The First U.S. Marijuana Arrest (Ever)

The federal Marihuana Tax Stamp Act was passed on October 2, 1937, seventy years ago today. It was the first law criminalizing marijuana sale and possession in the United States.

That very day, the FBI arrested Samuel Caldwell for selling two joints to Moses Baca who was also arrested. Caldwell was sentenced to four years in Leavenworth; Baca 18 months. Neither was paroled. The maximum was five years.

Technically speaking Caldwell’s crime was not buying the $1 stamp that was a tax levied on the purchase and sale of marijuana. Apparently it was no legal defense that the stamp wasn’t available; after all, he was arrested the day the law was enacted – the stamps didn’t exist yet.

From the NORML website, the judge in his case sounds like he may have had a part in ghost writing Reefer Madness:

Caldwell's wares, two marijuana cigarettes, deeply offended Judge Foster Symes, who said:

"I consider marijuana the worst of all narcotics, far worse than the use of morphine or cocaine. Under its influence men become beasts. Marijuana destroys life itself. I have no sympathy with those who sell this weed. The government is going to enforce this new law to the letter."

Some thirty two years later, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Tax Stamp Act as unconstitutionally violating a defendant’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Leary v. United States, 395 U.S. 6 (1969). Yes, that Timothy Leary. But I digress.

Of course, the case didn’t do Mr. Caldwell any good, because he had already served his four years, day for day, and in fact got no satisfaction at all since he died about a year after being released.

And all 50 states as well as the Federal Government have simply moved on to directly criminalizing marijuana sale and possession. And the prison industry thanks them for it.

Other bloggers/Same Subject: DrugWarRant, Friendly Fire.

norml.org

[UPDATE:  Oooops.  Maybe this is the second arrest.]

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Comments (6) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Mike - October 21, 2009 2:15 AM
nicole - April 1, 2010 9:10 AM

It's not cool arresting crimnals from Marijuana pot makes our nerves calm down if we get up set sometimes!!!!!!

Ray - October 17, 2010 7:55 PM

this is such bullshit. alcohol kills 400,000 a year in the us but its legal, tobacco kills 80,000 and its legal. marijuana, 0, ever, in thousands of years. yet illegal.

Executive Coach Rob - December 17, 2010 8:09 PM

Very interesting article. What a waste of precious prison space.

Sharon - October 4, 2011 12:00 AM

The 09/11/1923 Seattle Times reported the following on page 2, "Mexican Herb Causes Grief. Charged with violating the state antinarcotic law by having in their possession marijuana, a Mexican narcotic herb, Mr. and Mrs. John Kraft were arrest last night in the Idaho Hotel by Patrolmen N.P. Anderson and H.B. Williams and taken to the city jail. This is the first time since the state law went into effect that anyone has been arrested fir having the Mexican narcotic herbs in their possession".

I uncovered this news story while researching my grandfather's (Nelson Peter Anderson) history as a Seattle Police Officer from 1917-1937.

For most of his career he was on the narcotics squad in the International District and Pioneer Square- later he was on the "dry squad" enforcing prohibition. The irony is that his career was cut short at the age of 45 when he died from alcoholism in 1937.

Skarlett - November 3, 2011 8:59 AM

I saw this in the documentary called "The Union". It inspired me to research this totally unnecessary prohibition. Thanx for the info(:

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