An illustration of New Orleans between 1898 and 1931, showing clusters of brick buildings, skyscrapers, and a body of water with boats in the distance.

Mapping the Muggleheads: New Orleans and the Marijuana Menace, 1920­–1930

University of Dayton
Published October 23, 2018
Overview 

Within weeks of New Orleans's first ordinance prohibiting marijuana in 1923, police raids rounded up alleged users and peddlers on the streets, in houses, restaurants, and soft drink stands. Smokers were dubbed "muggleheads"—drawing on a vernacular term for marijuana. In this article, Adam R. Rathge examines the rise in local commentary on the dangers of marijuana and utilizes contemporary reporting from the Times-Picayune between 1920­ and 1930 to reveal the spatial and demographic makeup of the city's earliest marijuana users. "Mapping the Muggleheads" challenges existing interpretations of marijuana prohibition in the United States with new evidence from one of the first and most influential markets for marijuana in the nation.

Digital Spaces is an ongoing collection of interdisciplinary, multimedia projects that deploy digital scholarship in the study of real and imagined geographies.

Adam R. Rathge
University of Dayton

Introduction

A botanical illustration of Cannabis sativa L. colored in bright green.
Botanical illustration of Cannabis sativa L. Originally published in Professor Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé's Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz (Gera, Germany: 1885). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Image is in public domain.

In August of 1920, Dr. Oscar Dowling, president of the Louisiana State Board of Health, alerted Governor John M. Parker about the increasing availability of a "powerful narcotic, causing exhilaration, intoxication, [and] delirious hallucinations." Dowling, later chairman of the American Medical Association's board of trustees, also wrote the US Public Health Service urging action to prohibit the spread of this drug throughout the country. Surgeon General Hugh S. Cummings replied to express his "complete agreement" with Dowling's concerns. Governor Parker, surprised to learn there was no federal law curbing the drug, wrote John F. Kremer, prohibition commissioner, and alleged, "two people were killed a few days ago by the smoking of this drug, which seems to make them go crazy wild."1 The drug was marijuana.2

Dowling and Parker's letters marked the early stages of the "marijuana menace"—a panic that coalesced around the alleged spread of marijuana use among criminals and school-age children in New Orleans between 1920 and 1930. In response, both the city and the state of Louisiana passed laws criminalizing the drug's use, sale, and possession. In the weeks that followed the passage of the city ordinance in 1923, police raided houses, restaurants, and soft drink stands to arrest suspected peddlers and users. Police and the press quickly dubbed users as "muggleheads," drawing on the street term for marijuana. A year later, following unanimous passage by the legislature, Governor Henry L. Fuqua signed a statewide law prohibiting marijuana. In the months and years that followed, civic groups and law enforcement officials in New Orleans launched more than one "muggles drive" and declared "war on dealers in marijuana."3

Previous studies of marijuana prohibition in the United States have given relatively little attention to city- and state-level events such as these, emphasizing instead developments that led to federal marijuana legislation in 1937.4 The most influential and widely cited, Richard J. Bonnie and Charles H. Whitebread's The Marihuana Conviction (1974), acknowledges the importance of earlier state laws but offers a limited exploration of their origins or municipal counterparts.5 For instance, although Bonnie and Whitebread note New Orleans's influential role in fostering marijuana menace ideology, they provide only brief analysis on developments in the city and generally ignore passage of the city ordinance in 1923 and state law in 1924. Rather, they argue that until 1926, "very little . . . was done about the marihuana issue until the press seized upon it."6 Likewise, in assessing the city's marijuana users, Bonnie and Whitebread write that "use among black and lower-class white elements of New Orleans emerged along with the propensity toward use by youth."7 Moreover, younger users were "drawn from the same socioeconomic classes as the adult users."8 They offered little evidence for these claims, and believed New Orleans's officials responded to a general spike in crime during the 1920s by using marijuana as a "convenient scapegoat"—dismissing newspaper and law enforcement claims about the dangers of marijuana and its growing user population in the city as "propaganda."9 Bonnie and Whitebread's belief that the city's marijuana users came from fringe and minority groups served to bolster their broader argument that racism and xenophobia played a central role in driving marijuana prohibition nationwide. Despite its limited engagement with evidence drawn from the state and local level, this general interpretation has remained largely unchallenged.10

