The Social Construction of the Criminalization of Marijuana
On August 2nd, 1937, United States president Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. The law was passed only 83 days after being introduced in the House of Representatives as House Resolution 6906. This law sought to place prohibitive regulations requiring medical professionals to obtain a one dollar tax stamp in order to continue prescribing cannabis sativa as medicine. However, physicians who wished purchase the tax stamp were also required to divulge an abnormal amount of detail regarding the patient, the condition being treated, the amount prescribed and the date of the prescription. Failure to follow these strict rules while prescribing marijuana resulted in harsh penalties to both the medical professional and the patient. According to the text of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, “Any person who is convicted of a violation of any provision of this Act shall be fined not more than $2,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both, in the discretion of the court.”
Before any federal law regarding marijuana was ever proposed, some of the States took it upon themselves to regulate the possession, distribution and consumption of marijuana based on racial prejudice against Chinese immigrants. Referencing law passed by the state of California in 1913 one physician observes that, “The 1913 law received no attention from the press or the public. Instead, it was promulgated as an obscure amendment to the state Poison Law by the California Board of Pharmacy, which was then pioneering one of the nation's earliest, most aggressive anti-narcotics campaigns. Inspired by anti-Chinese sentiment, California was a nationally recognized leader in the war on drugs. In 1875, San Francisco instituted the first known anti-narcotics law in the nation, an ordinance to suppress opium dens, which was adopted by the state legislature in 1881.” (Gieringer, 1999).
At the time of the debate regarding the provisions of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, Dr. William Woodward, acting as a representative of the American Medical Association before the United States senate, made the following remarks: “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.” This statement represents both the end of one era of a social construct (one in which cannabis is considered a medicinal substance) and the beginning of another (where the social construct considered cannabis to be a “curse that is eating the very vitals of the nation” (Dingell, 1937).
Many theories exist regarding the true intent of the 1937 legislation. Regardless...