Cannabis Drug Use in
19th Century America
Although by 1839, cannabis hemp products for fiber, paper, nautical use, lamp oil, food, etc., were possibly the largest agricultural and industrial business in the world and America, the hundreds of medical uses of cannabis (known for thousands of years in the Orient and Middle East) were almost entirely unknown in Western Europe and America because of the earlier Medieval Catholic Church's suppression.
However, the 19th Century saw a dramatic re-discovery of the benefits of cannabis drugs, which were the number-one medicine in America prior to 1863. It was replaced by morphine when the new injectable needle became the rage, but not before cannabis brought with it healthful elixirs and patent medicines, luxuriant Turkish Smoking Parlors, and with them a fountain of literary creativity. Cannabis remained the number-two medicine until 1901 when it was replaced by aspirin.
Marijuana Medicine in
19th Century America
From 1850 to 1937, cannabis was used as the prime medicine for more than 100 separate illnesses or diseases in U.S. pharmacopoeia.
During all this time (until the 1940's), science, doctors, and drug manufacturers (Lilly, Parke-Davis, Squibb, etc.) had no idea of its active ingredients.
Yet from 1842 until the 1890's, marijuana, generally called Cannabis Indica or Indian Hemp extractums, was one of the three items (after alcohol and opium) most used in patent and prescription drugs (in massive* doses, usually by oral ingestion).
* Doses given during the 19th Century to American infants, children, youth, adults, women in childbirth, and senior citizens, in one day, were, in many cases, equal to what a current moderate-to-heavy American marijuana user probably consumes in a month or two, using U.S. government's 1983 guidelines for comparison.
Violence was equated with alcohol use; addiction to morphine was known as the "soldiers' illness."
And so, during that era, cannabis gained favor and was even recommended as a way of helping alcoholics and addicts recover. Some temperance organizations even suggested "hasheesh" as a substitute for (wife beating) "Demon" alcohol.
However, cannabis medicines had been largely lost to the West since the days of the Inquisition. (See chapter 10, "A Look At The sociology")
Until, that is, W.B. O'Shaugnessy, a 30 year old British physician serving in India's Bengal* province, watched Indian doctors use different hemp extracts successfully to treat all types of illness and disease then untreatable in the West, including tetanus.
* "Bengal" means "Bhang Land," literally Cannabis Land.
O'Shaugnessy then did an enormous (and the first Western) study,* in 1839, and published a 40-page paper on the uses of cannabis medicines. At the same time, a French doctor named Roche was making the same rediscovery of hemp in Middle Eastern medicines.
* O'Shaugnessy used patients, animals, and himself for his research and experiments. Incidentally, O'Shaugnessy went on to become a millionaire and was knighted by Queen Victoria for building India's first telegraph system in the 1850's.
O'Shaugnessy's medical paper and findings on hemp extracts stunned and swept through the Western medical world. In just three years, marijuana was an American and European "superstar."
Papers written by first-time American users (novices) and doctors using, treating, or experimenting with cannabis, told straight forward accounts of its usually euphoric, and sometimes disphoric, mind- and time-expanding properties for both child and adult, as well as hilarity and increased appetites, especially the first few times they tried it.
Interestingly, during this whole period of time (1840's to 1930's) Lilly, Squibb, Parke Davis, Smith Brothers, Tildens, etc., had no effective way to prolong its very short shelf life and had great difficulty standardizing dosages.
As noted before, marijuana medicine was so highly regarded by Americans (including some Protestant theologians) during the last century that in 1860, for example, the Committee on Cannabis Indica for the Ohio State Medical Society reported and concluded that, "High Biblical commentators [scholars]" believe "that the gall and vinegar, or myrrhed wine, offered to our Savior, immediately before his crucifixion, was in all probability, a preparation of Indian hemp [marijuana], and even speak of its earlier use in obstetrics."*
* Reprinted from the transcripts of the 15th annual meeting of the Ohio State Medical Society, at White Sulphur Springs, Ohio, June 12-14, 1860, pg. 75-100.
The main reasons that cannabis medicines fell into disuse in America was the difficulty of identifying and standardizing dosage, e.g., in 1964, 27 years after America outlawed cannabis in 1937, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam of Tel Aviv University first discovered the THC delta molecules as the active ingredients in cannabis. Also, doctors in the late 19th Century could not find a way to inject it into humans with their brand new hypodermic needles and still haven't.
By the 1890's, some of the most popular American marriage guides recommend cannabis as an aphrodisiac of extraordinary powers no one ever suggested a prohibition law against cannabis. And while there was talk of an alcohol prohibition law, a number of women's temperance organizations even suggested "hasheesh" as a substitute for "demon" alcohol, which they said led to wife beating.
