The Far-Reaching Effects of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act

The following excerpt is from the book “Hemp: American History Revisited: The Plant with a Divided History” by Robert Deitch:

“In 1937, despite Cannabis’ beneficial history, an unwitting U.S. Congress and President (Franklin D. Roosevelt) essentially outlawed the cultivation and use of hemp, for virtually any purpose.  Ostensibly, they were motivated by fear of the harmful effects of an intoxicant; in reality, they were serving other interests.  Most of them had been duped into believing they were taxing the use of an allegedly harmful drug- “marijuana”, to discourage its use.  In fact, few if any of the congressmen who voted in favor of the Marijuana Tax Act had ever heard the word “marijuana” before and didn’t know what it meant.  They certainly didn’t know that hemp and marijuana came from the same plant, and they were never told they were actually outlawing hemp- a crop they were very familiar with because most of them grew up with it on their family farm.

Now, more than 65 years later, we are socially, environmentally and economically suffering from the results of that failed and foolish decision, which has trampled on our civil rights and directed the flow of capital out of the United States and even undermined the value of the U.S. dollar.  Worst of all, it has left the population generally unaware of how deeply rooted Cannabis is in American and world history, how important it was to mankind’s developent- and why.  Hemp was important to the economy of the American colonies and was still a valuable commercial commodity up until the Second World War.  Most people are unaware that our use of Cannabis as fuel, fiber, paper and food, could solve a number of the environmental and economic problems we face today.”

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937

The act, which was drafted by Harry Anslinger and introduced by Rep. Robert L. Doughton of North Carolina on April 4th, 1937, imposed huge taxes on the sale of cannabis, and while this U.S. federal law did not itself criminalize the possession or usage of cannabis, it included penalties that handlers were subject to, ultimately shifting the medical thinking into a substance to be feared.  

In fact, it was in 1934 that ‘drug addiction’ first appeared in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic handbook, and four years after the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, cannabis disappeared from the US pharmacopoeia.