In the secret Treasury Department meetings conducted between 1935 and 1937, prohibitive tax laws were drafted and strategies plotted. “Marijuana” was not banned outright; the law called for an “occupational excise tax upon dealers, and a transfer tax upon dealings in marijuana.”
Importers, manufacturers, sellers and distributors were required to register with the Secretary of the Treasury and pay the occupational tax. Transfers were taxed at $1 an ounce; $100 an ounce if the dealer was unregistered. The new tax doubled the price of the legal “raw drug” cannabis which at the time sold for one dollar an ounce.2 The year was 1937. New York State had exactly one narcotics officer.*
*New York currently has a network of thousands of narcotics officers, agents, spies and paid informants – and 20 times the penal capacity it had in 1937, although the state’s population has only doubled since then.
After the Supreme Court decision of March 29, 1937, upholding the prohibition of machine guns through taxation, Herman Oliphant made his move. On April 14, 1937 he introduced the bill directly to the House Ways and Means Committee instead of to other appropriate committees such as food and drug, agriculture, textiles, commerce, etc.
His reason may have been that “Ways and Means” is the only committee that can send its bills directly to the House floor without being subject to debate by other committees. Ways and Means Chairman Robert L. Doughton,* a key DuPont ally, quickly rubber-stamped the secret Treasury bill and sent it sailing through Congress to the President.
*Colby, Jerry, The DuPont Dynasties, Lyle Stewart, 1984.
“Did Anyone Consult the AMA?”
However, even within his controlled Committee hearings, many expert witnesses spoke out against the passage of these unusual tax laws.
Dr. William C. Woodward, for instance, who was both a physician and an attorney for the American Medical Association, testified on behalf of the AMA.
He said, in effect, the entire fabric of federal testimony was tabloid sensationalism! No real testimony had been heard! This law, passed in ignorance, could possibly deny the world a potential medicine, especially now that the medical world was just beginning to find which ingredients in cannabis were active.
Woodward told the committee that the only reason the AMA hadn’t come out against the marijuana tax law sooner was that marijuana had been described in the press for 20 years as “killer weed from Mexico.”
The AMA doctors had just realized “two days before” these spring 1937 hearings, that the plant Congress intended to outlaw was known medically as cannabis, the benign substance used in America with perfect safety in scores of illnesses for over one hundred years.
“We cannot understand yet, Mr. Chairman,” Woodward protested, “why this bill should have been prepared in secret for two years without any intimation, even to the profession, that it was being prepared.” He and the AMA* were quickly denounced by Anslinger and the entire congressional committee, and curtly excused.3
* The AMA and the Roosevelt Administration were strong antagonists in 1937.
When the Marijuana Tax Act bill came up for oral report, discussion, and vote on the floor of Congress, only one pertinent question was asked from the floor: “Did anyone consult with the AMA and get their opinion?” Representative Vinson, answering for the Ways and Means Committee replied, “Yes, we have. A Dr. Wharton [mistaken pronunciation of Woodward?] and [the AMA] are in complete agreement!”
With this memorable lie, the bill passed, and became law in December, 1937. Federal and state police forces were created, which have incarcerated hundreds of thousands of Americans, adding up to more than 16 million wasted years in jails and prisons – even contributing to their deaths – all for the sake of poisonous, polluting industries, prison guards unions and to reinforce some white politicians’ policies of racial hatred.
(Mikuriya, Tod, M.D., Marijuana Medical Papers, 1972; Sloman, Larry, Reefer Madness, Grove Press, 1979; Lindesmith, Alfred, The Addict and the Law, Indiana U. Press; Bonnie & Whitebread; The Marijuana Conviction, U. of VA Press; U.S. Cong. Records; et al.)