Schaffer Online Library of Drug Policy

Sign the Resolution
Contents | Feedback | Search
DRCNet Home
| Join DRCNet
DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library
 The Traffic in Narcotics

Historical References

General Histories | Ancient History | 1800-1850 | 1860 | 1870 | 1880 | 1890
1900 | 1910 | 1920 | 1930 | 1940 | 1950 | 1960 | 1970 | 1980 | 1990





United States Commissioner of Narcotics



United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey Former Chairman, Legislative Commission to Study Narcotics, General Assembly of New Jersey






FOR THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS, THE GENERAL PUBLIC HAS BEEN BOMBARDED with stories, articles, pictures, programs, discussions, and speeches dealing with all phases of drug addiction. Headlines such as "Twenty-five Housebreaks are Charged to Drug Addict," "Doped by Marihuana, Youth 'Goes Crazy' in County jail Cell," "Charge Husband Killed Wife During Marihuana Brawl," "TeenAge Drug Addict Ring Uncovered," "Gang of Marihuana-Crazed Hoodlums Leaves Bloody Trail," "Accused Killer Tells of 'Marihuana Fog,'" "Killer Tells of Smoking Marihuana Before Holdup," and "Police Seize 'Reefers' in Gang Raid," have become commonplace in our daily press. Radio and television shows have featured the dope fiend, and publishers of cheap fiction have not hesitated to use indefensible and lurid stories involving addicts to enhance their sales. The wrong kind of publicity on narcotics might be divided into three classes:

1. Sensational material designed to promote sales;

2. Misguided use of material;

3. Inaccurate reporting.


Morally, there is no excuse for the existence of the first type, and it exists legally because of the traditional American distaste for censorship. Those who publish such material are fully aware of the nature of their acts but, as practical men, know that there are ten weak souls who will devour such droppings as against

Page 213




one alert citizen who will be sufficiently aroused to complain. Such promotors know only too well how valuable from a sales angle an official condemnation can be. One candidly admitted, "We do anything to provoke some criticism because that always makes the sales rocket."

In recent months, a Congressional Committee conducted hearings in connection with some of these indefensible publications. Among the sordid collection of books was one which was termed "a manual for potential drug addicts." Publications directed to the sensory and bestial characteristics of humanity are unquestionably degrading, but when they embark on a field of material which can cause impressionable young people to acquire the most degenerate habit known to man, it is time to call a halt. If our lawmakers cannot remedy the situation, a tight embargo by the general public on the particular company or author will. Fiction alone has no monopoly in this field, because the purveyors of corruption have not hesitated for a moment to invade the youngster's comic books and "funny" sheets. Furthermore, sponsors and radio stations who should know better, on occasion have foisted amazingly disreputable "dope fiend" pictures into the living room.


By misguided material is meant writings or pictures which are well intended but which, through inherent flaws or inaccuracies, binder rather than help the over-all situation. The bulk of the material in this class consists of writings intended for education and educational films and while the sales aspect is generally secondary, it is undeniably there. If the many good people who desire to help eradicate the evil would only realize first that this is a highly specialized problem susceptible to discussion only after thorough and intense research, they would commence with a far firmer foundation. This is not a subject where writing flows without careful thought. It is no field in which to experiment with unproved ideas, fanciful suggestions, or curbstone opinions. One of the more unfortunate aspects of the whole situation has been created by the outpourings from pseudo-experts since the




problem of drug addiction has become widely publicized. A few normally intelligent educators, who should know better, after a cursory study, came forward with unbelievable conclusions and suggestions, some of which were diametrically opposite to the views of life-long students of the subject. However, the impact of their views has been very small.

Fortunately for the welfare of our country, the Motion Picture Producers Association of America has a provision in their code governing the industry to the effect that its members cannot produce films showing the narcotic traffic or drug addiction in any form. Were it not for this commendable self-imposed restriction by the motion-picture industry, the public would be continually subjected to the presentation of numerous motion pictures with a narcotic theme, with a strong potential increase in drug addiction.

From time to time a few motion pictures on narcotics are made outside the code, but their showing evokes so much protest from civic-minded individuals and groups that they are usually withdrawn from circulation before they do much damage.

As a case in point a highly reputable firm recently produced a film (not approved by the Motion Picture Producers Association of America) avowedly aimed at the problem of drug addiction and represented as propaganda against the use of narcotics. The film was intended for showing in secondary schools. It opens with an intended educational approach in that it portrays the plants opium, coca, and marihuana and explains the derivation of the narcotic principles. Then a happy school environment is portrayed while the commentator builds up the menace of drug addiction. Next is seen experimentation by groups of young people and progression from marihuana smoking (including some technique) to "mainline" use of heroin. Scenes follow this phase depicting the necessity of obtaining money to sustain addiction by displaying the techniques of mugging and assaulting, and shoplifting, proceeding to the furtive meetings of drug peddler and addict, and the coercion of the addict into becoming a seller to support his addiction. Comparatively mild withdrawal symptoms are displayed as the compelling reason for continuance of the addiction. The addict "hero" is pictured as a good boy with




a kind, sympathetic mother. He has strayed into bad company ultimately leading to his downfall, arrest for shoplifting, and discovery on his person of his "works" and some capsules of heroin. Arraigned before the juvenile Court in a tearful scene, he is placed on probation to undergo a cure. The impression gained of the cure is that it is pleasant, quick and certain, featuring desirable occupational therapy, followed by a return to his former environment where he is shunned by the good boys and girls.