In contrast, this essay utilizes contemporary coverage from the Times-Picayune newspaper to analyze the impetus for marijuana prohibition and enforcement in New Orleans as well as the spatial and demographic characteristics of the marijuana users arrested. As one of the earliest urban markets for illicit marijuana use, New Orleans offers an excellent case study for testing prominent aspects of the existing historiography. Given what we now know about marijuana's effects, there is certainly much to critique about the often-hyperbolic commentary on its dangers during the 1920s. Nevertheless, contemporary newspaper coverage sheds light on the origins of those claims as well as the hundreds of marijuana arrests that took place in the city. Many of these reports provided information about the suspects, including their names and arrest locations, the quantity of marijuana seized, home addresses, race, and age. What follows is an examination of the sharp rise in commentary on the dangers of marijuana use alongside an analysis of 225 documented arrests during the first seven years of citywide prohibition. These arrests represent only incidents covered in some detail by the Times-Picayune and provide a valuable database for suggesting patterns and trends among the city's users.11 When combined with an analysis of the simultaneous rise in commentary on marijuana's dangers, this essay and accompanying interactive digital map challenge previous interpretations, revealing both a rapid association between marijuana and crime as well as evidence for a predominately young, white user population that helped drive local concern and provided the impetus for legal prohibitions in New Orleans and beyond.

Arrest locations (teal) and residences (orange) for marijuana suspects as reported by the Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1923–1930. Dataset created by Adam R. Rathge, 2018. Map created by Stephanie Bryan and Adam R. Rathge using ArcGIS, 2018. View larger version.

Youth, Crime, and "Marijuana War"

On February 18, 1922, the New Orleans Times-Picayune announced that a new drug habit was growing rapidly in the city. Citing Dr. Oscar Dowling, who first raised the alarm on marijuana some two years earlier, the newspaper reported the "passage of a drastic law to curb the constantly growing practice of selling and smoking marijuana, also known as muggles, will be sought at the next session of the Legislature." Federal assistance also appeared to be on the way. G. W. Cunningham, chief federal narcotic officer for Louisiana, asserted that, "a measure is to be introduced into Congress which would put marijuana in the same class with morphine, cocaine and opium." Cunningham also "rapped the popular impression that marijuana is not harmful"—suggesting its use may have already reached a critical mass in New Orleans. He believed marijuana "was as habit forming as morphine or cocaine" and that "constant smoking will ruin the health."12

How much the public knew about marijuana is difficult to assess. In October 1921, a Times-Picayune reader wrote about the paper's recent "allusion to the narcotic preparation of a plant called 'marijuana.'" The reader hoped to learn "where it is grown; its effect on the human system and if it is injurious or otherwise." Such questions suggest a general lack of awareness surrounding marijuana in the early 1920s, but that appeared to be rapidly changing. The newspaper's editorial reply included a range of speculation and confusion alongside information on the effects of cannabis drawn from medical journals. It noted correctly that marijuana "consists chiefly of the flowering tops and tender leaves and stalks of the Indian hemp (Cannabis indica)." Yet, it speculated, "the name 'marijuana' is probably a corruption of the 'majoon' of Calcutta, the name given to the hashish made in that city."13 Furthermore, the editorial connected the word hashish with the etymology of the term "assassin"—an oft-cited legend stretching back to Marco Polo and the Crusades.14 The Times-Picayune also included an assessment of the drug summarized from existing medical literature:

The effects differ according to the dose and the idiosyncrasy of the individual. One of the first appreciable effects of the drug is the gradual weakening of the powers of controlling and directing the thoughts. This is followed by dreams accompanied by errors of sense, false convertions [sic], and the predominance of one or more extravagant ideas. A minute may seem a year and an hour only an instant; sounds may be exaggerated, and the sense of duration of time and extent of space and the appreciation of personality are lost. Some individuals become pugnacious, while others fall into a state of reverie. After small doses there is a great tendency to causeless merriment. Although less certain in its action than opium, it is said to possess certain advantages over that drug—that it does not induce torpidity of the liver, create nausea or check the secretions, and it is less likely to occasion headache.15

In short, the Times-Picayune editorial tied marijuana to more familiar forms of cannabis, namely eastern hashish, while ably summarizing some of the existing medical information of the drug.16 It was not a difficult leap to more frightful effects characterized by exhilaration, intoxication, and aggressiveness.

