Maclean’s (June 15, 1938)
by Jack Mosher
Marijuana – in the East they call it hashish – is giving North American narcotic squads plenty to worry about
HERE’s the latest message being whipped from narcotic headquarters at Ottawa to all Mounties on border patrol and to undercover men in a dozen large cities: “Look out for Mary Jane.”
What does it mean? Who is Mary Jane?
Mary Jane is plain English for marijuana, which has taken such heavy toll among youth in United states; and the message, backed by timely Dominion legislation, means that Canada is now prepared to fight this latest drug menace to a finish.
There are 8,000 dope addicts in Canada. In British Columbia, owing to the proximity of the Orient, opium is at the top of the narcotic list. Heroin has most buyers in Winnipeg. Montreal favors morphine and cocaine. Sixty per cent of Toronto addicts go for codeine, paregoric, or one of the newer drugs found in sleeping powders or headache pills.
Until recently marijuana was little known in Canada, but figures tell a story of alarming increase in its distribution during recent months. It is true that since 1932, when the first seizure was made, less than 1,000 cigarettes and only a small quantity of makings have been removed from illicit channels, and in 1936, when marijuana was achieving fantastic heights on the other side of the line, only one lone “reefer” was confiscated here in Canada; but since the beginning of 1938 more of them have been seized than during the rest of that whole six-year period.
In January, George De Bozy, of Plymouth, Michigan, crossed on the ferry from Detroit. He accompanied his girl friend. The couple got into his car, which had been parked near the ferry docks, and drove off, apparently innocent tourists out to explore Canada. But when Mounties overhauled the car on the main street of Windsor a few minutes later, they found twenty-five marijuana cigarettes under the dashboard, and the makings for 1,000 more in a cleverly concealed cache beneath the rear seat.
In February, Shorty Bryans, ex-member of the Red Ryan gang and many-term prisoner, shot and killed Norman Ford outside a Toronto police station. No motive could be found for the crime, but Bryans said that he was in the habit of smoking “reefers,” and claimed he was “on the muggles” at the time the shooting occurred.
In March, Duncan Campbell was stopped by Mounties on a high-class residential street of uptown Toronto. In his overcoat pockets they found nearly 100 cigarettes which were proved by the Public Analyst to contain marijuana. Later that same night, Toronto police found two men in a downtown boarding house obviously under the influence of this drug. One was lying on the bed in a state of coma; the other was dancing about his prostrate companion, waving a red scarf and singing hilariously when the law arrived. In a dresser drawer officers found eleven reefers, said to have been purchased from a pedlar who brought them in from Buffalo.
The menace does not stop with smuggling marijuana from near-by United States cities. Plants growing right here in Canada could produce enough of this drug which maddens to send a large proportion of the Dominion’s population to the insane asylum.
Dangerous Product of Useful Plant
THERE ARE two plants from which marijuana can be made. One is Indian hemp, which has been grown under cultivation in Lambton County, Ontario, for years. The other is its wild cousin, locoweed, which is found along many an Eastern roadside and is used extensively in the prairie provinces as a windbreak.
Indian hemp grows as tall as corn, sometimes reaching to heights of fifteen feet or more. It has a tough, fibrous stock similar to bamboo, with ring every foot or so. The leaves are deeply notched and grow at the top of the stock. The plant takes about three months to mature, bears a small fruit, and when ripe its snow-white flowers give off a musty odor. Locoweed does not grow as tall as Indian hemp, its maximum height being six feet, but in all other respects it is the same.
Indian hemp has several worth-while products, one of the most important being binder twine which is made from the fibrous stock. During the Great War, when supplies of this twine were not available from European sources, the Department of Agriculture at Ottawa aked a farmer in Lambton County, Ontario to grow Indian hemp. He planted 200 acres, and has since realized $2,000 annually from its sale. When representatives of the Department of Health visited his farm a few months ago, however, he announced that we would co-operate with the Government’s campaign against marijuana by not growing the plant in future.
Attempts were made some ears ago to grow hemp at Georgetown, Ontario, and in Manitoba, but both were unsuccessful. Recently it was stated that some was being grown in the neighbourhood of Toronto, but this possible source is being closely watched by the authorities.
Another legitimate product of Indian hemp is a rapidly drying oil similar to linseed which is used for mixing paints and varnishes, and for the manufacturer of laundry soap and the better grades of floor linoleum. In certain parts of the Far East where this plant is as common as goldenrod in Canada, natives dry and crush the seeds and eat them as we would breakfast food.
