The four stamps of the hstoric first Issue of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937

What the “Marihuana Tax Act of 1937” Did for America

The  Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was…

Wait! Why the “h”? Marijuana is spelled with a “j”. What happened?

Marijuana became Marihuana, over 80 years ago, by Harry Anslinger. The name change was part of his campaign to cause FEAR of the narcotic. Fear was the vibration  eventually put upon the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

picture of a hand holding a string which gently loops across the page. A girl is walking the string, with a balance bar.

Before this plan of Anslinger, the plant was known as hemp or cannabis sativa and was no stranger in our homes. It was very beneficial and could be found in over-the-counter pharmacy products, such as cough syrup. You can read more about how the U.S. Government, in the early 1900’s, had actually encouraged the growth of hemp here.

Originally, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed for “tax” purposes.

  • Farmers needed a ‘tax stamp’ to cultivate hemp fiber
  • Doctors paid a tax for prescribing cannabis
  • Pharmacies had to pay a tax for selling cannabis

It was the American Medical Association (AMA) who fought the Act. Instead, the AMA wanted cannabis added to the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act.

SIDE NOTE: Over time, some have felt that the reason for the campaign against cannabis was to “demonize” the hemp industry. But why?

Perhaps for hemp’s ability to be a low cost substitute for paper pulp. So, the newspaper (who used paper) and the paper industry joined forces with Anslinger, against cannabis. In addition, certain others had major investments in the timber and newspaper industries: Andrew Mellon, the DuPont family and William Randolph Hearst. They could see their profits being undercut with the rise of hemp.

INTERESTING NOTE: William Randolph Hearst owned nationwide newspaper chains, marking the beginning of “yellow journalism”. In the 1920’s and 30’s Hearst created a new yellow journalism campaign to have hemp outlawed.

Example: A car accident with cannabis “found” in the car, would get inflated and be reported at the headlines. Whereas an alcohol related car accident would get the back pages. Alcohol  related car accidents outnumbered cannabis related accidents, 1000 to 1.

a car dove head first into a long stem glass full of liquid (drunk driver)


However, years later, it was shown that hemp, as a raw material for paper manufacturing, lacked the qualities needed to become a threat to them all. What? Yes – hemp does not contain a high enough concentrate of cellulose.

NOTE OF INTEREST: Andrew Mellon was President Hoover’s Secretary of Treasury and in 1931, appointed his “nephew-in-law” (Harry Anslinger) to be head of the newly reorganized Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (FBNDD). He held that post for 31 years!

The drug war began. Can you imagine who the first person was, to be arrested under the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937? It was exactly who Anslinger and his kind targeted; a young Mexican-American, Moses Baca. They claimed he had a quarter ounce of cannabis, hidden in his drawer of the 3rd floor rooming house of Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. The judge who sentenced him had a bitterness for cannabis and set out to make it well known. He stated things like, marijuana is worse than cocaine or morphine, claiming marijuana turned people into beasts and destroyed life.

In 1937, DuPont’s Annual Report to its stockholders, strongly urged them to have continued investment into the new (and readily accepted) petrochemical synthetic products. DuPont knew there would be “radical changes” from “the revenue raising power of government…converted into an instrument for forcing acceptance of sudden and new ideas of industrial and social reorganization.” (DuPont Company, annual report 1937)

The law was enacted a year after the production of “Reefer Madness”, an anti-cannabis film.


In conclusion:

The original intent of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, was just that; to tax the agricultural and medicinal use of marijuana. Ultimately, what pushed hemp out of the picture, was the greed for the rise in use of petrochemical synthetic products, along with the false assumption that hemp was a threat to the paper industry.

In addition, was the birth of ‘yellow journalism’, which easily painted a tainted image of cannabis to the general public. William Randolph Hearst’s nationwide newspaper chains fed the American public with lies, disinformation and fear tactics about cannabis, for decades. In part, that is why we have so much confusion today about hemp and marijuana.

NOTE: Keep in mind, with all due respect, people back then just didn’t know any better. They were very conditioned to believe what they read or heard. Especially if their “Government” was speaking. It was all they knew, at the time! We have come a long way!

Lastly, do understand that the story behind the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 is much, much deeper than the few words I have written here. This is a brief outline to help give you a clearer understanding of what hemp and marijuana have been through over the years. And this is why I created this blog, to bring to you various bits of information so that you can make an educated decision for yourself for this God given plant of the cannabis family.

landscape of mountains with clouds in background, light filtering through and rays of rainbow in the background

There is light on the American horizon today, thanks to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and it is beautiful. When we look closely, we can see that change is everywhere. The fact that the Farm Bill went into law in December 2018 is a prime example. Also, the many states that are waking up to the benefits of marijuana and opening their doors, creating so much opportunity. Everything is changing for the better. Do you believe it? I sure do!

Thank you for your continued support,

posted 01.28.19

Resources: history  Full text of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937

leafly 5 facts

herb museum tax stamp

pbs timeline Marihuana Timeline

images: Pixabay



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