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Old February 26th, 2017, 12:30 AM   #1
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Illicit drugs pre-1960's.

Let's say for instance I am in 1935 New York City and I wish to buy a bag of marijuana. First, is marijuana common at all? Would I have to go to the jazz clubs or underground places to even possibly find it, or was it very rare? The same for cocaine, heroin or speed. Or Chicago, Los Angeles (which wasn't a large city then) Philly, any large city.

Rural America, would marijuana be difficult to find or procure? Did anyone in pre 1960's white America smoke marijuana? I do know that Robert Mitchum the actor was busted for it in 1948 creating a scandal. Seems most of the people on drugs in Mitchum's time were pill poppers from the doctor and not street type stuff, until someone went off the rails shooting heroin.

What was the largest penalties over a small amount of weed? Were people sentenced to five to twenty on the work farm for having a gram of marijuana? The stuff did grow wild.

Seems that most people born of the pre WWII generation outside of Willie Nelson are very anti-marijuana and want strict drug laws, much more than their children or grandchildren. This seems to be more of an alcohol/tobacco abusing generation more than drugs, and again what we think of as street drugs were not a big thing.

I do know that heroin and cocaine pre 1914 and the Harrison Act were sold over the counter as a pain reliever. Interesting times. People must have been abusing these drugs for the Harrison Act to become law. Personally, cheap over the counter cocaine would be the death of me, but seemingly the vast majority of the population were not cokeheads.

Drugs in the olden days, what was it like?
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Old February 28th, 2017, 06:50 AM   #2

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Bob Mitchum's arrest for marijuana in 1948:

Robert Mitchum?s 1948 arrest on marijuana charges - Framework - Photos and Video - Visual Storytelling from the Los Angeles Times

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Old February 28th, 2017, 07:15 AM   #3

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Hemp for Victory;

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Old February 28th, 2017, 08:19 AM   #4
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The marijuana tax stamps that Triceratops posted were the results of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. See here:



Prior to 1937 canabis was regularly prescribed by doctors and sold in pharmacies. Hemp, the plant that marijuana comes from, was a legal crop. Under the 1937 Act possession of marijuana could be punished by up to $2,000 fine, five years in jail, or both.

In the early 20th century school teachers had to certify at the end of the school year that they had taught their students the dangers of narcotics, among other subjects such as prevention of cruelty to animals, that Arbor Day was celebrated, that the school flag was properly displayed, etc. So the dangers of narcotics was widely recognized as a major social problem, even in the early 20th century.

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Old February 28th, 2017, 09:21 AM   #5

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James Thurber's story 'Catbird Seat' references cocaine, so it was on the radar in the early 1940s.

IIRC there was an anti-narcotics crusade in the USA in the 1920s

Last edited by sailorsam; February 28th, 2017 at 09:22 AM. Reason: add line
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Old March 1st, 2017, 06:42 AM   #6

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While I don't think drugs were rare, especially among musicians, I don't think you as a stranger would have been able to just walk into a jazz club and buy marijuana or other drugs.

Recently read a biography of Louis Armstrong in which he referred to himself and others who used marijuana as "vipers" and here's a list of drug songs from the 20s and 30s: Viper Mad Blues—25 Songs of Dope and Depravity, Then there's this by the great reedman Sydney Bechet:

And of course the jazz greats Charley Parker and Billie Holiday were deeply involved with heavier drugs in the late 40s.
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Old March 1st, 2017, 02:58 PM   #7

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Opium smoking arrived in North America with the large influx of Chinese, who came to participate in the California Gold Rush. The jumping-off point for the gold fields was San Francisco, and the city's Chinatown became the site of numerous opium dens soon after the first Chinese arrived, around 1850. However, from 1863 to the end of the century, anti-vice laws imposed by the new municipal code book banned visiting opium rooms in addition to prostitution and other laws that could injure public morals.[2] Despite this, the 1870s attracted many non-Chinese residents to San Francisco's dens, prompting the city fathers to enact the nation's first anti-drug law, an 1875 ordinance banning opium dens....

....The opium dens of New York City's Chinatown, due to its geographical distance from China, were not as opulent as some of those to be found on the American West Coast. According to H. H. Kane, a doctor who spent years studying opium use in New York in the 1870s and 1880s, the most popular opium dens (or "opium joints" as they were known in the parlance of the day) were located on Mott and Pell Streets in Chinatown. At the time, all the city's opium dens were run by Chinese, except for one on 23rd Street that was run by an American woman and her two daughters. Kane remarked that New York's opium dens were one place "where all nationalities seem indiscriminately mixed".
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Old March 1st, 2017, 06:02 PM   #8

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Click the image to open in full size.Cab Calloway - Reefer Man (Best HQ) - Video Dailymotion
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Old March 1st, 2017, 06:05 PM   #9

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Fussing about alcohol probably took up most of the authorities time in the previous century and a half, Americans drank 7.1 gallons of alcohol a year at the peak of their consumption in 1830...they drink 2.1 now days to give an idea. I'm not sure it would have been a big issue in many communities while they worried about intemperance.
Hemp was grown on farms, at least some of those farmers would have known of its effects on the human mind so to speak...
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Old March 1st, 2017, 06:27 PM   #10

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Cocaine already had a bad reputation by the late 1800s. It's addictive qualities were well known and the concept of the "cocaine fiend" was already a thing. But people saw it as a manageable threat. How dangerous could it be? Sherlock Holmes took it. So did Sigmund Freud. It was like the Red Bull of its day. Also since it was a cheap, easy high, it was primarily a working-class drug, and laws dont usually get passed until rich people start dying from something.

In those days cocaine was a liquid you injected. You could buy it cheap in drug stores (it was diluted, but obviously still strong enough to create addicts). Snorting powdered cocaine came about in the early 1900's. Back then they called it "Burny", and coke-heads were called "Burny blowers." Pot was around too, but it was more of a rural thing. Cocaine was a city drug.

Last edited by stevapalooza; March 1st, 2017 at 06:37 PM.
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