As marijuana moved into the public consciousness of New Orleans in the early 1920s, characterizations of its potentially dangerous effects took hold.17 In May 1922, the Times-Picayune proclaimed "'Muggles' Incites Orleans Youths to Crime" and cited Police Detective Paul R. Maureau who blamed the "Mexican drug" for rash of "outbreaks by boy addicts." Maureau claimed one fourteen-year-old automobile thief was a "member of a gang that was accustomed to smoke 'mirauana' or 'muggles' cigarettes, which are supposed to produce recklessness unrivaled by other 'dope.'" Likewise, a juvenile court judge declared that "several boys have admitted using 'mirauana' to 'get up their nerve' for theft and other offenses." One of the boys testified the drug was available as dried leaves or ready-made cigarettes, purchased for twenty-five cents each. Just one cigarette, claimed Detective Maureau, could "contain criminal inspiration for four or five youths." To solidify the link between marijuana use and crime, Maureau affirmed that a man "arrested recently for the murder of a woman was found to be under the influence of 'mirauana.'"18

A black and white photograph of charity hospital, with a horse drawn carriage and three pedestrians in front. Original text at the bottom of the image reads, "2169. Charity Hospiral. No. 7A."
Charity Hospital, New Orleans, Louisiana, ca. 1880–1920. Still image by George François Mugnier. Courtesy of the Louisiana State Museum.

Stories of marijuana use bolstered fear of its spread, prompting a swift response by the city's commission council. On May 18, 1923, the Times-Picayune highlighted the hospitalization of Randall Sharp—"another victim of the Mexican dope, 'Marijuana.'" Physicians at Charity Hospital "declared there is an epidemic of smoking the contraband in New Orleans and that scarcely a day passes without two or three persons being sent there for treatment." The news story further noted an increase of marijuana "in the city within the last few months."19 Two days later, at the request of District Attorney Marr and a number of medical professionals, City Commissioner Maloney introduced an ordinance "to make illegal the sale of 'cannabis indica,' better known as 'Mari Juana' or the 'Mexican happy smoke.'"20 On May 29, the council officially prohibited possession and sale of marijuana in New Orleans, with violations punishable by a fine of up to $25 and thirty days of imprisonment.21

A number of factors contributed to the city's efforts to curb marijuana. The drug was frequently among those sold by street peddlers. Its presence alongside other drugs and alcohol seized during police raids bolstered its prominence.22 Early reports on marijuana occasionally noted that it arrived in New Orleans via the city's many shipping docks, often tying the drug to Mexican seamen and foreign vessels.23 There was also a quick and clear characterization of marijuana's apparent dangers together with dire warnings about its growing use. Prominent physicians and government officials fostered and reinforced these characterizations, and the purported connections between marijuana use and criminal activity.

Arrest locations (teal) and residences (orange) for marijuana suspects, concentrated near the present-day French Quarter and nearby shipping docks, as reported by the Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1923–1930. Dataset created by Adam R. Rathge, 2018. Map created by Stephanie Bryan and Adam R. Rathge using ArcGIS, 2018. View larger version.

Nevertheless, the alleged use of marijuana by schoolchildren appears to have been the primary factor in driving city's prohibitory action. A Times-Picayune exposé entitled "The Victim" chronicled what many believed was happening to an alarming number of youthful users. In the parlor of a former mansion turned tenement, reporter Lyle Saxon sat with the mother of a young boy who wept as she said, "To think that this has happened to my little boy, only twelve years old, and a victim of drugs." Her son Seth and his fourteen-year-old brother had sold newspapers after school. All was well until she "began to notice that something was wrong" with Seth: he "would come home with his eyes wide open, staring, but he seemed half asleep. He would say strange things."24 Seth would "sleep like a log" and in the morning, his mother would be unable to wake him up for school. He began missing school entirely and bringing home less and less money from the newspaper sales that helped support the family. When asked, "he couldn't account for where it had gone."25 Seth also began to "stay out all night," until one day he simply did not come home. Missing for three days, his father went in search of him, eventually "coming home with the boy in his arms, his little head hanging down like he was dead." When Seth's parents called the police, they said he "had been smoking marihuana," or "Muggles."26

Black and white photograph of a two-story brick building with a large sign reading "Police Station."
Old Police Station, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1963. Photoprint by Clarence John Laughlin. Courtesy of The Clarence John Laughlin Archive, The Historic New Orleans Collection.

