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The LaGuardia Committee Report,


Dudley D. Shoenfeld, MD


In order to understand fully the purpose and scope of this particular part of the survey conducted by the Mayor's Committee on Marihuana, a brief digest of the history of the growth and usage of this drug is essential.

Indian hemp, from which marihuana (the American synonym for hashish) is obtained, has been known to man for more than three thousand years. This plant, although originally indigenous to Central Asia, is now found in practically every section of the world, growing either wild or cultivated, legally or illegally.

When originally discovered, the use to which this plant was principally put was the conversion of its fiber for commerical purposes in the production of cord, twine and textiles. Shortly thereafter its pharmaceutical properties were employed in the practice of medicine and surgery. Authoritative proof is available that the Chinese found it valuable as an effective anesthetic in surgery as far back as two thousand years. It was not until approximately the tenth century that the peoples of Africa and Asia began to use it in a rather indiscriminate manner for its intoxicating effects.

Very shortly after its usage became popular, this drug engaged the attention of the various African and Asian governments, as well as of lay persons interested in medical, religious and sociological problems. Some of these very early investigators propounded the theory that physical and mental deterioration was the direct result of smoking hashish. Others extolled its benefits, deeming it actually essential to life, and urged people to indulge in it.

During this early period, the peoples of Europe were aware of the use of hashish in Africa and Asia, and considered it a vice particularly common to the peoples of those continents. In the nineteenth century their interest was raised to a high pitch because of the fictional reports of the smoking of hashish given by the romanticists of that period. These individuals, who had the power of the pen, experimentally indulged in the smoking of hashish, and described in an expansive, subjective manner the effects the drug had upon them. A review of the fanciful literature reveals that in most instances these writings referred to the authors' experiences with toxic doses. Summed up, the conclusions were that hashish could cause psychotic episodes and even death and that prolonged use would result in physical and mental deterioration. The exalted position held by these romanticists tended to influence the Europeans to accept their conclusions as scientific monographs on the subject of hashish, so that the smoking of hashish did not become popular with them. However, in recent years there has been a fairly wide participation on the part of Europeans in smoking hashish or marihuana, but it is referred to as an American vice. This allows one to infer that whereas the knowledge pertaining to this habit was very early recognized in Europe, at the present time participation in it is from their point of view the direct result of its introduction into Europe not from Africa and Asia, but from America.

In America, Indian hemp was planted in the New England colonies, solely for commercial purposes, as early as the seventeenth century. At the present time it can be found growing either wild or cultivated, legally or illegally, in practically all our states. Lawful cultivation is confined principally to the states of Kentucky, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. It has been estimated that not more than ten thousand acres are devoted to its legal production. It is of value commercially in the manufacture of rope, twine, and textiles. The seed is used for bird- food, and the oil extracted from the seed is occasionally used as a substitute for linseed oil in the preparation of artists' paints. A rosin extracted from the plant is used in the production of pharmaceutical preparations.

Since the history of hemp cultivation in America dates back to the seventeenth century, it is exceedingly interesting, but difficult to explain, that the smoking of marihuana did not become a problem in our country until approximately twenty years ago, and that it has become an acute problem associated with a great deal of publicity only in the past ten years.

The origin of the word "marihuana" is in doubt. Some authorities are of the opinion that it is derived from the Portuguese word "mariguano," meaning intoxicant. Others are of the opinion that it has its derivation in the Mexican words for "Mary and Jane." The introduction into the United States of the practice of smoking marihuana has been the subject of a great deal of speculation. The most tenable hypothesis at the present time is that it was introduced by Mexicans entering our country.

It is accepted that in Mexico marihuana smoking is an old, established practice. Therefore, it would appear logical to assume that Mexican laborers crossing our border into the Southwest carried this practice with them. Having used marihuana in their native land, they found it natural to continue smoking it in the new country, and planted it for personal consumption. Once available, it was soon made use of by our citizens. At the present time, the smoking of marihuana is widespread in this nation.

