Cannabis News



Canada Slow To Face Reefer Madness

Source: National Post (Canada)
Author: Mark Bourrie, National Post 
Published: Saturday, January 11, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Southam Inc.
Contact: [email protected]

As pot turned U.S. tokers into 'crazed maniacs,' police here were still learning how to smell it.

After a decade of U.S. government scare propaganda that convinced Americans that crazed Mexicans, blacks and fans of jazz clubs were pushing marijuana "reefers" on school children and honest youths, turning them into raving murderers, politicians decided to act.

The U.S. Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act. Growing and selling marijuana were still legal, but only if you bought a $1 government stamp. And that stamp was not for sale.

On the day the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act was enacted -- Oct. 2, 1937 -- the FBI and Denver, Colo., police raided the Lexington Hotel and arrested Samuel R. Caldwell, 58, an unemployed labourer and Moses Baca, 26. On Oct. 5, Caldwell went into the history trivia books as the first marijuana seller convicted under U.S. federal law. His customer, Baca, was found guilty of possession.

Caldwell's wares, two marijuana cigarettes, deeply offended Judge Foster Symes, who said:

"I consider marijuana the worst of all narcotics, far worse than the use of morphine or cocaine. Under its influence men become beasts. Marijuana destroys life itself. I have no sympathy with those who sell this weed. The government is going to enforce this new law to the letter."

Caldwell was sentenced to four years of hard labour in Leavenworth Penitentiary, plus a US$1,000 fine. Baca received 18 months incarceration. Both men served every day of their sentence. A year after Caldwell was released from prison, he died.

It took more than a year for Canada's politicians to identify the marijuana menace and protect Canadians from it.

In fact, it was quite a stretch to find any domestic marijuana problem at all. The first time the RCMP mentioned marijuana, it was to reassure Canadians. Just days after Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act, the Mounties told newspaper reporters that Canada was pretty much free of the drug, "said to be the cause of thousands of crimes in the United States, particularly murder."

Marijuana had been found growing "profusely in most states of the Union, though curiously enough, it has not been found in the Dominion. Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who are responsible for enforcement of the Federal Narcotics Act in Canada, do not consider this particular drug to be a problem in this country, but they are watching the situation in the United States closely."

A "Negro" caught by Mounties somewhere in southwestern Ontario was found to be carrying marijuana cigarettes, but police couldn't prove he was selling them to anyone, so he was released.

"Marijuana, peddled to many young people in the United States, causes insanity in many cases. Its effect is often unpredictable. It has been known to turn quiet, respectable youths into raving murders, seeking victims to satisfy their delusions."

That same day, ships were racing to the last known location of aviator Amelia Earhart, Stalin had 20 railway workers at the east end of the Trans-Siberian Railway shot for plotting with the Japanese, Spanish leftists bombed Francisco Franco's headquarters in Salamanca in retaliation for a fascist air raid on Valencia, and Pan-American Airlines introduced 12-hour transatlantic service from Newfoundland to Ireland.

By the end of the year, police were looking for marijuana coming across the border at Windsor, Ont.

In its largest border seizure to that point, Mounties took two tobacco cans full of pot from a man as he stepped off the ferry from Detroit. George Charboneau, a 21-year-old Windsor man, was the first Canadian charged with bringing marijuana into the country.

On the Michigan side of the Detroit River, police were finding patches of the stuff growing wild around the city, burning five tonnes in one day.

The Attorney-General of Michigan, Raymond Starr, was relieved that so much pot had been found. "Smokers of these drugged cigarettes are turned into raving maniacs. They are led to commit the most brutal crimes. The danger is particularly great since peddlers concentrate on schoolchildren," he said.

Two months on, Parliament came to grips with a menace that the previous summer the police had said was almost non-existent in Canada.

As Nazis made their final lunge for Austria and Britain's Lord Halifax made the empty threat that his country was ready to take on Hitler, debate began in the House of Commons on an anti-pot, anti-hemp law.

"Marijuana is by no means a new drug," Charles "Chubby" Power, the Minister of Pensions and National Health, a newly minted expert on the problem, told his colleagues.

"It has been known since the time of Homer. It was formerly known as hashish, and is exceedingly stimulating."

Power went on to talk about how the weed had made it into Canada. It had slipped in during the First World War, when it was used for making twine.

(In fact, hemp had been grown in Canada since the first half of the 17th century; the French colonial administration had put constant pressure on Quebec farmers to grow the plant. Navies needed a cheap supply for rigging, and were at the mercy of the Russian nobles and Prussian junkers who controlled the European market.)

