Actual House Hearing
The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937

What happened in congress yesterday is still happening today. Feel free to use the following true history as a basis for your term papers. This is real history and this is why George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both hemp farmers, are turning over in their graves. This is a specific example of how special interests groups run the government behind closed doors. They get away with it because no one takes the time to peek behind those doors. Here is something for you to show your teachers, your classes, your aunt, your parents.

Excerpts of Congressional Hearings:
Committee on Ways and Means
House of representatives
75th Congress
First Session on N.R. 6385
April 27-30, May 4, 1937



Transcripts of House Hearings on the Marijuana Tax Act

Note: If you get bored, skip down to when Anslinger and Dr. Woodward are put on the stand.

CHAIRMAN: The Committee will come to order. The meeting this morning has been called for the purpose of considering a bill to impose an occupational excise tax upon certain dealers in marijuana, and to safeguard the revenue therefrom by registry and recording.

(Chairman holds up report, hands over to page, committee shuffles around)

CHAIRMAN: This bill was introduced by me at the request of the Secretary of the Treasury. Representatives of the Treasury Department are here this morning to explain the bill. Mr. Nester, assistant general counsel for the Treasure Department will be the first witness to be heard in behalf of the proposed legislation.

NESTER: Mr. Chairman and members of the Ways and Means Committee, for the past two years the Treasury Department has been making a study of the subject of marijuana, a drug which is found in the flowering tops, seeds, and leaves of Indian hemp and is now being used extensively by high school children in cigarettes. Its effect is deadly. I would like to say at this point that we have with us this morning Commissioner Anslinger, of the Bureau of Narcotics, who has had charge of the enforcement of the Harrison Narcotic Act and who will have charge of the enforcement of this act if this bill is enacted into law. We also have with us a pharmacologist who is prepared to testify as to the effect of the drug on human beings. We also have an expert chemist, and one of the outstanding botanists in the country, who are prepared to testify with reference to the bill if you desire to hear them. The leading newspapers of the United States have recognized the seriousness of this problem and many of them have advocated Federal legislation to control the traffic in marijuana. In fact, several newspapers in the city of Washington have advocated such legislation. In a recent editorial the Washington Times stated: The marijuana cigarette is one of the most insidious of all forms of dope largely because of the failure of the public to understand its fatal qualities. The nation is almost defenseless against it, having no Federal laws to cope with it and virtually no organized campaign for combating it. The result is tragic. School children are the prey of peddlers who infest school neighborhoods. High school boys and girls buy the destructive weed without knowledge of its capacity for harm, and conscienceless dealers sell it with impunity. This is a national problem and it must have national attention. The fatal marijuana cigarette must be recognized as a deadly drug and American children must be protected against it. The purpose is to employ the Federal taxing power not only to raise revenue from the marijuana traffic, but also to discourage the current and widespread undesirable use of marijuana by smokers and drug addicts and thus drive the traffic into channels where the plant will be put to valuable industrial, medical, and scientific uses. In accomplishing this general purpose two objectives should dictate the form of the proposed legislation. First, the development of a scheme of taxation which would raise revenue and which would also render virtually impossible the acquisition of marijuana by persons who would put it to illicit uses without unduly interfering with the use of the plant for industrial, medical, and scientific purposes: and second, the development of an adequate means of publicizing dealings in marijuana in order that the traffic may be effectively taxed and controlled. In order to obviate the possibility of an attack upon the constitutionality of this bill, it, like the National Firearms Act, permits the transfer of marijuana to non-registered persons upon the payment of a heavy transfer tax. The bill would permit the transfer of marijuana to anyone, but would impose a $100 per ounce tax upon a transfer to a person who might use it for purposes which are dangerous and harmful to the public, just as the National Firearms Act permits a transfer to a person who would be likely to put it to an illegal use.

This bill would permit anyone to purchase marijuana, as was done in the National Firearms Act in permitting anyone to buy a machine gun, but he would have to pay a tax of $100 per ounce of marijuana and make his purchase on an official order form. A person who wants to buy marijuana would have to go to the collector and get an order form in duplicate, and buy the $100 tax stamp and put it on the original order form there. He would take the original to the vendor, and keep the duplicate. If the purchaser wants to transfer it, the person who purchases the marijuana from him has to do the same thing and pay the $100 tax. That is the scheme that has been adopted to stop high school children from getting marijuana.