Believing that marihuana smoking might be deleterious, and knowing it to be widespread, federal and municipal governments, private individuals, and such agencies as the Opium Advisory Association, the International Narcotic Education Association, and others investigated the subject. These investigative organizations have contributed a great deal of data and pertinent information to the knowledge of the use of marihuana. The mass of information so obtained when untangled can be summed up with the general statement that a majority of investigators are of the opinion that marihuana smoking is deleterious, although a minority maintain that it is innocuous. The majority believe that marihuana smoking is widespread among school children; that the dispensers of the drug are organized to such an extent that they encourage the use of marihuana in order to create an ever- increasing market; that juvenile delinquency is directly related to the effects of the drug; that it is a causative factor in a large percentage of our major crimes and sexual offenses; and that physical and mental deterioration are the direct result of the prolonged habit of smoking marihuana.

As a result of these official and semi-official conclusions in regard to the disastrous effects produced by this habit, the newspapers and magazines of our country have given it wide publicity. At this point it may be profitable to give the conclusions of some of the investigators and quote the publicity associated with it. In a pamphlet "Marihuana or Indian Hemp and Its Preparations" issued by the International Narcotic Education Association, one finds:


Marihuana is a most virile and powerful stimulant. The physiological effect of this drug produces a peculiar psychic exaltation and derangement of the central nervous system. The stage of exaltation and confusion, more marked in some addicts than in others, is generally followed by a stage of depression. Sometimes the subject passes into a semi- conscious state, experiencing vivid and extravagant dreams which vary according to the individual character and mentality. In some the stage is one of self-satisfaction and well-being. In others, it is alarming, presenting the fear of some imminent and indefinite danger or of impending death. Later the dreams are sometimes followed by a state of complete unconsciousness. Sometimes convulsive attacks and acute mania are developed.

The narcotic content in marihuana decreases the rate of heart beat and causes irregularity of the pulse. Death may result from the effect upon the heart. Prolonged use of marihuana frequently develops a delirious rage which sometimes leads to high crimes, such as assault and murder. Hence marihuana has been called the "killer drug." The habitual use of this narcotic poison always causes a very marked mental deterioration and sometimes produces insanity. Hence marihuana is frequently called "loco weed." (Loco is the Spanish word for crazy.)

While the marihuana habit leads to physical wreckage and mental decay, its effects upon character and morality are even more devastating. The victim frequently undergoes such degeneracy that he will lie and steal without scruple; he becomes utterly untrustworthy and often drifts into the underworld where, with his degenerate companions, he commits high crimes and misdemeanors. Marihuana sometimes gives man the lust to kill unreasonably and without motive. Many cases of assault, rape, robbery, and murder are traced to the use of maribuana.(1)

(end quotation)

(1) International Narcotic Education Association. "Marihuana or Indian Hemp and Its Preparations." Los Angeles, 1936.

In an article published in the New York Daily Worker, New York, Saturday, December 28, 1940, there appeared under the column headed "HEALTH ADVICE":

(start quoted article)


Bill Wilson was strolling by his favorite soda joint on the way home from high school when he heard a familiar voice whisper loudly, "Hey, Bill, c'mere." Behind the Texaco billboard, he found his side-kick Jim, who said excitedly, "I got some reefers!" "Reefers, what're they?"

Mysteriously, Jim reached into his pocket and pulled out two large cigarettes. "Marihuana!" Jim's pupils dilated. "Come on over to the club and we'll smoke 'em. Boy, that's fun!" Bill is only one of thousands of new marihuana smokers created yearly among boys and girls of high school age.

What is this drug? It is a narcotic in the same class as opium and is derived from a plant, which grows wild, extensively in some parts. For this reason, it is hard to control and the drug is easy to obtain at very little cost. Smoking of the weed is habit-forming. It destroys the willpower, releases restraints, and promotes insane reactions. Continued use causes the face to become bloated, the eyes bloodshot, the limbs weak and trembling, and the mind sinks into insanity. Robberies, thrill murders, sex crimes and other offenses result.

When the habit is first started, the symptoms are milder, yet powerful enough. The smoker loses all sense of time and space so that he can't judge distances, he loses his self-control, and his imagination receives considerable stimulation.

The habit can be cured only by the most severe methods. The addict must be put into an institution, where the drug is gradually withdrawn, his general health is built up, and he is kept there until he has enough willpower to withstand the temptation to again take to the weed.

The spread of this terrible fad can be stopped only when the unscrupulous criminals trafficking In the drug are rooted out.

