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Prohibition ’37: The AMA Dissents

William C. Woodward
William C. Woodward

Continued from last week’s AVA, the 1937 hearing at which the House Ways & Means Committee considered marijuana prohibition. 

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NARRATOR: Act Three, “The Grilling of Doctor Woodward.” Tuesday, May 4.

DOUGHTON: The Committee will be in order. The meeting this morning is for the purpose of continuing hearings on House Resolution 6385. When we adjourned last week, Dr. William C. Woodward, Legislative Counsel of the American Medical Association, was here and ready to testify. Dr. Woodward, if you come forward and give your name and address and the capacity in which you appear, we shall be glad to hear you at this time.

WOODWARD: Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, my name is Dr. William C. Woodward, representing the American Medical Association. The address is 535 North Dearborn Street, Chicago, Illinois.

NARRATOR: William Woodward was both a medical doctor and the longtime general counsel for the AMA. Bear in mind that the AMA in 1937 was Republican-dominated and its members were generally opposed to Roosevelt and the New Deal.

DOUGHTON: Thank you, Dr. Woodward.

WOODWARD: It is with great regret that I find myself in opposition to any measure that is proposed by the government (Vinson and McCormack look at each other as if expecting trouble) and particularly in opposition to any measure that has been proposed by the Secretary of the Treasury for the purpose of suppressing traffic in narcotics.

I cooperated with Hamilton Wright in drafting the Harrison Narcotics Act. I have been more or less in touch with the narcotic situation since that time. During the past two years I have visited the Bureau of Narcotics probably 10 times or more. Unfortunately, I had no knowledge that such a bill as this was proposed until after it had been introduced.

Before proceeding further, I would like to call your attention to a matter in the record wherein the American Medical Association is apparently quoted as being in favor of legislation of this character. On page 6 of the hearings before this committee we find the following: “In an editorial on this subject appearing in its editorial columns of April 10, 1937, the Washington Herald quoted the Journal of the American Medical Association in part as follows: “the problem of greatest menace in the United States seem to be the rise in the use of Indian hemp (marijuana) with inadequate control laws.” I have here a copy of the editorial referred to, and clearly the quotation from that editorial and from the Journal of the American Medical Association do not correctly represent the views of the association. The Herald is not discussing marijuana alone, but is discussing the narcotic invasion of America.

That editorial was in the nature of a review of the report on Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs in the United States of America for 1935, published by the Bureau of Narcotics of the Treasury Department.

NARRATOR: In other words, Anslinger had sent out a report implying that the AMA supported marijuana prohibition, and the Washington Herald quoted Anslinger’s report as if it were factual.

WOODWARD: The quotation has reference to the seeming situation that results from the statement of the Commissioner of Narcotics and not from any evidence that is in possession of the American Medical Association.

Gentlemen, there is nothing in the medicinal use of cannabis that has any relation to cannabis addiction. I use the word “cannabis” in preference to the word “marijuana,” because “cannabis” is the correct word for describing the plant and its products. The term “marijuana” is a mongrel word that has crept into this country over the Mexican border and has no general meaning, except as it relates to the use of cannabis preparations for smoking. It is not recognized in medicine, and hardly recognized even in the Treasury Department.

It was the use of the term “marijuana” rather then the use of the term “cannabis” or the use of the term “Indian Hemp” that was responsible, as you realized, probably, a day or two ago, for the failure of the dealers of Indian hempseed to connect up this bill with their business until rather late in the day. So, I shall use the word “cannabis, and I should certainly suggest that if any legislation is enacted, the term used be “cannabis,” and not the mongrel word “marijuana.”

I say the medicinal use of cannabis had nothing to do with cannabis — or marijuana — addiction. In all that you have heard 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 say very heavily, most heavily, possibly of all, on the farmers of the country. The medicinal use of cannabis, as you have been told, has decreased enormously. It is very seldom used.

COOPER: How is that?

WOODWARD: The medicinal use has greatly decreased. That is partially because of the uncertainty of the effects of the drug. That uncertainty has heretofore been attributed to variations in the potency of the preparations as coming from particular plants. The variations in the potency of the drug as coming from particular plants undoubtedly depends on variations in the ingredients of which the resin of the plant is made up.

To say, however, as has been proposed here, that the use of the drug should be prevented by a prohibitive tax, loses sight of the fact that future investigation may show that there are substantial medical uses.

NARRATOR: Sure enough, future investigators have identified the active components in the resin and now cannabis plants with standardized contents and potency.

WOODWARD: That there are medical uses for cannabis is admitted in a report that has, I think, been quoted here before, by a hospital pharmacist in Tunis, Dr. Bouquet.

NARRATOR: The man Anslinger kept calling the world's greatest expert.

WOODWARD: This pharmacist, Dr. Bouquet, asks (reading): “Do any preparations of Indian hemp exist possessing a therapeutic value such that nothing else can take their place for medical purposes?” His answer is no. He submits qualifications, however. Quote: “Indian hemp is employed in various preparations for internal use as a sedative and antispasmodic. It does not seem to give better results than belladonna, except in a few cases of dyspepsia accompanied by painful symptoms.” End quote.

NARRATOR: To a real doctor “a few cases” is not insignificant. And if dyspepsia means “nausea,” no drug would provide faster, more effective relief than cannabis.

WOODWARD: The number of the exceptions and the character of the cases in which cannabis gives these superior results are not stated. He adds, quote, “At my request, experiments were made for several months in 1912 with different preparations of Cannabis, without the addition of other synergetic substances. The conclusion reached was that in a few rare cases Indian hemp gives good results, but that in general it is not superior to other medicaments which can be used in therapeutics for treatment of the same afflictions.”