Social workers, physicians, and local police often confirmed the spread of marijuana smoking among school-age children. The findings of Mrs. Emma B. Stanton, who conducted "an investigation among the small boys and youths of the city," escalated the belief that marijuana was widely available. Stanton claimed that she provided a seven-year-old boy with some money and sent him into a saloon. The boy emerged "a few moments later with a little packet of marihuana, rolled in a bit of newspaper—and with the information that a man inside had offered to roll the cigarettes for him because he was too little to roll them himself."27 An investigation by Lazu Block, chief attendance officer of parish schools, also found evidence of marijuana use among school-age children. At this news, a collective of more than sixty-three affiliated parent-led education clubs (the President's Cooperative Club) met with the district superintendent and adopted "resolutions approving the efforts of the commission council and the chief of police to stop the sale of marihuana or 'muggles' cigarettes."28

In July 1923, the Times-Picayune described "Muggles" as the "boon of newsboys and school children who haven't the means to purchase a more expensive drug."29 Reporter Lyle Saxon characterized the situation as especially dire: "to curb the smoking of marihuana is an arduous task—as so many boys and men have acquired the habit, and they will brave almost anything in order to get their daily 'shot.'" Saxon believed "the tragedy of the situation is that this drug is striking at the very roots of society in attacking the children." Marijuana use was quickly "making them slaves, not only to the drug, but to those unscrupulous boys and men who find it to their advantages to 'dope' the children, taking from them their hard-earned pennies, gained by selling papers, shining shoes and so on, leaving the children sleeping in alleys, in gutters and in the streets."30

Professional medical opinions urged immediate social intervention and police enforcement, stressing the potential dangers of marijuana. "There is little difference in the effects of marihuana and hashish," said Dr. E. J. DeBergue, assistant city coroner. "When first used it produces a form of mild exhilaration. With constant use this exhilaration passes and one uses the drug simply to feel normal." When compared to "more powerful drugs," DeBergue added, "marihuana gives its addicts an appearance of listlessness, numbness, and a general lack of energy. . . . It produces protracted insomnia and may lead to temporary insanity." In short, marijuana was "intensely harmful."31 Dr. John M. Fletcher, professor of psychology at Tulane University, president of the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and later chairman of the Louisiana Educational Survey Commission, painted a similar picture of marijuana's dangers. Though not a medical doctor, Fletcher analyzed samples of the drug seized during police raids and summarized the existing, if conflicting, characterizations surrounding it. "In use for centuries as a narcotic stimulant," Fletcher noted the effects were "both mental and physical." Users showed "a gradual weakening of the thought processes, together with extreme errors of sense of time and space." Long-term use led to "indigestion, wasting of the body, cough, melancholy, impotence and dropsy." Eventually, Fletcher claimed, "its votary becomes an outcast from society, and his career terminates in crime, insanity and idiocy."32

Sepia-toned photographic portrait of a man in a suit and tie.
Former Louisiana Governor Henry L. Fuqua, 1924. Photograph by unknown creator. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and the National Governors Association. Image is in public domain.

These grave assessments and the growing fear of marijuana's spread among children fueled calls for additional legislative action. In May 1924, newly elected representative Fred W. Oser, a former police reporter for the Times-Picayune and secretary to the commissioner of public safety in New Orleans, brought the city's desire for marijuana enforcement to the state legislature in Baton Rouge. Oser said he often "observed the evils of marijuana," and one of his first actions was to introduce statewide anti-marijuana legislation.33 His proposal, which sought to forbid the sale and transportation of marijuana, carried mandatory provisions for a fine and imprisonment and prohibited the trial judge from suspending the sentence. In early June, the judiciary committee of the House favorably reported on the bill.34 Little more than a week later, Oser presented the bill for a vote and insisted there should be no objection from his colleagues. His fellow representatives declared the bill was "splendid and badly needed," insisting, "such a law is absolutely necessary." Oser's bill swept through the chamber, "84 yeas to no nays."35 On July 1, 1924, Governor Henry L. Fuqua signed the legislation into law. The measure allowed for limited sale of specific medically prescribed cannabis preparations, but otherwise prohibited possession, sale, and transportation.36