VINSON: What is the fair market value, per ounce of marijuana?

HESTER: In its raw state it is about a dollar per ounce, as a drug.

VINSON: I notice in your statement–and I want to say it is a good statement; the gentleman does not have any other kind of a statement when he comes before our committee.

HESTER: I thank you.

CHAIRMAN: Through what channel or agency is this drug in its deleterious fore dispensed or distributed? Is it sold by druggists, or at grocery stores?

HESTER: I will answer your question, but I hope you will ask the same question of Mr. Anslinger, because he can speak more authoritatively on that phase of the subject. The flowered tops, leaves, and seeds are smoked in cigarettes.

CHAIRMAN: Is it carried generally by druggists?

HESTER: I do not think so, for this reason. It is very variable. It may affect you in one way and affect me in another way, and then, too, there are very many better substitutes.

CHAIRMAN: And a deleterious use?

HESTER: The smoking of it, yes. You can take the leaves, tops, and seeds and fix them in a way somewhat similar to tobacco. It is just about the same as tobacco: you can smoke it like tobacco.

CHAIRMAN: Just as an illustration, suppose I were in the market for some of this drug. Where would I find it?

HESTER: There are about 10,000 acres under cultivation by legitimate producers.

CHAIRMAN: I want to know where it could be bought. Where is it being sold?

LEWIS: Where do the victims get it?

REED: I think what the chairman wants to know is how high school children are able to get it. Is it not true that there are illicit peddlers who hang around the high school buildings, and as soon as they find out that there is some boy to whom they think they can sell it to, they make his acquaintance?

HESTER: Yes. I read in the newspapers not long ago that a place on Twelfth Street was raided, where a lady was selling marijuana.

LEWIS: Do legitimate companies make these cigarettes or are they made in an illicit manner like bootleg whiskey used to be made? Do reputable firms make these cigarettes?

HESTER: I would like to refer that question to Commissioner Anslinger.

REED: I would like to make a statement at this point in reference to this question. Some years ago the committee of the House of which I happened to be chairman held a hearing on the narcotic problem. That was when there was a great deal of talk about heroin, and we devoted a good deal of the hearing to that subject. He had experts there from New York and other parts of the country. At that time they were selling heroin through peddlers to high school students, particularly to athletes. The peddler was usually a man of some personality, and he would sell the heroin to these tired boys as they came off of the athletic training field. They would slay to these boys, "Here is something that will put the pep in you." They soon had a lot of these boys in these schools developed into addicts. I assume you have the same thing here.

(The committee is rather inattentive during Reed’s statement. Hester leaves the stand. Anslinger replaces him and commences to be sworn in.)

NARRATOR: We have just heard testimony from Clinton Hester of the Treasury Department. The following witness is Harry J. Anslinger, who is currently the federal government’s chief drug law enforcer.

CHAIRMAN: Mr. Anslinger, the committee will be glad to have a statement from you at this time. Will you state your full name and the position you occupy in the Treasury Department?

ANSLINGER: Mr. Chairman, my name is H. J. Anslinger. I am Commissioner of Narcotics in the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Narcotics. Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Ways and Means Committee, this traffic in marijuana is increasing to such an extent that it has become the cause for the greatest national concern. In medical schools the physician-to-be is taught that without opium medicine would be like a one-armed man. That is true, because you cannot get along without opium. But here we have a drug that is not like opium. Opium has all of the good of Dr. Jekyll and all the evil of Mr. Hyde. This drug is entirely the monster Hyde, the harmful effect of which cannot be measured.

DINGELL: I want to be certain what this is. Is this the same weed that grows wild in some of our western states which is sometimes called the loco weed?

ANSLINGER: No, sir; that is another family.

DINGELL: That is also a harmful drug-producing weed, is it not?

ANSLINGER: Not to my knowledge. It is not used by humans.

CHAIRMAN: In what particular sections does this weed grow wild?

ANSLINGER: In almost every state in the Union today.