The seed is also part of the feed given certain pet birds. It makes pigeon feathers amount to something, and enables canaries to sing with great gusto. Knowledge of this use led United States narcotic officers to a supply of Indian hemp growing behind bird warehouses in New York not long ago.
Unfortunately, the narcotic contained in the resin of this plant does not have the same beneficial effect on humans that it has on the feathered tribe. Working directly on the brain of the user, it drives him out of his mind during the period of its influence; and if the habit is persisted in, the addict will commit suicide or wind up in a padded cell.
Addicts, according to medical authorities who have made a study of its effects, pass through seven separate stages. The first few puffs produce euphoria or unnatural lightheadedness. Further smoking excites the brain. Objects become distorted. They enlarge or contract. Faces are seen as vague, constantly changing masks, with enormous eyes and wide gaping mouths. Billiard pockets may assume the proportions of orange baskets or shrink to the size of thimbles. This stage is followed by illusions with regard to time and space. Motor cars right on top of a person may appear to be a block away; they may be bearing down on you at sixty miles an hour yet seem to be idling along at five or ten.
Still further indulgence means fixation of ideas. Any thought is likely to become an obsession which must have something done about it, no matter how impossible or antisocial it may be. Overbalancing emotional disturbances crowd in on the addict during the sixth stage. He may commit violent acts due to irresistible impulses of a highly suggestive type. It is at this stage that he toys with ideas like murder and leaping from seventeenth-story windows, and in too many instances he actually implements such ideas in action.
The seventh and final stage is marked by hallucinations, vivid and terrifying; and, completely exhausted by these monstrosities created in a brain gone haywire, the addict collapses and sleeps it off.
An Ancient Evil
INDIAN hemp is as old as the hills. By one name or another, the drug prepared from its parts has been known to man for thousands ofyears. It has taken many forms.
In Arabia, where it was called hashish as far basck as the time of Christ, addicts chew the upper leaves of the plant. During the tenth century a Persian sect called The Order of Assassins smoked these same upper leaves in cigarette form to gear themselves up to the point where they could rob and kill with a certain fiendish glee.
As early as 1378, Emir Soudon Sheikhoum, an Arabian, who was something of a reformer, ordered all plants destroyed and the teeth of hemp-eaters removed. This did nothing to check the habit. It has since spread to Africa, many parts of Asia, to Europe and both Americas.
Yogis of India, including the religious fanatic who played dead for forty days, indulge in hemp in several forms. The flower of the female plant provides resin for their water pipes or narghiles. The powdered leaves are used to brew a tea known as Bhang, which is reported to live right up to its name. A mixture of seed and leaf is used in pipe and cigarette, while less particular addicts continue to chew the leaf.
Hemp was known to the Incas of Peru, and to the Aztecs who once peopled Mexico. It has been used ever since the Spanish conquest of that country, where the tobacco form received its present name, marijuana. A hundred years ago it crossed into the Lower Mississippi valley. During the past decade it has moved north from New Orleans with hot dance bands. Certain orchestra men in Chicago and New York and Montreal have found it possible really to “swing out” when they’ve had a few drags from a reefer.
A well-known negro band leader admits that he smokes these doped cigarettes as regularly as he eats or sleeps. He says he takes a month off every year to recuperate, but goes right back to them as soon as this “cure” is finished. He is not the only one. Another lad who is a drummer with a name band has been “hitting the hay” for years. He claims it does things to his timing which makes him feel like he is lagging when he is really hitting it off like nobody’s business. Because of this feeling he is able to get many hot licks into small fractions of seconds, stage a performance that has no equal, but when it is all over he is as limp as a wet rag, and if his wife did not call for him every night at closing time he would most likely head straight for Harlem.
In the “tea pads” of this negro quarter, addicts are known as vipers. Pads where they rob you while you are under the influence of the drug are called creeper joints. Cigarettes are referred to as reefers, sticks, Mary Janes, ding, tea, goofy butts, hay, or what have you. They are usually half as long as the ordinary smoke, and cost anything from two for a quarter upward, depending on the padkeeper’s overhead.
A smoker is said to be “high” when he is feeling good. If he gets feeling too good he is likely to “blow his top.”
The windows of dives are kept tightly closed so that the telltale smell, which resembles that of burning hay, will not escape and attract the law. Music of a physical appeal plays without ceasing in the half light, but few patrons ever dance.
Growth of the Habit
MANY modern orchestra arrangements are born in tea pads, for marijuana is practically married to Swing. Which explains why a number of high school students, who are the chief patrons of the latest dance music, have fallen easy prey to this drug in United States. They smoked reefers at first to get a lift during exams, which are not any easier to pass because of being up half the night swinging it. Then, they went on smoking marijuana because of the kick they got out of the weed.