NARRATOR: A typo in the Congressional Record makes this read “for treatment of the same affections.”

WOODWARD: He still admits that there are exceptions in which cannabis cannot apparently be successfully substituted for. A third example. He cites the thesis of F. Pascal (Toulouse, 1934) which quote “seems to show that Indian hemp has remarkable properties in revealing the subconscious: hence it can be used for psychological, psychoanalytical, and psychotherapeutic research, though only to a very limited extent.” (looking up from the document he'd been quoting) These are the present uses recognized.

LEWIS: Are there any substitutes for that latter psychological use?

WOODWARD: I know of none. That use, by the way, was recognized by John Stuart Mill in his work on psychology, where he referred to the ability of Cannabis or Indian hemp to revive old memories — and psychoanalysis depends on revivivification of hidden memories.

That there is a certain amount of narcotic addiction of an objectionable character no one will deny. The newspapers have called attention to it so prominently that there must be some grounds for their statements. It has surprised me, however, that the facts on which these statements have been based have not been brought before this committee by competent primary evidence. We are referred to newspaper publications concerning the prevalence of marijuana addiction. We are told that the use of marijuana causes crime. Yet no one has been produced from the Bureau of Prisons to show the number of prisoners who have been found addicted to the marijuana habit. An informal inquiry shows that the bureau of Prisons has no evidence on that point.

You have been told that school children are great users of marijuana cigarettes. No one has been summoned from the Children's Bureau to show the nature and extent of the habit among children. Inquiry of the Children's Bureau shows that they have had no occasion to investigate it and know nothing particularly of it. Inquiry into the Office of Education — and they certainly should know something of the prevalence of the habit among the school children of the country, if there is a prevalent habit — indicates that they have had no occasion to investigate and know nothing of it.

Moreover, there is in the Treasury Department itself, the Public Health Service, with its Division of Mental Hygiene. That Bureau has control of the narcotics farms that were created about 1929 or 1930 and came into operation a few years later. No one has been summoned from that Bureau to give evidence. Informal inquiry by me indicates that they have had no record of any marijuana or cannabis addicts who have ever been committed to those farms.

But we must admit that there is a slight addiction, with possibly — and probably, I will admit — a tendency toward an increase. So that we have to raise the question at the present time as to the adequacy or inadequacy of our present machinery and our present laws to meet the situation.

You have been told that every state has a marijuana or cannabis law of some kind. My own inquiry indicated that there are two states that had not; but at least 46 states have laws of their own, and the District of Columbia, contrary to what has been told you, has a law that has been in force since 1906 that limits the sale of Cannabis, its derivatives and its preparations to pharmacists and persons who are authorized assistants to pharmacists. And there must be either a prescription from an authorized physician, or there must be due inquiry and a proper record made so as to assure the proper use of the drug. No one, whether a pharmacist or not, under this law, has any right to sell any preparation of cannabis indica to any person under 18 years of age except on the written order of an adult.

More interesting possibly is the Federal law relating to the matter. You have been told, I believe, that there is no federal law. The federal law is a very direct and a very positive law and I shall be glad to quote what seems to me the basic principle of it: “The Secretary of the Treasury shall cooperate with the several States in the suppression of the abuse of narcotics drugs in their respective jurisdictions.”

VINSON: To what statute are you referring?

WOODWARD: The statute of June 14, 1930, which created the present Bureau of Narcotics. If there is at the present time any weakness in our state laws relating to cannabis — or marijuana — a fair share of the blame, if not all of it, rests on the Secretary of the Treasury and his assistants who have had this duty imposed upon them for six and more years. That there has been no coordinated effort to bring into effect, in the several states, really effective laws on this subject, I think I can safely assert. And after all, that is the essential place, the states, for laws of this character.

NARRATOR: In other words, Anslinger and the federal Bureau of Narcotics were already authorized to help state officials implement anti-marijuana laws. Another thing the feds could do, Woodward suggested, was develop programs warning students about the dangers of drug abuse. Woodward then re-read the definition of “producer” in the bill under consideration, and ridiculed the impracticality of a nationwide crackdown.

WOODWARD: You can realize the difficulty that the federal government would have in covering the entire United States by an inspection force such as would be necessary to locate the growth of marijuana, even in considerable quantities. Marijuana grows wild along railroad tracks, along highways, on land belonging to the states, on immense farms and ranches, forest land and places of that sort — places to which, by the way, the federal government, I believe, has no inherent right of entry.

The federal government could never determine where this plant was growing. It could never undertake to prosecute, and if it did prosecute it would meet with the same difficulty that it met in prosecuting under the National Prohibition Act; the inadequacy of the courts and the inadequacy of prosecuting attorneys, and I may say, the inadequacy of jails.

NARRATOR: So prophetic it’s pathetic.

WOODWARD: The trouble is that we are looking on narcotic addiction solely as a vice. It is a vice, but like all vices, it is based on human nature. The use of narcotics represents an effort on the part of the individual to adjust himself to some difficult situation in his life. He will take one thing to stimulate him and another to quiet him. His will is weakened in proportion as he relies on drugs of that sort. And until we develop young men and young women who are able to suffer a little and exercise a certain amount of control, even though it may be inconvenient and unpleasant to do so, we are going to have a considerable amount of addiction to narcotics and addiction to other drugs.

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