Bearing in mind that the production of this film was motivated by people of integrity and with the best of intentions, it is unsuitable for exhibition to either parents or children. Among the inherent weaknesses of this approach are the following:

1. It vividly pictures the appearance of growing marihuana which might lead some youngsters to experiment.

2. It portrays addiction as a disease of youth which might accidentally occur in a normal and healthy environment. This is inaccurate.

3. It teaches the technique of mugging, robbing, shoplifting, and the peddling of drugs.

4. It shows the technique for smoking marihuana.

5. It depicts the withdrawal of drugs as a mildly uncomfortable affair rather than in its true, vicious light.

6. It shows treatment merely as a pleasant occupational therapy.

7. It conveys the impression that addiction can be cured like the measles which is wholly incorrect. The statistics on recidivism alone shatter that conclusion.

A lot more could be said, but it would be redundant. However, it seems reasonable to inquire why it is necessary to produce such a picture. Does a solution to this terrible problem demand that the general public and our youth be saturated with knowledge no matter how indiscriminately it is ladled out? Does this subject necessitate lurid and sensational treatment rather than the careful, and considered discussions attendant on such ills as sex perversion and syphilis? Certainly no one would want to drench the American public with illustrations concerning the techniques of sex perversion. Then why single out drug addiction? Drug addiction is sporadic and not widespread in the United States. Consequently,




an avalanche of educational material is unnecessary; it too often arouses curiosity and leads to addiction.


Inaccurate reporting generally stems from a definite lack of knowledge concerning narcotics, incorrect sources of information, or a desire to put color in an otherwise drab story.

Many stories have been founded on bad information, which is certainly no news to anyone. However, in addition to the usual unintentional misinformation which can befall any reporter, there have been many cases where an accused or his legal advisor has purposely conveyed the impression that the culprit was under the influence of dope when the crime occurred.

In one absolutely unjustifiable killing of an aged grocer and the wounding of his wife and a customer in the store during the hold-up, no mention of marihuana use or influence was made until the defendants retained counsel to defend them against the State's demand for a death penalty. Newspapermen, leaping to the bait, immediately began to write positive stories blaming the crime on marihuana, and within a few days it became an accepted fact that the root of the crime had been marihuana. Worse yet, there was even a demand from one civic group that the defendants be treated as sick people rather than criminals-that they be hospitalized rather than tried for murder. The true fact, as admitted later, was that defense counsel saw no way to avert a conviction, and hence was trying to save his clients from the death penalty by injecting the alibi that the crime had been committed while they were under the influence of marihuana and hence were not responsible for their acts. Ultimately, the alibi collapsed for want of proof and the defendants were sentenced to death.

This story is not an isolated example of felons attempting to claim the use of marihuana as the escape hatch from an extreme penalty, for official files are replete with them. But it does point up the need for more diligent investigation on the part of reporters. City editors who find a speculative mention of marihuana in a reporter's story would be doing a great public service if




they would refuse to use it in their headlines. One reporter on a Southwestern newspaper pointed out that there was a suspicion of marihuana use in a case. Next day the headlines read, "Gang of Marihuana Crazed Hoodlums Leave Bloody Trail." Questioned, the scribe had nothing tangible on the marihuana angle and claimed that the heading had been composed in the editorial room.

Several years ago a story appeared in a Midwestern paper headlined, "Doped by Marihuana, Youth 'Goes Crazy' in County Jail Cell." It sounded interesting in print and quoted the jailor at length on the evils of marihuana. When checked the jailor denied even mentioning marihuana and the reporter stated that he had had no information regarding marihuana but had simply written the story as a humor story because the jailor was "quite a character."

The foregoing comments are predicated on actual case histories. and exemplify publicity of a type certainly not designed to help law enforcement officials or allay public hysteria. Fortunately, this type of publicity has been in the minority. Obviously, the few sensationalists whose only interest in the subject of addiction is measured by its value to their sales, will never stop such nefarious writings. However, reporters, newscasters, publishers, writers, movie and television producers can help if they so desire. They can help by being sure they have all the true facts before a story is published and by weighing carefully its news value against the impact it will have on the public's well-being. Before making a martyr out of a marihuana killer, his record should be checked, for the chances are that he will have had criminal tendencies long before marihuana appeared in the picture.

One final thought for both producers and sponsors-stop building detective stories around drug addicts. Generally the facts are distorted, the plots abominable, and the youngsters' curiosity improperly and unduly aroused thereby. One fact is inescapable unless the subject of narcotics and its criminal offshoots are treated with utmost care and accuracy, more damage than good can result.