Liberal backbenchers criticized their own government for its "sham" drug protection policies. J.K. Blair, a Liberal from near Guelph, Ont., worried that evil-doers were spiking ordinary cigarettes with marijuana. "I think a great number of our highway accidents are caused by smoking cigarettes with dope in them," he said.

No one challenged that claim, but the House of Commons did stop short of adopting an amendment to ban codeine as well.

One farmer living near the southwestern Ontario town of Forest protested that the federal Agriculture Department had encouraged him to grow hemp, while the health minister was trying to have it banned. Howard Fraleigh, who usually grew flax, had been talked into planting 50 acres of hemp in the summer of 1937.

He protested that none of his crop had found its way into the illegal drug trade.

The farmer told civil servants and newspaper reporters he had spent at least $6,000 on new, specially made equipment. At the very least, he said, the government should buy the machines.

Fraleigh was the only farmer to protest the hemp ban, but his arguments were swept aside by health department experts who said the leaves of the hemp plant had powerful narcotic qualities.

Later, as the Senate discussed the bill, the government realized it would have no source of hemp rope for the war that was obviously coming. Canada still needed hemp, and supplies from the United States had been cut off. The government came up with a licensing system that served well during wartime and was revived in 1994, when Ottawa allowed hemp growing to start up again.

And, as Japanese troops encircled 100,000 Chinese soldiers northwest of Shanghai, the Roosevelt administration slapped a duty on Canadian cedar shingles, and Stalin's prosecutors presented their case against 21 Russians held on trumped-up charges of murdering the dramatist Maxim Gorky, police in Hamilton, Ont., sat down to smoke some pot.

They lit up some marijuana "just to attune their nasal powers so in future by merely sniffing, they'll be able to detect the drug," the city's police chief, E.K. Goodman, said.

Cops had never found the weed in the city, but the chief wanted his men to be able to catch pot smokers. The Hamilton police had to mooch some marijuana from the RCMP.

The police put some marijuana in a tin can, set it on fire and took turns inhaling the potentially murder-inspiring smoke.

"Even in a crowded room where cigars, good and bad, pipes and cigarettes are sending up a smokescreen, the trained nostrils of the officers, with the certainty of efficient bloodhounds, will be able to single out the marijuana addict and enable them to get their man," the Globe and Mail crowed in a front-page story.

And, finally, two months after the House of Commons began its debate on marijuana and almost a year into Samuel Caldwell's stretch at Leavenworth, Toronto cops picked up their first pot dealers.

Duncan Campbell, John Short and Robert Tubman were caught selling several marijuana cigarettes to a woman for 50 apiece. Police weren't sure whether she planned to smoke them herself or was buying the "Muggles," "reefers" or "Mary Warners" for an addict.

But, finally, a Canadian murderer came forward to admit that marijuana had inspired him to commit his crime. Thomas Bryans, facing the gallows for shooting a hood named Norman Ford in North York, Ont., used the "reefer madness" defence in his trial.

But it turned out Bryans had come up with the excuse by overhearing talk at the police station. Testimony at his trial showed he listened in from his cell while cops talked about the arrest of Campbell, Short and Tubman.

When police at the Keele Street station asked Bryans whether he wanted a cigarette, he asked for a marijuana reefer. That started a conversation between Bryans and Sgt. Earl Scott about the hazards of pot. Sgt. Scott saw himself as an expert on the stuff, having just read through some reports he'd received from the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics. The defence didn't work and Bryans was sentenced to hang.

"Bryans, condemned murderer, is said to blame his downfall on smoking marijuana cigarettes. But murder is a very old crime, and marijuana is one of the most modern of drugs," a Toronto paper quipped.

And the next summer, police went after the source of the problem. Near Windsor, they found more than a tonne of marijuana in the form of 12-foot hemp plants. A farmer had sown the seeds to grow hemp as a windbreak for his vegetable garden.

Some 20 tonnes of wild hemp were torn up at the Caughnawaga Mohawk reserve (now called Kahnawake), across the river from Montreal, and burned. Some real marijuana gardens were found in Kingston, Napanee, Ont., and by the sharp-nosed police in Hamilton.

But, by the end of the summer of 1938, the great Canadian reefer scare was on the wane. Adolf Hitler was turning out to be much more frightening than marijuana, and, except for a few jazz musicians and lake-boat coal shovellers, pot smoking was all but forgotten until beatniks and proto-hippies revived it in the late 1950s.

Mark Bourrie's new book, Hemp Culture, will be published in 2003 by Key Porter.

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