A Popular Inspiration of the
19th Century Literary Greats
From the early 1800's on, some of the world's foremost romantic and revolutionary writers on individual freedom and human dignity extolled cannabis use. We study their works in school today as "classics": Victor Hugo: Les Miserables, 1862, Notre Dame de Paris (Hunchback of), 1831; Alexandre Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo, 1844, The Three Musketeers, 1844; Coleridge, Cautier, De Quincy, Balzac, Baudelaire, and John Greenleaf Whittier (Barbara Fritchie), etc.
Cannabis and mushroom imagery influenced Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, 1865, and Through the Looking Glass, 1872. In the early 1860's, Mark Twain's best friend and mentor was the already-famous best-selling writer and advocate of cannabis, the young (mid-20's) Fitz Hugh Ludlow (The Hashish Eater, 1857). Ludlow extolled hashish eating as a wondrous mind adventure but warned strongly against over-indulgence of it and all drugs.
These authors' stories usually had several things in common: A complete love of individual freedom; respect for the dignity of each human's search for individual consciousness; and humorous contempt for the establishment, beliefs, bureaucracies, and injustices of their day (for example, Les Miserables).
The science of psycho-pharmacology started in France circa 1845 with Doctor J.J. Moreau DeTours, and cannabis became one of the first drugs used to treat the insane and depressed.
Moreau was best friends with Dumas, Hugo, and Gautier, and in 1845 co-founded with them in Paris the first cannabis club in the Western World: Le Club Des Haschischins.
Maple Sugar Hashish Candy
Starting in the 1860's, the Ganja Wallah Hasheesh Candy Company made maple sugar hashish candy, which soon became one of the most popular treats in America.
For 40 years, it was sold over the counter and advertised in newspapers, as well as being listed in the catalogs of Sears-Roebuck, as a totally harmless, delicious, and fun candy.
Turkish Smoking Parlors
World Fairs and International Expositions from the 1860's through the early 1900's often featured a popular Turkish Hashish Smoking exposition and concession. Hashish smoking was entirely new for Americans; its effects came on much faster. However, smoking hashish was only about one-third as strong or long lasting as orally ingesting the cannabis extract medicines that even American children were regularly prescribed.
At America's giant 100-year 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, fair goers took their friends and family to partake (smoke) at the extremely popular Turkish Hashish Exposition, so as to "enhance" their fair experience.
By 1883, similar hashish smoking parlors were legally open in every major American city, including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans, and so on.
The Police Gazette estimated there were more than 500 hashish smoking parlors in New York City in the 1880's and it was estimated by the N.Y.P.D that there were still 500 or more hashish parlors in N.Y.C. in the 1920's,more of these parlors than there were "speak easy's" during the same 1920's alcohol prohibition period.
As American as Apple Pie
By the start of this century almost four generations of Americans had been using cannabis. Virtually everyone in this country was familiar from childhood on with the "highs" of cannabis extract yet doctors did not consider it habit forming, anti-social, or violent at all after 60 years of use.
This leads us to an important question: If it was not fear of health or social consequences that led to the eventual ban of cannabis use in America (and later forced on the rest of the world), what did?
The Smear Campaign
What socio-political force would be strong enough to turn Americans against something as innocent as a plant let alone one which everyone had an interest in using to improve their own lives?
Earlier, you read how the first federal anti-marijuana laws (1937) came about because of William Randolph Hearst's lies, yellow journalism, and racist newspaper articles and ravings, which from then on were cited in Congressional testimony by Harry Anslinger as facts.
But what started Hearst on the marijuana and racist scare stories? What intelligence or ignorance, for which we still punish fellow Americans to the tune of 14 million years in jails and prisons in just the last 60 years, (390,000 arrested in 1990 for marijuana; 410,000 arrested in 1993 for marijuana; 642,000 arrested in 1997 alone for marijuana, almost twice as many as 1990) Brought this all about?
The first step was to introduce the element of fear of the unknown by using a word that no one had ever heard of before: "marijuana."
The next step was to keep the maneuverings hidden from the doctors, scientists, and hemp industries who would have defended hemp. This was done by holding most of the hearings on prohibition in secret.
And, finally, prohibitionists set out to stir up primal emotions and tap right into an existing pool of hatred that was already poisoning society: racism.