REED: What you are describing is a plant which as a rather large flower?

ANSLINGER: No, sir. A very small flower.

REED: It is not Indian hemp?

ANSLINGER: It is Indian hemp. We have some specimens here.

(Anslinger raises stalks from adjacent chair and places them on the table)

VINSON: When was this brought to your attention as being a menace among our own people?

ANSLINGER: About ten years ago-

VINSON: Why did you wait until 1937 to bring in a recommendation of this kind?

ANSLINGER: Ten years ago we only heard about it throughout the South-west. It is only in the last few years that it has become a national menace. It has grown like wildfire, but it has only become a national menace in the last three years. It is only in the last two years that we have had to send reports about it to the League of Nations.

McCormack: What are its first manifestations, a feeling of grandeur and self-exaltation, and things of that sort?

ANSLINGER: It affects different individuals in different ways. Some individuals have a complete less of a sense of time or a sense of value. They lose the sense of place They have an increased feeling of physical strength and power. Some people will fly into a delirious rage, and they are temporarily irresponsible and may commit violent crimes. Other people will laugh uncontrollably. It is impossible to say what the effect will be on any individual. Those research men who have tried it have always been under control. They have always insisted upon that.

McCormack: Is it used by the criminal class?

ANSLINGER: yes, it is. It is dangerous to the mind and body and particularly dangerous to the criminal type because it releases all of the inhibitions.

DINGELL: What is the price of marijuana?

ANSLINGER: The addict pays anywhere from 10 to 25 cents per cigarette. It will be sold by the cigarette. In illicit traffic the buying price would be around $20 per pound. Legitimately, the bulk is around $2 per pound.

Dingell: How does that compare with the price of opium or morphine? Do the class of people who use this drug use it because it is cheaper than the other kinds?

ANSLINGER: That is one reason, yes, sir. To be a morphine or heroin addict it would cost you from $5 to $6 a day to maintain your supply. But if you want to smoke a cigarette you pay 10 cents.

McCormack: Just one of them will knock the socks off you.

ANSLINGER: One of them can do it.

McCORMACK: Some of those cigarettes are sold much cheaper than 10 cents, are they not? In other words, it is a low-priced cigarette, and that is one of the reasons for the tremendous increase in its use.

ANSLINGER: Yes, it is low enough in price for school children to buy it.

McCORMACK: And they have parties in different parts of the country that they call "reefer parties."

ANSLINGER: Yes, Sir; we have heard of them, and know of them.

McCormack: Another thing is that they will not be able to get other kinds of dope, but they do have an opportunity to get this marijuana, which causes it to be so much sought after and used in the community.

ANSLINGER: That is true, and the effect is just passed by word of mouth, and everybody wants to try it.

CHAIRMAN: Mr. Anslinger, at this time the committee would like to thank you for your time and call upon another witness before our adjournment today. I will, however, ask for you to be available to this committee for any further testimony during the remainder of hearings on this matter.

(Anslinger nods and proceeds to assemble his visual aids.)

Chairman: The committee will be in order. Yesterday I was informed there was some disagreement in connection with some of the provisions of the bill by the people engaged in the processing of seed. I suggested to Mr. Hester that we have a conference with the people representing that industry to see if it was possible to reach an agreement and resolve the objection they had by some modification of the bill which would warrant them in withdrawing their objection. We will be glad to hear any statement from representatives of this industry at this time.

(Chairman looks impatiently into the chamber, witness approaches to be sworn in.)

NARRATOR: The committee will now hear testimony from Raymond G. Scarlett, representing the William G. Scarlett & Co., Baltimore, Maryland.

SCARLETT: Mr. Chairman, our company handles a considerable quantity of hemp seed annually for use in pigeon feeds. That is a necessary ingredient in pigeon feed because it contains an oil substance that is a valuable ingredient of pigeon feed, and we have not been able to find any seed that will take its place. If you substitute anything for the hemp, it has a tendency to change the character of the squabs produced. If we were deprived of the use of hemp seed, it would affect all of the pigeon producers in the United States, of which there are upwards of 40,000.