Backed by the city ordinance and state law, New Orleans law enforcement agents and civic clubs continued their efforts to curb marijuana use, especially among youth. In May 1925, New Orleans coroner, George F. Roeling urged "police cooperation with his department in endeavoring to trace the source from which persons under his care for observation obtain alcohol, habit-forming drugs and 'muggles.'"37 A meeting of the New Orleans Federation of Clubs in November included continued allegations of marijuana use by young children. "Marijuana is being sold in drug stores and candy stores throughout the city," declared Mrs. Emma Bell Stanton. "School boys are smoking this pernicious drug in cigarettes, and school girls, automobile riding at night, are becoming intoxicated by it."38 Mrs. Charles Gregson, chair of the Federation of Clubs committee on anti-narcotics, declared "Marijuana War." The first battle aimed to stop use of the marijuana cigarette—what Gregson called "a stepping stone" toward the "use of even more vicious and degrading narcotics."39 Police Detective Henry Asset stressed that the effects of marijuana were "not so deadly in themselves, but in many instances they lead to the use of more powerful drugs."40 Mrs. Gregson planned to host a series of lectures for civic clubs and older children on the evils of the drug traffic, and called upon concerned citizens to notify her of places where marijuana cigarettes were sold.41

The Louisiana Board of Health called upon Dr. Carleton Simon, a narcotic expert, deputy police commissioner, and lecturer on criminology in New York, to conduct a survey of drug use in the state. Simon's investigation concluded that, "thousands of young men and women in Louisiana are addicted to the use of marijuana, known in underworld haunts as 'muggles' and 'moota.'"42 School officials and parent groups reaffirmed Simon's assessment.43 In January 1927, A. H. Seward, president of the Public School Alliance (PSA), charged that marijuana was "being sold to children in the grammar and high schools."44 By November, the PSA reported, "a slight increase in the number of marijuana, or 'muggles,' cigarettes sold to and smoked by grammar school children." Some of those children were "as young as those of the fourth and fifth grades" with "traces of this habit . . . seen as early as the third grade."45

Black newspaper-style text on a white background that reads, "(Sample--Warning card to be placed in R. R. Trains, Buses, Street Cars, etc.) Beware! Young and Old — People in All Walks of Life! This [image of marijuana joint] may be handed to you [image of smiling man and woman] by the friendly stranger. It contains the Killer Drug 'Marihuana' — a powerful narcotic in which lurks Murder! Insanity! Death! [Image of marijuana plant] WARNING! Dope peddlers are shrewd! They may put some of this drug in the [image of teapot] or in the cocktail or in the tobacco cigarette. Write for detailed information, enclosing 12 cents in postage—mailing cost. Address: The Inter-State Narcotic Association (incorporated not for profit) 53 W. Jackson Blvd. Chicago, Illinois, U. S. A."
Marijuana Warning Poster, ca. 1971. Poster by Inter-State Narcotics Association. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

The PSA findings resulted in renewed calls for federal intervention.46 In December 1928, W.O. Hart, PSA legislative committee chairman, began working with Louisiana Representatives James Z. Spearing and James O'Connor to amend the existing federal Harrison Narcotic Act to include marijuana.47 Congressman Spearing was a longtime member, and two-time president, of the Orleans Parish School Board as well as a member of the Louisiana State Board of Education. "Despite the efforts of the alliance and of its private investigators," declared PSA president A. H. Seward, the traffic in this social leprosy still goes on" and would until Congress passed "suitable legislation, laws with teeth in them."48 That New Orleans played a central role in raising the issue made news as far away as New York—where headlines seized on the city's "fight to save school children."49

The existence of Mrs. Gregson's "marijuana war," the efforts of civic clubs and the PSA, as well as consistent police enforcement demonstrate that prohibitory marijuana laws in New Orleans remained anything but "dormant."50 There was significant and consistent activity aimed at curbing marijuana use in the city beginning in the early 1920s. For the period between June 1923 and December 1929—roughly the first seven years of enforcement for the city's ordinance—reporting from the Times-Picayune highlighted 225 documented marijuana arrests. The paper's reports shed light on the activities of law enforcement as well as the spatial and demographic characteristics of those arrested. Measuring the prevalence of marijuana use in New Orleans during this period remains difficult given the many source biases and limitations surrounding illicit substances. Examining these reports, however, reveals a user population with characteristics different from those often described by contemporary commentary and subsequent historical studies.