Prejudice: Marijuana &
the Jim Crow Laws
Smoking in America
The first known* smoking of female cannabis tops in the Western hemisphere was probably in the 1870's in the West Indies (Jamaica, Bahamas, Barbados, etc.); and arrived with the immigration of thousands of Indian Hindus (from British-controlled India) imported for cheap labor. By 1886, Mexicans and black sailors, who traded in those islands, picked up and spread its use throughout all the West Indies and Mexico.
* There are other theories about the first known "smoking" of hemp flower tops, e.g., by American and Brazilian slaves, Shawnee Indians, etc., some fascinating - but none verifiable.
Cannabis smoking was generally used in the West Indies to ease the backbreaking work in the came fields, beat the heat, and to relax in the evenings without the threat of an alcohol hangover in the morning.
Given its late 19th Century area of usage - the Caribbean West Indies and Mexico - it is not surprising the first marijuana use recorded in the U.S. was by Mexicans in Brownsville, Texas in 1903. And the first marijuana prohibition law in America - pertaining only to Mexicans - was passed in Brownsville in that same year.
"Ganja" use was next reported in 1909 in the port of New Orleans, in the black dominated "Storeyville" section frequented by sailors.
New Orleans' Storeyville was filled with cabarets, brothels, music, and all the other usual accouterments of "red light" districts the world over. Sailors from the islands took their shore leave and their marijuana there.
The Public Safety Commissioner of New Orleans wrote that, "marijuana was the most frightening and vicious drug ever to hit New Orleans," and in 1910 warned that regular users might number as high as 200 in Storeyville alone.
To the DA and Public Safety Commissioners and New Orleans newspapers, from 1910 through the 1930s, marijuana's insidious evil influence apprently manifested itself in making the "darkies" think they were as good as "white men."
In fact, marijuana was being blamed for the first refusals of black entertainers to wear blackface* and for hysterical laughter by "Negroes" under marijuana's influence when told to cross a street or go to the back of the trolley, etc.
* That's right, your eyes have not deceived you. Because of a curious quirk in the "Jim Crow" (segregation) laws, black Americans were banned from any stage in the Deep South (and most other places in the North and West also). "Negroes" had to wear (through the 1920's) blackface - (like Al Jolson wore when he sang "Swanee") - a dye which white entertainers wore to resemble or mimic black people. Actually, by "Jim Crow" law, blacks were not allowed on the stage at all, but because of their talent were allowed to sneak/enter through back doors, put on blackface, and pretend to be a white person playing the part of a black person!
And All That Jazz
In New Orleans, whites were also concerned that black musicians, rumored to smoke marijuana, were spreading (selling) a very powerful (popular) new "voodoo" music that forced even decent white women to tap their feet and was ultimately aimed at throwing off the yoke of the whites. Today we call that new music . . . jazz!
Blacks obviously played upon the white New Orleans racists' fears of "voodoo" to try to keep whites out of their lives. Jazz's birthplace is generally recognized to be Storeyville, New Orleans, home of original innovators: Buddy Bohler, Buck Johnson and others (1909-1917). Storeyville was also the birthplace of Louis Armstrong* (1900).
* In 1930 - one year after Louis Armstrong recorded "Muggles" (read: "marijuana") - he was arrested for a marijuana cigarette in Los Angeles and put in jail for 10 days until he agreed to leave California and not return for two years.
American newspapers, politicians, and police had virtually no idea, for all these years (until the 1920's, and then only rarely), that the marijuana the "darkies" and "Chicanos" were smoking in cigarettes or pipes was just a weaker version of the many familiar concentrated cannabis medicines they'd been taking since childhood, or that the same drug was smoked legally at the local "white man's" plush hashish parlors.
White racists wrote articles and passed city and state "marijuana" laws without this knowledge for almost two decades, chiefly because of "Negro/Mexican" vicious "insolence"* under the effect of marijuana.
* Vicious Insolence: Between 1884 and 1900, 3,500 documented deaths of black Americans were caused by lynchings; between 1900 and 1917, over 1,100 were recorded. The real figures were undoubtedly higher. It is estimated that one-third of these lynchings were for "insolence," which might be anything from looking (or being accused of looking) at a white woman twice, to stepping on a white man's shadow, even to looking a white man directly in the eye for more than three seconds; for not going directly to the back of the trolley, and other "offenses."
It was obvious to whites, marijuana caused "Negro" and Mexican "viciousness" or they wouldn't dare be "insolent"; etc...
Hundreds of thousands of "Negroes" and Chicano's were sentenced from 10 days to 10 years mostly on local and state "chain gangs" for such silly crimes as we have just listed.
