Cannitrol – Cannabis Control Agent

Marijuana news from around the world

1956, a Grave Injustice


One of the more infamous events in drug law history was the passage of the Narcotic Control Act in July of 1956.  One of its many effects was the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences for possession, distribution and trafficking of drugs, particularly Marijuana.  At this time, Marijuana was still highly castigated by the majority of the US population, especially those eager-to-please, power-hungry politicians.  Henry J Anslinger (the man behind the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937) was still the drug czar of the era, and although this bill was not his brain-child, he certainly championed it as it gave enormous power to his organization (the Federal Bureau of Narcotics).  Interestingly enough, some members of the Federal bureaucracy (those in law enforcement) were against this because it gave so much power to a sub-department of the Treasury Department.  Some of its provisions wanted bureau agents to carry firearms and serve warrants.  It also allowed them to make arrests and obtain wiretaps without warrants.

In the 1950’s, “narcotic” drug use was ramping up in the United States.  Also, it was a time where the first congressional hearings were broadcast on television.  These Senate hearings discussed organized crime and its continued rise in power.  Where was this stemming from? More money = more power, and the crime lords were making vast swaths of money in drug trafficking, specifically heroin, cocaine and marijuana.  For a quick tutorial on this, take a few minutes to check out The Godfather.  There’s a great scene where the Dons of the Five Families get together and discuss how they will make peace between themselves and carve out their empires by building on drug revenue.  Some were against drug sales due to moral objections (although they had no problem with gambling, prostitution and protection rackets) while others saw an untapped market just waiting to explode.  Well, the entrepreneurs were right and drugs were indeed the wave of the future.  It only takes a little taste to get most users hooked.  So, a lot of society’s members were legitimately worried about this rising tide.  It was a pity that Marijuana got caught up with the much more dangerous drugs, but alcohol and tobacco were once again ignored.

Let’s get to the meat-and-potatoes of this bill.  It “increased the minimum and maximum penalties for all drug offenses to 1-10 years, 5-25 years, and 10-40 years for succeeding convictions; increased the fine in an categories to $20,000; and imposed 5-20 years upon first conviction for any smuggling or sale violation, and 10-40 years thereafter, with a separate penalty of 10-40 years for any sale or distribution by a person over eighteen to a minor, and from ten years to life, or death when a jury so recommended, if the drug was heroin.  All discretion to suspend sentences or grant probation, and all parole eligibility-generally available to anyone convicted under any other federal criminal law-were prohibited except for first offenders convicted of possession only.”  By removing the chance for parole, inmates had no incentive to reform their behavior and become functional members of society.  Furthermore, the law required that anyone convicted of drug crimes must register and receive special licenses to exit and enter any borders of the United States. Failure to comply with this provision led to fines and further imprisonment.  There are a few more caveats to this piece of legislation; if there are any interested people, that information can be found here.

This law stood until it was thankfully overturned in 1970.  It led to many thousands of arrests and incarcerations.  Many of the convicted were young offenders and served the majority of their lives in jail, if they lived long enough to be released.  There were a lucky few who were pardoned by President Kennedy in 1962, but there were very few.

Surprised, horrified, and/or upset by this tidbit of history? Well, there’s plenty more where that came from. Luckily this law is gone, but the Marijuana community has many more battles to fight before they can declare victory.

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *