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The Boggs Act

Thu, 12/16/2010 - 6:40AM by herbgrinders 0 Comments -

The Boggs Act, passed in late 1951, rationalized the penalties applicable under the Narcotics Drugs Import and Export Act and the Marihuana Tax Act. For a first· offence involving marijuana, cocaine or any opiate the sentence was set at two to five years: a second offence was given five to ten years, a third ten to twenty. f!rom the second olfence onwards there was no parole consideration. Even serial killers, rapists and spies were afforded parole. Not everyone was in accord with Boggs' legislation. James Bennett, the head of US penitentiaries, said it was a knee-jerk, hysterical reaction and judges across the USA demanded the minimum-sentence requirement be relaxed.

Apart from Anslinger's theory that marijuana was what was known as a gateway or stepping-stone drug enticing users to experiment with more powerful substances, there was still an aspect of racism to his thinking. Marijuana was popular with blacks and Hispanics, as the Mexicans were now called, and they were the progenitors of the swelling civil rights movement which, as were Communists, was seeking to topple the traditional, white dominated, American way of life. The marijuana laws, therefore, were a handy vehicle to keep the ethnic minorities in their place. Where the anti-marijuana laws were the harshest was in the southern states. In Louisiana, for example, possession carried a possible sentence of ninety-nine years: in Georgia, a second offence carried the death penalty. In many states, procuring marijuana for a minor was also a capital offence.

Whenever a new president entered the White House, there was sure to be a reshuffle of senior government posts. This was certainly true in 1952 when Dwight D. 'Ike' Eisenhower came to power but Anslinger survived the changes in the administration. Once again secure in his job, he set off rounding up support for even more hard-line policies, supported by a raft of senators who considered even the Boggs Act did not go far enough. When the 1956 Narcotic Control Act was ratified, it reassessed the maximum terms for possession of marijuana as laid down by Boggs and increased them to ten, twenty and forty years. Convictions for dealing were set at five to twenty years for a first offence, and ten to forty years thereafter. The same penalties applied to the far more dangerous heroin and cocaine.

Ominously, for the first time, FBN and customs agents were routinely armed.

Congressional and public attention was clearly focused on hard narcotics use, primarily the opiates. Judging from the recorded proceedings, especially the floor debate in the House, marijuana seems to have been along for the ride, much as it had been during enactment of the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act. However, here there was a conscious decision to include marijuana violations in the new penalty provisions. Underlying this decision were determinations that marijuana use had also increased during the later 1940's, that it too was spreading to white teenagers, and that the drug's dangers, warranted the harsh treatment contemplated by the Act.

(a) Increased Use.-To test the allegation of an increase in marijuana use during this period, we have used the seizure and enforcement figures used by the proponents of the legislation. These figures tend to sustain the hypothesis that marijuana traffic increased from 1948 to 1951, following a decline throughout the early 40's. However, the figures are also consistent with other hypotheses, for example that improved enforcement techniques and increased state-federal cooperation had increased arrests.

(b) Youthful Users.-As with the hard narcotics, Congress was especially alarmed by the alleged spread of marijuana to white teenagers and school children. Militating against this proposition is evidence that marijuana use was not widespread among the young as late as 1944. In that year, the famous La Guardia Report reached the following conclusions among others: Marijuana use was widespread in the Borough of Manhattan but tended to be limited to certain areas, notably Harlem; the majority of marijuana smokers were Negroes and Latin-Americans, and marijuana smoking was not widespread among school children

(c) The Danger: A New Rationale.-The FBN had begun its educational campaign for harsher marihuana penalties immediately after passage of the Tax Act." In the early years, the campaign was particularly effective with judges. For example, in one of the first cases under the Tax Act, a Colorado judge stated:

I consider marihuana the worst of all narcotics-far worse than the use of morphine or cocaine. Under its influence men become beasts, just as was the case with [the defendant]. Marihuana destroys life itself. I have no sympathy With those who sell this weed. In the future I will impose the heaviest penalties. The Government is going to enforce this new law to the letter.

The crime, pauperism and insanity rationale was accepted unquestioningly as late as 1951.37 Under this rationale, harsher penalties were certainly as imperative for marijuana offenders as they were for opiate offenders. However, in a paper filed as an exhibit to the hearings38 on the Boggs Act, Dr. Harris Isbell, Director of Research at the Public Health Service hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, exploded the traditional rationale. He stated that marijuana was not physically addictive.39 Although he postulated a definition of addiction which amounts to nothing more than chronic intoxication 40 and noted the possibility of "temporary psychoses" in "predisposed individuals," Isbell's description of marijuana was extraordinarily favorable. Before the Kefauver Committee he testified:

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