This was the nature of "Jim Crow" laws until the 1950's and '60's; the laws Martin Luther King, the NAACP, and general public outcry have finally begun remedying in America.
We can only image the immediate effect the black entertainers' refusal to wear blackface had on the white establishment, but seven years later, 1917, Storeyville was completely shut down. Apartheid had its moment of triumph.
No longer did the upright, uptight white citizen have to worry about white women going to Storeyville to listen to "voodoo" jazz or perhaps be raped by its marijuana-crazed "black adherents" who showed vicious disrespect (insolence) for whites and their "Jim Crow Laws" by stepping on their (white men's) shadows and the like when they were high on marijuana.
Black musicians then took their music and marijuana up the Mississippi to Memphis, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, etc., where the (white) city fathers, for the same racist reasons, soon passed local marijuana laws to stop "evil" music and keep white women from falling prey to blacks through jazz and marijuana.
In 1915, California and Utah passed state laws outlawing marijuana for the same "Jim Crow" reasons but directed through the Hearst papers at Chicano's.
Colorado followed in 1917. It's legislators cited excesses of Pancho Villa's rebel army, whose drug of choice was supposed to have been marijuana. (If true, this means that marijuana helped to overthrow one of the most repressive, evil regimes Mexico ever suffered.
The Colorado Legislature felt the only way to prevent an actual racial blood bath and the overthrow of their (white's) ignorant and bigoted laws, attitudes and institutions was to stop marijuana.
Mexicans under marijuana's influence were demanding humane treatment, looking at white women, and asking that their children be educated while the parents harvested sugar beets; and making other "insolent" demands. With the excuse of marijuana (Killer Weed), the whites could now use force and rationalize their violent acts of repression.
This "reefer raciscm" continues into the present day. In 1937, Harry Anslinger told Congress that there were between 50,000 to 100,000* marijuana smokers in the U.S., mostly "Negroes and Mexicans, and entertainers," and their music, jazz and swing, was an outgrowth of this marijuana use. He insisted this "satanic" music and the use of marijuana caused white women to "seek sexual relations with Negroes!" * Anslinger would have flipped to know that one day there would be 26 million daily marijuana users and another 30-40 million occasional users in America, and that rock 'n roll and jazz are now enjoyed by tens of millions who have never smoked marijuana.
South Africa Today
In 1911, South Africa* began the outlawing of marijuana for the same reasons as New Orleans: to stop insolent blacks! White South Africa, along with Egypt, led the international fight (League of Nations) to have cannabis outlawed worldwide.
* South Africa still allowed its black mine workers to smoke dagga in the mines, though. Why? Because they were more productive!
In fact, in that same year, South Africa influenced southern U.S. legislators to outlaw cannabis (which many black South Africans revered as "dagga, their sacred herb). Many South Africans' American business headquarters were in New Orleans at the time.
This is the whole racial and religious (Medieval Catholic Church) basis out of which our laws against hemp arose. Are you proud?
Fourteen million years so far have been spent in jails, prisons, parole and probation by Americans for this absurd racist and probably economic reasoning. (See Chapter 4, "Last Days of Legal Cannabis.")
Isn't it interesting that in 1985 the U.S. incarcerated a larger percentage of people than any country in the world except South Africa? In 1989, the U.S. surpassed South Africa, and the 1997 incarceration rate is almost four times that of South Africa, is the highest in the world, and is growing.
President Bush, in his great drug policy speech of September 5, 1989, promised to double the federal prison population again, after it had already doubled under Reagan. He succeeded. In 1993, President Bill Clinton planned to redouble the number of prisoners again by 1996. He did.
Remember the outcry in 1979 when former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young told the world that the U.S. had more political prisoners than any other nation? (Amnesty International, UCLA.)
Even though blackface disappeared as law in the late 1920's, as late as the 1960's, black entertainers (such as Harry Belafonte and Sammy Davis, Jr.) still had to go in the back door of theatrical establishments, bars, etc.; by law!
They couldn't rent a hotel room in Las Vegas or Miami Beach - even while being the headline act.
Ben Vereen's 1981 Presidential Inauguration performance for Ronald Reagan presented this country's turn-of-the-century Blackface/Jim Crow laws in a great story, about black comic genius Bert Williams (circa 1890 to 1920).
Vereen had been invited to perform for the Reagan Inauguration and had accepted only on the condition that he could tell the entire "Blackface" story - but the whole first half of Vereen's show, depicting Bern Williams and blackface, was censored by Reagan's people on ABC TV, contrary to the special agreement Vereen had with them.
More Than Sixty Years of Suppression & Repression