Marijuana Users in Time and Place

One of the most striking differences between the newspaper evidence and the existing historiography on marijuana prohibition is the size of the marijuana market. Most historical studies have suggested marijuana use in the 1920s was a highly regionalized, marginal practice confined to Mexican immigrants and fringe groups and likely exaggerated by contemporary sources.51 The available evidence from New Orleans suggests otherwise.52 Police activity in the city yielded arrests for possession of a single marijuana cigarette to seizures as large as forty pounds. In 1922, the Times-Picayune recorded three raids netting large quantities. In August, police raided the apartment of Genara Prugillo and Lorenzo Espinoza capturing twenty-one gallons of wine and one hundred and ninety packets of marijuana.53 A month later customs officials searched a Mexican steamship moored in New Orleans and seized "two large packages of Mexican Marijuana leaves" valued at New Orleans retail prices exceeding $800.54 In December, New Orleans police and federal agents completed an undercover investigation they believed would "smash" a local "narcotic ring." The alleged ringleader was captured with "more than $9,000 of cocaine, morphine and mariahuana."55 Little more than a year later, New Orleans police made a series of arrests that netted similarly large amounts of marijuana, including seizures of fifteen pounds, five pounds, forty pounds, and ten pounds.56

Given such volume, it is hard to dismiss the situation in New Orleans as journalistic sensationalism or law enforcement propaganda although it is easy to criticize the contemporary assessment of the dangers posed by marijuana use given our present understanding. The size and frequency of seizures in New Orleans during the early 1920s attest to the scope of the city's marijuana market. Arrests for simple possession as well as large quantities occurred regularly. Street-level arrests and sting operations often yielded only a few marijuana cigarettes, while quantities seized at larger busts ranged from hundreds of pre-rolled cigarettes to many pounds of bulk marijuana.57 These stories signal a market environment with both large-scale peddlers and small quantity buyers.

Arrest locations (teal) and residences (orange) for marijuana suspects, highlighting amounts seized ranging from a single cigarette to forty pounds, as reported by the Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1923–1930. Dataset created by Adam R. Rathge, 2018. Map created by Stephanie Bryan and Adam R. Rathge using ArcGIS, 2018. View larger version.

The evidence also hints at the existence of a subset of repeat offenders. During the city's "first marihuana raids," for example, police arrested Antonio Bernade and his wife—owners of the Black Cat Restaurant—with "twelve packs of the weed."58 Just a week later in a second restaurant raid, police arrested Bernade again, finding marijuana "concealed in a false window."59 Less than a month later, police alleged that Mrs. Bernade absconded with the marijuana as officers arrived. Mr. Bernade was arrested a third time on charges of selling marijuana cigarettes to Dominick Potania—"a member of one of New Orleans' best families"—as Potania was leaving the restaurant, giving them reason enough to enter.60 Potania seems to have continued his involvement in the illicit drug market. Six years later, a newspaper report chronicled his arrest alongside Carlo Giacona. According to police, Potania "attempted to conceal a packet of cocaine" while Giacona was "alleged to have had a marihuana cigarette."61 Two months later police arrested Giacona again following a raid on his boarding room, where detectives reportedly found "a pound of marihuana seeds."62 Another repeat offender, Sam Farace, faced criminal charges following his arrest with "a pillow slip containing ten pounds of raw marihuana weed." Just out of state prison, Farace was the proprietor of a "soft drink establishment" that city officials alleged was "a rendezvous for thieves and police characters."63 Three years later, during a raid on his family's restaurant, police arrested Farace's younger brother Joseph with two dozen marijuana cigarettes. During that incident, Sam Farace reportedly interfered with the police operation and was "arrested, and charged with disturbing the peace."64

The presence of repeat offenders suggests a substantial market for the drug with significant financial incentives. Both offenders and those pushing for stiffer penalties raised the idea that penalties for violation of the city's marijuana ordinance were too weak.65 Valdo Santos spoke with Times-Picayune reporters following his first arrest on marijuana charges and claimed, "It's not hard to get through. Most of it comes overland, through Texas. We pack it in a suitcase and when we sell out we go back for more. It's easy and a good business. Beats bootlegging and the fines are smaller."66 For Santos, this apparently meant big rewards and small consequences. He was arrested again a year later with five pounds of marijuana and forty-eight pre-rolled cigarettes.67 Police Detective Henry Asset agreed that the punishments for marijuana were not a major deterrent and believed violators easily managed to pay the $25 fine. "Any good peddler," he argued, "can raise that amount."68

Black and white image of a New Orleans downtown street, showing a coffee shop with a sign reading, "Sun Coffee Shop, Original Drench Drip Coffee, Open Day and Night" Black and white photograph of men working on a dock.
Top, New Orleans downtown street, Louisiana, 1935. Photograph by Walker Evans. Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC, loc.gov/pictures/item/2017759415. Bottom, Dock Conveyors, New Orleans, Louisiana, ca. 1906. Photograph by Detroit Publishing Company. Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC, loc.gov/pictures/item/2016805993.