CHAIRMAN: Does that seed have the same effect on pigeons as the drug has on individuals?

(The chairman’s questions draw laughs and smirks throughout the chamber, chairman looks impatiently at his watch, pounds his gavel.)

SCARLETT: I have never noticed it. It has a tendency to bring back the feathers and improve the birds. We are not interested in spreading marijuana, or anything like that. We do not want to be drug peddlers.

CHAIRMAN: Well, at this time the committee will adjourn until 10:00 tomorrow morning. We will continue our discussion with Mr. Scarlett at that time.


(Chairman pounds gavel, chamber files out. Chairman waves Scarlett over.)

NARRATOR: That will conclude today’s proceedings on the Marijuana Tax Act.

The following day. We now continue hearings with Dr. William C. Woodward,

Legislative Counsel of the American Medical Association.

CHAIRMAN: The committee will be in order. The meeting this morning is for the purpose of continuing hearings on the Marijuana Tax Bill. Dr. Woodward, will you come forward and give your name and address and the capacity in which you appear.

WOODWARD: Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, my name is Dr. William C. Woodward, representing the American Medical Association. The address is 535 North Dearborn St., Chicago, Illinois.

CHAIRMAN: Do you appear in the capacity of a medical expert, a legal expert, a legislative expert, or in all three capacities?

WOODWARD: My profession is that of a practitioner of medicine and of legal medicine. I have combined the two. If you want to class me as an expert, you might class me as a medical-legal expert. I have lectured on legal medicine as a lawyer and doctor.

CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Dr. Woodward, please continue.

WOODWARD: There is nothing in the medicinal use of cannabis that has any relation to Cannabis addiction. I use the word "cannabis" in preference to the word "marijuana", because cannabis is the correct term for describing the plant and its products. The term "marijuana" is a mongrel word that has crept into this country over the Mexican border and has no general meaning, except as it relates to the use of cannabis preparations for smoking. It is not recognized in medicine, and hardly recognized even in the Treasury Department. Marijuana is not the correct term. It was the use of the term "marijuana" rather than the use of the term "cannabis" or the use of the term "Indian hemp" that was responsible, as you realized probably, a day or two ago, for the failure of the dealers in Indian hemp seed to connect up this bill with their business until rather late in the day. So, I shall use the word "cannabis" and I should certainly suggest that if any legislation is enacted, the term used be "cannabis" and not the mongrel word "marijuana."

I say the medicinal use of cannabis had nothing to do with cannabis or marijuana addiction. In all that you have had here thus far, no mention has been made of any excessive use of the drug by any doctor or its excessive distribution by any pharmacist. And yet the burden of this bill is placed heavily on the doctors and pharmacists of the country; and I may say very heavily, most heavily, on the farmers of the country.

My interest is primarily, of course, in the medical aspects. We object to the imposing of an additional tax on physicians, pharmacists, and others catering to the sick to require that they register and re-register and that they have special order forms to be used for this particular drug, when the matter can just as well be covered by an amendment to the Harrison Narcotic Act.

If you are referring to the particular problem, I object the act because it is utterly unsusceptible of execution and an act that is not susceptible of execution is a bad thing on the statute books.

CHAIRMAN: If the use of marijuana as a dope has increased until it has become serious and a menace to the public, as has been testified here–and the testimony here has been that it causes people to lose their mental balance, causes them to become criminals so that they do not seem to realize right from wrong after they become addicts of this drug–taking into consideration the growth in its injurious effects and its diminution in its use so far as any beneficial effect is concerned, you realize, do you not, that some good may be accomplished by this proposed legislation?

WOODWARD: Some legislation, yes, Mr. Chairman.

CHAIRMAN: If that is admitted, let us get down to a few concrete facts. With the experience in the Bureau of Narcotics and with the State governments trying to enforce the laws that are on the State statute books against the use of this deleterious drug, and the Federal Government has realized that the State laws are ineffective, don’t you think some Federal legislation necessary?

WOODWARD: I do not.

CHAIRMAN: You do not?

Woodward: No. I think it is the usual tendency to–

CHAIRMAN: I believe you did say in response to Mr. Cooper that you believed that some legislation or some change in the present law would be helpful. If that be true, why have you not been here before this bill was introduced proposing some remedy for this evil?