MAY 18, 1936




Anti-Narcotic Education and Propaganda

The most striking feature of the replies from the governments interested in measures for combating drug addiction is the divergence of opinion as to the direct and indirect means of action. For instance, the Government of Siam in its Annual Report for 1933 felt that direct propaganda by means of posters, films, and lectures was not likely to be successful, quite apart from the expenditure incurred, but was more likely to stimulate unwholesome curiosity than to act as a salutary warning. This being so, no propaganda was done in Siam.

In the Straits Settlements and the Federated Malay States, as also in Siam, the Government does not resort to direct action or propaganda but adopts indirect methods, the improvement of social conditions and the provision of playing fields--- measures which the authorities believe to be really effective. As regards this negative attitude towards direct propaganda, the Commission of Enquiry into the Control of Opium Smoking in the Far East was informed in the official reply of the Burmese authorities that no educational measures had been taken to discourage the smoking of opium. Such steps were considered undesirable as they might advertise the use of opium for smoking and stimulate curiosity as to the effects.

In the Straits Settlements, The Director of Education of the colony also expressed the view at that time "that it would be a mistake to carry on propaganda by education against opium smoking among boys, which would have the reverse effect of that intended."

Lastly, the authorities in Siam told the Commission that anti-opium education would be unnecessary, would do no good and might do some harm by attracting attention to opium smoking.

As will be seen, there is a divergence of opinion as to direct and indirect means, even in the territories in which the opium problem is of primary importance. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the

* The Advisory Committee secured lengthy reports on the subject from the 68 Governments parties to the 1931 Convention To Limit the Manufacture of Narcotic Drugs, before the Committee reached a decision.




countries in which opium and drug addiction are far less widespread all educational methods or direct propaganda should be open to controversy and grave objection.


Education and Propaganda
Against the Use of Narcotic Drugs

On the basis of a draft resolution submitted by the representative of France, the Commission discussed the advisability of education and propaganda against the use of narcotic drugs. After a general discussion, the representative of the Secretary-General gave the Commission an account of the work done by the League of Nations on the problem, with special reference to the resolution adopted by the Advisory Committee on Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs on June 2, 1936, in which it was stated ". . . that propaganda in schools and other direct propaganda should only be practiced in certain countries where addiction is a substantial problem. In other countries where addiction is, on the contrary, sporadic, such propaganda would be definitely dangerous . . ." (League of Nations Document C.290.M. 176.1936.XI.) The Commission, after introducing some amendments into the draft with the object of bringing its terms into conformity with the point of view expressed by the Advisory Committee, decided by 10 votes in favor and I (Russia) against to recommend to the Council the adoption of the following resolution:


The Economic and Social Council,
Being informed
that the question of anti-narcotic education and propaganda has arisen in various countries,

1. Considers it advisable to restate the principle adopted by the Advisory Committee on Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs of the League of Nations, namely, that propaganda in schools and other forms of direct propaganda can be with advantage employed only in certain countries where drug addiction has assumed widespread proportions (China, Iran, India, and Thailand); and that in other countries where it is of a more sporadic




character (European countries and countries of the North American continent), such measures would be definitely dangerous, and

2. Draws the attention of governments to this principle.


Passed by National Convention of


at Denver, Colorado,

September 1950.

NARCOTICS-WHEREAS, during the past year the narcotic drug theme as presented to the public in numerous motion pictures, radio and television programs, and magazine and newspaper articles, has deteriorated to the point where public welfare is being endangered; and

WHEREAS, the indiscriminate dissemination, particularly to the youth, of material dramatizing the use of narcotic drugs and traffic therein, serves no purpose except to satisfy morbid curiosity, and is

and always has been considered contrary to the public interest in the United States; since its effect is the reverse of that intended because it advertises the use of narcotics for non-medical purposes, thus developing unwholesome interest regarding the effect of narcotics, on the part of impressionable persons who would not otherwise be inclined to pursue the subject or to experiment with such dangerous substances; and

WHEREAS, the international authorities on narcotic drug control likewise have always maintained that direct propaganda on the subject should be used only in countries like those in the Far East where addiction is rampant, but in countries like the United States direct

propaganda is dangerous because, instead of diverting young people from addiction, it tends to awaken interest and arouse undue curiosity, thus defeating its own object; and

WHEREAS, the United States Bureau of Narcotics reports that the results they have noted of the recent distribution of "educational" material on the narcotic drug traffic have served to emphasize the soundness and desirability of these views;





wherever possible to discourage the indiscriminate use of stories based on the narcotic theme as presently exploited in motion pictures, radio and television programs and in certain types of magazine and newspaper articles, all of which have the effect of increasing rather than lessening the hazards which lead to drug addiction.

Similar policy statements have been adopted by Parents Teacher Associations, General Federation of Womens Clubs, by the City Council of Baltimore, Maryland, and others.

For those who decide to go ahead with an educational program, the Bureau of Narcotics recommends a booklet "Living Death--- The Truth about Drug Addiction," as the most suitable material available. This booklet can be obtained free of cost from the Bureau in Washington.