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HR. 238 [75th]: Maripuana Tax Act
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Signed by the president.
Introduced August 2, 1937
Sponsor(s) Rep. Robert L. Doughton [-]
Source: {{{footnotes}}}

In the United States, the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, Pub. 238, 75th Congress, 50 Stat. 551 (Aug. 2, 1937), was a significant bill on the path[1] that led to the criminalization of cannabis. It was introduced to U.S. Congress by Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger. The Act is now commonly referred to using the modern spelling as the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act.

The Act did not itself criminalize the possession or usage of hemp, marijuana, or cannabis, but levied a tax equaling roughly one dollar on anyone who dealt commercially in cannabis, hemp, or marijuana. The Act did include penalty provisions and elaborate rules of enforcement to which marijuana, cannabis, or hemp handlers were subject. Violation of these procedures could result in a fine of up to $2000 and five years' imprisonment. The net effect was to increase the risk for anyone dealing in the substance — at least until World War II required the United States Department of Agriculture to make its 1942 movie "Hemp for Victory". The film encouraged and taught farmers to grow variants of hemp suitable as raw material for hawsers used by the U.S. Navy and the Merchant Marine, prior to the adoption of Nylon rope. The hemp was also used as a substitute for other fibrous materials that were blocked by Japan.

The bill was passed on the grounds of different reports[2] and hearings [3]. Anslinger also referred to the International Opium Convention that from 1928 included cannabis as a drug, and that all states had some kind of laws against improper use of cannabis. Some testimonies included that cannabis caused "murder, insanity and death"[4]. Today, it is generally accepted that the hearings included incorrect, excessive or unfounded arguments.[5] By 1951, however, new justifications had emerged, and a bill that superseded the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed.[citation needed]

The background also included a report about the commercialized hemp reporting that from 1880 to 1933 the hemp grown in the United States had declined from 15,000 acres (61 km2), to 1,200 acres (5 km2), and that the price of line hemp had dropped from $12.50 per pound in 1914 to $9.00 per pound in 1933.[6]

In 1967, President Johnson's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of justice opined, "The Act raises an insignificant amount of revenue and exposes an insignificant number of marijuana transactions to public view, since only a handful of people are registered under the Act. It has become, in effect, solely- a criminal law, imposing sanctions upon persons who sell, acquire, or possess marijuana."[7]

In 1969 in Leary v. United States, part of the Act was ruled to be unconstitutional as a violation of the Fifth Amendment, since a person seeking the tax stamp would have to incriminate him/herself.[8] In response the Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act as Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970[9]. The 1937 Act was repealed by the 1970 Act.

Although the spelling "marijuana" is more common in current usage, the correct spelling for the Marihuana Tax Act is "Marihuana". "Marihuana" was the spelling most commonly used in Federal Government documents at the time. To stay consistent with prior law, it is still spelled "Marihuana" in some congressional bills such as HR 3037, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2005.

In addition, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 legitimized the use of the term "marihuana" as a label for hemp and cannabis plants and products. Prior to 1937, "marihuana/marijuana" was slang; it was not included in any official dictionaries.[10] The slang word marihuana/marijuana is probably of Mexican origin. In the years leading up to the tax act considerable issues existed involving illegal immigration of Mexicans into the United States, and the one thing Mexicans were identified as being in possession of was cannabis,[citation needed] which they called marihuana. The southern border states called for action.[citation needed] . After the enactment, illegal immigrants and U.S. citizens could be arrested for possession of cannabis.

Shortly after the U.S. Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act On Friday, October 1, 1937 the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Denver City police first arrested Moses Baca for possession and Samuel Caldwell for dealing. Baca and Caldwell's arrest made them the first marijuana convictions under U.S. federal law for not paying the marijuana tax.[11]

Judge Foster Symes sentenced Moses Baca to 18 months and Samuel Caldwell to four years in Leavenworth Penitentiary for violating the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act. They were eventually released.

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