(end quoted article)

Dr. Robert P. Walton, Professor of Pharmacology of the School of Medicine of the University of Mississippi, has written a most comprehensive book on the subject of marihuana, embodying in detail pharmacological and social studies.(2) A chapter on the "Present Status of the Marihuana Vice in the United States" was prepared by Dr. Frank R. Gomila, Commissioner of Public Safety of New Orleans, and C. G. Lambou, Assistant City Chemist. They refer to New Orleans as being possibly the first large city in the United States where the drug habit became widely established among the native population, and they therefore believe that the authorities in this city had a decided opportunity to observe the progress of the smoking of marihuana as a social problem. Referring specifically to the use of marihuana among school children, they state that reporters in New Orleans not only heard about but observed large numbers of boys of school age actually buying and smoking marihuana cigarettes. One peddler was so brazen as to keep his stock under the street stairs to a girls' high school.

Inquiries further revealed that school children of forty-four schools in New Orleans (only a few of these were high schools) smoked marihuana. As a result of exposure and widespread agitation,

(start quotation)

Verifications came in by the hundreds from harassed parents, teachers, neighborhood pastors, priests, welfare workers and club women. Warrington House for boys was full of children who had become habituated to the use of cannabis. The superintendent of the Children's Bureau reported that there were many problem children there who had come under the influence and two who had run away because they couldn't get their "muggles" at the Bureau. The Director of Kingsley House for boys received many pleas from fathers of boys who had come under the influence and were charged with petty crimes.

After personally seeing these boys in an hysterical condition or on the well-known "laughing jags," the director termed the situation decidedly grave. The Waif's Home, at this time, was reputedly full of children, both white and colored, who had been brought in under the influence of the drug. Marihuana cigarettes could be bought almost as readily as sandwiches. Their cost was two for a quarter. The children solved the problem of cost by pooling pennies among the members of a group and then passing the cigarettes from one to another, all the puffs being carefully counted....

The result of these investigations ended in a wholesale arrest of more than 150 persons. Approximately one hundred underworld dives, soft-drink establishments, night clubs, grocery stores, and private homes were searched in the police raid. Addicts, hardened criminals, gangsters, women of the streets sailors of all nationalities, bootleggers, boys and girls, -- many flashily dressed in silks and furs, others in working clothes -- all were rounded up in the net which Captain Smith and his squad had set.

. . . Notwithstanding the thoroughness with which this police roundup was carried out, it did not entirely eradicate in one stroke a vice which had already become so well established. During the next few years New Orleans experienced a crime wave which unquestionably was greatly aggravated by the influence of this drug habit. Payroll and bank guards were doubled, but this did not prevent some of the most spectacular holdups in the history of the city. Youngsters known to be "muggle-heads" fortified themselves with the narcotic and proceeded to shoot down police, bank clerks and casual bystanders. Mr. Eugene Stanley, at that time District Attorney, declared that many of the crimes in New Orleans and the South were thus committed by criminals who relied on the drug to give them a false courage and freedom from restraint. Dr. George Roeling, Coroner, reported that of 450 prisoners investigated, 125 were confirmed users of marihuana. Dr. W. B. Graham, State Narcotic Officer, declared in 1936 that 60 per cent of the crimes committed in New Orleans were by marihuana users.(3)

(end quote)

The Mayor's Committee on Marihuana decided to confine its investigations to a limited area. For a number of reasons the Borough of Manhattan seemed to be the most profitable section of the city in which to concentrate. In order to crystallize our particular project we deemed it advisable to direct our efforts to finding answers to the following questions:

1. To what extent is marihuana used?

2. What is the method of retail distribution?

3. What is the general attitude of the marihuana smoker toward society and toward the use of the drug?

4. What is the relationship between marihuana and eroticism?

5. What is the relationship between marihuana and crime?

6. What is the relationship between marihuana and juvenile delinquency?

In the course of our investigations, we have made extensive use of subjective data obtained from those who were actual smokers of marihuana and directly acquainted with its effects and those who were not smokers, but, because of residence, occupation or other interests, were acquainted with the general subject.

(2) Walton, R. P. Marijuana: America's New Drug Problem. J. B. Lippincott Co., Philadelphia, 1938.

(3) Ibid.

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