WOODWARD: Mr. Chairman, I have visited the Commissioner of Narcotics on various occasions–

CHAIRMAN: That is not an answer to my question qt all.

WOODWARD: I have not been here because–

CHAIRMAN: You are here representing the medical association. If your association has realized the necessity, the importance of some legislation–which you now admit–why did you wait until this bill was introduced to come here and make mention of it? Why did you not come here voluntarily and suggest to this committee some legislation?

WOODWARD: I have talked these matters over many times with the –

CHAIRMAN: That does not do us any good to talk matters over. I have talked over a lot of things. The states do not seem to be able to deal with it effectively, nor is the Federal Government dealing with it at all. Why do you wait until now and then come in here to oppose something that is presented to us. You propose nothing whatever to correct the evil that exists. Now, I do not like to have a round-about answer to that question.

WOODWARD: We do not propose legislation directly to Congress when the same end can be reached through one of the executive departments of the government.

CHAIRMAN: You admit that it has not been done. You said that you thought some legislation would be helpful. That is what I am trying to hold you to now to. Now, why have you not proposed any legislation? That is what I want a clear, definite, clean-cut answer to.

WOODWARD: In the first place, it is not a medical addiction that is involved and the data do not come before the medical society. You may absolutely forbid the use of cannabis by any physician, disposition of cannabis by any pharmacist in the country, and you would not have touched your cannabis addiction as it stands today because there is no relation between it and the practice of medicine or pharmacy. It is entirely outside of those two branches.

Chairman: If the statement that you have just made has any relation to the question that I asked, I just do not have the mind to understand it. I am sorry.

WOODWARD: I say that we do not ordinarily come directly to Congress if a department can take care of the matter. I have talked with the Commissioner Anslinger.

CHAIRMAN: If you want to advise us on legislation you ought to come here with some constructive proposals rather than criticism, rather than trying to throw obstacles in the way of something that the Federal Government is trying to do. It has not only an unselfish motive in this, but they have a serious responsibility.

WOODWARD: We cannot understand yet, Mr. Chairman, why this bill should have been prepared in secret for two years without any intimation to the profession that it was being prepared.

CHAIRMAN: Is not the fact that you were not consulted your real objection to this bill?

WOODWARD: Not at all.

CHAIRMAN: Just because you were not consulted?

WOODWARD: Not at all.

CHAIRMAN: No matter how much good there is in the proposal?

WOODWARD: Not at all.

CHAIRMAN: That is not it?

WOODWARD: Not at all. We always try to be helpful.

VINSON: The fact that they took that length of time in the preparation of the bill, what has that to do with the merits of the legislation?

WOODWARD: The legislation is impracticable so far as enforcement is concerned, and the same study devoted to state legislation would have produced much better results.

DINGELL: The impression I gain from your last remark is that it is only the medical profession that is interested in this bill. But what about the 125,000,000 people in this country? This is not only a bill that the medical profession is interested in or that AMA is interest in, but all of the people are interested in it. Incidentally, I would like to ask how many doctors are members of the AMA?

WOODWARD: Approximately 100,000.

DINGELL: That many are members of the AMA?


DINGELL: How many doctors are there in the United States?

WOODWARD: Probably 140,000 or 150,000. There may be 160,000.

DINGELL: Are we to understand that the medical men of the state of Michigan, or the medical profession in Wayne County, or the medical association of Detroit, are opposed to this legislation?

WOODWARD: I do not know. No medical man would identify this bill with a medicine until he read it through, because marijuana is not a drug.

DINGELL: Please tell me this: What effort has been made in my state through the medical association to protect the school children and the unfortunate people who are falling victims to this habit? I ask that question since we are talking about controlling it through the states. I want to know what has been done by the State of Michigan and the members of the medical profession to give protection intended by this bill.

WOODWARD: It is, of course, impossible for me to say just what has been done in any particular state; but in the Michigan laws of 1931, chapter 173, they do regulate the production and distribution of Cannabis Indica.

DINGELL:What kind of regulation is that?"

WOODWARD: I do not have the law here.

