers are fundamentally without authoritative knowledge regarding this subject.

The relation between marihuana smoking and the commission of crimes of violence in the city of New York is described by Dr. Walter Bromberg, psychiatrist-in-charge of the Psychiatric Clinic of the Court of General Sessions, in an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

(start quotation)

In the south of this country (New Orleans) the incidence of marihuana addicts among major criminals is admittedly high. Sporadic reports from elsewhere in the country of murders and assaults due to marihuana appear in the press frequently. It is difficult to evaluate these statements, because of their uncritical nature. The bulletin prepared by the Foreign Policy Association lists ten cases "culled at random from the files of the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics" of murder and atrocious assault in which marihuana was directly responsible for the crime.

Among the ten patients, the second, J. O., was described as having confessed how he murdered a friend and put his body in a trunk while under the influence of marihuana.

J. O. was examined in this clinic; although he was a psychopathic liar and possibly homosexual, there was no indication in the examination or history of the use of any drug. The investigation by the probation department failed to indicate use of the drug marihuana. The deceased, however, was addicted to heroin.

Our observations with respect to marihuana and crime were made in the Court of General Sessions over a period of five and a half years. The material in that court is limited as to residence to New York County, although it must be remembered that the offenders come from many sections of the country and are of many racial types. This is important, because the British investigators have noted in India that cannabis does not bring out the motor excitement or hysterical symptoms in Anglo-Saxon users that occur in natives. There are several other difficulties in collecting reliable material, one being the complete dependence on the history and statements of the prisoners without an opportunity for objective tests or other corroborative check, as in the case of other drugs, e.g., heroin or morphine.

During routine interviews of some 17,000 offenders in six and a half years, several hundred have been found who had direct experience with marihuana. Their testimony checks with experimental results and clinical experiences with regard to the symptoms of intoxication, the absence of true addiction, and the negative connection with major crime. Especially is this noteworthy among sexual offenders and in cases of assault or murder. The extravagant claims of defense attorneys and the press that crime is caused by addiction to marihuana demands careful scrutiny, at least in this jurisdiction....

Most of the narcotic cases in New York County are heard in the Court of Special Sessions, where misdemeanants are handled and where indictments on charges of the possession of drugs for use are returned. In the Court of Special Sessions in the same six-year period, of approximately 75,000 indictments for all crimes, 6,000 resulted in convictions for the possession and use of drugs.

Since neither the law, the district attorney nor the police department makes any distinction between the several kinds of narcotics in arraignments or indictments, there were no figures from which to estimate the number of users of marihuana as distinguished from the number of users of other drugs. A system of sampling the 6,000 cases was therefore adopted in order to furnish an approximate estimate of the total number of marihuana users who came into conflict with the law.

In this sampling the records of 1,500 offenders, or 25 per cent of the 6,000, were examined. Of these, 135 were charged in connection with marihuana. From this fact it was estimated that about 540 offenders, or 9 per cent of all drug offenders coming to the Court of Special Sessions in six years, were users of marihuana. In analyzing this sample of 135 cases, it was found that 93 offenders had no previous record, the previous charges or charges of 8 concerned only drugs, 5 had records including drug charges and 29 had records not including drug charges. Among those with longer records, that is, from four to seven previous arrests, none showed progression from the use of drugs to other crimes.

As measured by the succession of arrests and convictions in the Court of General Sessions (the only method of estimation) it can be said that drugs generally do not initiate criminal careers. Similarly, in the Court of Special Sessions, only 8 per cent of the offenders had previous charges of using drugs and 3.7 per cent had previous charges of drugs and other petty crimes. In the vast majority of cases in this group of 135, then, the earlier use of marihuana apparently did not predispose to crime, even that of using other drugs. Whether the first offenders charged with the use of marihuana go on to major crime is a matter of speculation. The expectancy of major crimes following the use of cannabis in New York County is small, according to these experiences.(4)

(end quotation)

  1. Bromberg, W., "Marihuana: a psychiatric study." J.A.M.A. 113: 4, 1939.


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