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