It has kicked many of them behind the wheels of motor cars. They have no idea how fast they are travelling – sixty, seventy, eighty miles an hour – until it is too late to do anything about the matter. Excesses brought on by addiction to this drug which maddens are not confined to driving and sex indulgence. Marijuana is producing killers who are scarcely more than babies.
Seventeen of thirty-seven murderers convicted down in New Orleans last year were “ding fiends,” most of them mere youths. A Florida boy thought, while under its influence, that someone was attacking him with an axe. He had the picture reversed, as he found when he came to and saw that he had butchered parents and sister and turned their home into a shambles. A Detroit youth put a bullet through the head of a Michigan state trooper who caught up with him not long ago. Then, while still under the power of this baneful drug, he manacled the officer to a mail box and made off, not being able to remember anything of the incident when captured.
Things like this are happening practically every day or night in the republic to the south. So rapidly has marijuana taken hold of the population that it is impossible for authorities to estimate the number of addicts or the volume of the traffic. All they know is that the drug is most prevalent among the young, and that its cheapness brings it within the reach of many adults unable to afford white dopes like opium, heroin, morphine and cocaine.
Available figures reveal that 368 tons of marijuana products have been seized within a single year in the United States. During the same period 438 persons have been arrested for growing, peddling or consuming this truly obnoxious weed. As recently as 1934, cases dealing with the drug occupied but a few inches of space in the Washington files of the United States Bureau of Narcotics. Today they fill many large cabinets.
A Menace to Youth
THAT IS the picture of conditions across the line, as it was presented on behalf of United States – which does not belong to the League of Nations – by the Canadian delegates to the Geneva Drug Convention last summer. The situation on this side of the line is by no means as serious, but sufficiently so to justify the steps which are now being taken to see that it grows no more serious.
Investigation reveals that cannabis sativa, a compound from Indian hemp, was once used quite extensively here in Canada as part of certain medicines. It is now prescribed in only one of every 25,000 mixtures; and only 1,043 ounces of it were imported last year, chiefly from the laboratories of Great Britain. The reason given by reliable physicians for discontinuing its use is that it is of uncertain strength despite careful tests made during manufacture, and may upset the nervous system of the patient.
Most of the marijuana taken from illicit channels has been found in dance halls and cabarets, where young people gather to have a good time. In 1932, such seizures totalled 137 cigarettes. Reefers were then bringing $1.25 each. According to police sources they now sell for as little as ten cents, and since supply is one thing which regulates price, this clearly indicates that many more are being handled than was the case six years ago.
Mounties and local narcotics squads have taken marijuana cigarettes and makings from orchestra men working on ships which ply between Montreal and West Indian ports, from jockeys in Toronto for the annual race meets, and from colored bellhops in hotels.
Frequent seizures made in the London-Windsor area led them to name Detroit as the chief source of these cigarettes which have wrought such havoc in that border city. Lately, however, authorities have come to realize that, with a supply of the raw material growing on this side of the line, quantities of the drug could easily be produced right here in Canada – a realization which led to framing the recent amendment to the Narcotic Act.
“Since 1932,” said Hon. C. G. Power, Minister of National Heath, when introducing this bill at Ottawa, “we have had only twenty-eight cases of the kind here in Canada, but this number is likely to be doubled overnight. Up till the present,” he went on, “our efforts have been confined to keeping dangerous drugs out of Canada. But here is something which grows within our own boundaries, and it is extremely difficult to prevent marijuana’s spread unless authority is given this department to control the cultivation of Indian hemp and exterminate locoweed.”
Many horses and cattle, it was revealed, have gone crazy from eating this locoweed and had to be shot. Marijuana, argued the Minister of Health, had much the same effect on humans. He cited reports of the research department of the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics, which revealed the ravages of the drug in the country right net door and declared that unless we wanted to go around shooting off large numbers of our population or being shot by them, it was time something was done here in Canada about checking the growth of Indian hemp and locoweed.
Health Minister Power’s bill proposed that outright control of such cultivation be placed in the hands of his department, that licenses be issued to grow this plant only after the most careful examination of applicants and subject to strict Government supervision, and that all plants fo und growing illegally be exterminated.
After some perusal of the case presented by Canada’s aggressive Minister of Health, Members agreed that such a bill should become law, and, backed by this very timely piece of legislation, narcotic agents all over Canada are out to nip marijuana in the bud.