DINGELL: Can you tell me whether that legislation was at that time sponsored by the medical association of my state?

WOODWARD: I do not know. I cannot carry all of those details in my mind. You understand that marijuana is simply a name given cannabis. It is a mongrel word brought in from Mexico. It is a popular term to indicate cannabis, like "coke" is used to indicate cocaine, and as "dope" is used to indicate opium.

DINGELL: We know that is a habit that is spreading, particularly among youngsters. We learn that from the pages of the newspaper. You say that Michigan has always regulated it. We have a state law, but we do not seem to be able to get anywhere with it, because, as I have said, the habit is growing. The member of victims is increasing each year.

WOODWARD; There is no evidence of that.

DINGELL: I have not been impressed by your testimony here as reflecting the sentiment of the high-class members of the medical profession in my state. I am confident that the medical profession in the state of Michigan will subscribe wholeheartedly to any law that will suppress this thing, despite that fact that there is a $1 tax imposed.

WOODWARD: If there was any law that would absolutely suppress the thing, perhaps that is true, but when the law simply contains provisions that impose a useless expense, and does not accomplish the results–

DINGELL: That is simply your personal opinion. That is kindred to the opinion you entertained with reference to the Harrison Narcotics Act.

WOODWARD: If we had been asked to cooperate in drafting it–

DINGELL: You are not cooperating in this at all.

WOODWARD: As a matter of act, it does not serve to suppress the use of opium and cocaine.

DINGELL: The medical profession should be doing its utmost to aid in the suppression of this curse that is eating the very vitals of the nation.


McCORMACK: Are you not simply piqued because you were not consulted in the drafting of the bill?

WOODWARD: That is not the case at all. I said, in explaining why I was here, that the measure should have been discussed and an expression of opinion obtained before the Treasury Department brought the bill before the congress of the United States, so that it would be in a form that would be acceptable with as few differences of opinion as possible.

McCORMACK: With all due respect to you and for your appearance here, is it not a fact that you are peeved because you were not called in and consulted in the drafting of the bill?

WOODWARD: Not in the least. I have drafted too many bills to be peeved about that.

McCORMACK: There is no question but that the drug habit has been increasing rapidly in recent years.

WOODWARD: There is no evidence to show whether or not it has been.

McCORMACK: In your opinion has it increased?

WOODWARD: I should say it has increased slightly. Newspaper exploitation of the habit has done more to increase it than anything else.

McCORMACK: It is likely to increase further unless some effort is made to suppress it.

WOODWARD: I do not know. The exploitation targets young men and women to venture into the habit.

McCORMACK: At any event, it is a drug.

WOODWARD: Cannabis Indica is a drug, yes.

CHAIRMAN: The public authorities dealing with this evil, the state authorities and Federal authorities, say that they need further legislation in order to protect the people from its insidious influence and effects. Under those conditions, do you not believe that congress should try to do something?

WOODWARD: I think something should be done, but it is only a question of what should be done.

CHAIRMAN: You stated a while ago that you believed this law would be ineffective. Of course, the law against carrying concealed weapons, designed to protect people against criminals, is not entirely effective, but you would not advocate the repeal of the law. The laws against prostitution and murder are not entirely effective, but without legislative control we would be at the mercy of he criminal class, and we would have no civilization whatever.

(And that’s that! Chairman pounds gavel dramatically, committee members glare at Woodward, remainder of chamber files out slowly.)

The House Ways and Means Committee approved the Marijuana Tax Act and sent it to a Senate Subcommittee, which, after one day of hearings also approved it. On June 14, 1937, the bill came before the full House. Only four congressmen asked for explanation of the bill’s provisions. What they received was an account of the criminal acts perpetrated by marijuana use from a member of the Ways and Means Committee. The act passed without a roll call. The question of whether the American Medical Association agreed with the bill was answered by Congressman Vinson.

VINSON: Our committee heard testimony of Dr. William Wharton (He got Dr. Woodward’s name wrong!) who not only gave this measure his full support, but also the approval from the American Medical Association which he represented as legislative counsel.

The act passed Congress with little debate and even less public attention. It stands today as a monument to uncontroversial law.