The 1944 Mayor’s Committee on Marihuana Report

Today’s post continues a theme initiated yesterday: sensible views on drugs, expressed many, many years ago. Yesterday’s post referenced the New York Academy of Medicine’s 1955 report on opiate addiction. Today’s post goes back even further, to 1944. Then, as reefer madness swept the nation (WWII notwithstanding), New York City became the focus of a study on marihuana and its alleged effects. I’ll let Robert DeRopp take up the story in this excerpt from his Drugs and the Mind:

The cries of alarm continued nonetheless, particularly in the region of New York City, and so strident did the clamor become that some action seemed necessary. This action was taken by one of New York’s best-loved and most colorful mayors, Fiorello La Guardia, who sensibly concluded that his first duty was to discover the facts concerning the use of marihuana in the city, and on the basis of those facts, to take whatever steps seemed necessary. He accordingly requested assistance from the New York Academy of Medicine, which appointed a committee to obtain those facts of which the mayor was in need.

The report of the Mayor’s Committee on Marihuana, which was published in 1944, is a mine of valuable information, sociological, psychological, and pharmacological, concerning marihuana and its effects. The results are worthy of careful study because they place the whole phenomenon of marihuana smoking in the correct perspective and reveal the so-called “marihuana problem” as a minor nuisance rather than a major menace. In his foreword to the report, Mayor La Guardia himself remarked, “I am glad that the sociological, psychological, and medical ills commonly attributed to marihuana have been found to be exaggerated as far as New York City is concerned,” but observed that he would continue to enforce the laws prohibiting the use of marihuana “until and if complete findings may justify an amendment to existing laws.”

DeRopp describes these findings in some detail: the patterns of usage, the price of marihuana, the debunking of claims pertaining to its pernicious effects on crime, public morality, addiction and juvenile delinquency being the most prominent, and notes that the report concludes with the following words:

The publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of marihuana smoking in New York City are unfounded.

Unfortunately, as DeRopp goes on to note:

Needless to say, this calm report was not at all welcome to sensation-hungry journalists who saw themselves deprived of a valuable source of material for headlines. So after the publication of the mayor’s report there was much stormy correspondence, some of which invaded the pages of the medical press. Even the austere Journal of the American Medical Association abandoned its customary restraint and voiced its editorial wrath in scolding tones. So fierce was the editorial that one might suppose the learned members of the mayor’s committee–appointed, incidentally, by the New York Academy of Medicine–had formed some unhallowed league with the ‘tea-pad’ proprietors to undermine the city’s health by deliberately misrepresenting the facts about marihuana. 

This sounds extremely familiar. And there matters have stood for some seventy years now, even as the war on drugs continues in its idiotic, racist, misguided ways.

Note: The citation for the Mayor’s Committee report is: Mayor’s Committee on Marihuana. The Marihuana Problem in New York City. Jacques Cattell Press, Philadelphia, 1944

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