Evidence from the Times-Picayune offers some sense of the diversity of people, places, and situations involved in marijuana arrests. Police regularly targeted soft drink stands, groceries, and restaurants and often implicated them as sites of illicit activity, including the smoking and selling of marijuana.69 In April 1924, for instance, following an undercover purchase at the restaurant of Manuel Arredondo, New Orleans police confiscated some forty pounds of marijuana. Valued at nearly $3,000, the stash was "concealed in the rear of the place under a trapdoor."70 Police frequently made marijuana arrests on the streets and sidewalks, including eight young men found smoking in Coliseum Square.71 Though reports suggest police arrested men far more often, there were also female marijuana peddlers arrested.72 Mrs. Carrie O'Donnell was in her grocery store and place of residence when police "found thirty-seven marijuana cigarettes, which complainants said she kept for sale."73 Police arrested Mrs. Sadie Garden at home where detectives seized "several thousand marijuana cigarettes, bulk marijuana, a box of morphine and a quantity of grain alcohol."74 In an era of alcohol prohibition, police frequently seized marijuana alongside liquor.75

Reporting also linked marijuana seizures to the city's many ships and sailors. Often, federal customs agents were involved in these incidents. Though the Harrison Narcotic Act did not cover marijuana, a 1915 Treasury Decision banned the importation of cannabis if intended for other than medical purposes.76 In early 1925, two Mexican seamen faced marijuana charges. Police arrested Antonio Corres on the city docks with "a bag containing marijuana."77 In a separate incident, a customs official trailed Manual Gonzalez as he left the steamship Yuma, leading to his arrest for "possessing six pounds of marijuana."78 In a third incident, Juan Horgoros, a "Spanish Seaman," faced marijuana possession charges following his arrest by a customs official.79 Four years later, customs agents apprehended William Shanakan and Edward Busamente near the Desire street docks as "the pair attempted to land a small skiff underneath the wharf apron and smuggle ashore seven bags of marihuana." The two men obtained the drug from "unnamed members of the crew of the Honduran steamship Baja California." Shanakan and Busamente floated "with the current alongside the ship on the river side and the bags of the hasheesh weed had been let down from a port-hole to the skiff." Since customs agents could not implicate individual crewmembers, they levied a fine on the entire steamship for "unmanifested contraband."80 Given the regularity with which police and customs agents seized large quantities of marijuana from ships and sailors, it appears the city's market for the drug was substantial and frequently supplied by boat.

Some of these arrests and large-scale smuggling cases lend credence to the belief that Mexican immigrants were responsible for bringing marijuana to the United States and that they made up a significant portion of users. The notion that marijuana use was "a casual adjunct to life" for many Mexican immigrants in the early twentieth century has gone virtually undisputed in the historiography on marijuana prohibition.81 This broad narrative argues that immigrant Mexican laborers brought marijuana smoking into the United States where it spread to local populations in Texas, California, Colorado, and other states west of the Mississippi River.82 In this interpretation, anti-Mexican sentiment and blatant racism provided the impetus for many state and municipal level laws prohibiting marijuana. Recently this interpretation has faced a significant challenge. Historian Isaac Campos has shown that marijuana use in Mexico was anything but a regular habit of everyday life and was largely confined to soldiers, prisoners, and other marginalized groups. Most of the general population avoided the drug, believing it caused "madness, violence, and mayhem." Campos argues that rather than bringing marijuana smoking to the United States, Mexican immigrants relayed the idea that marijuana was an incredibly dangerous drug—"one that triggered sudden paroxysms of delirious violence."83

Contemporary newspaper coverage in New Orleans reveals evidence for many of these interpretations, but yields limited support for widespread use by Mexican immigrants. Rather, a small number appear disproportionately tied to the early distribution network. Many of the largest seizures of marijuana in the city had connections to steamships from Mexico. There were also reports of a few large seizures involving Mexican suspects and false-bottomed suitcases, neatly built for concealing drugs.84 Yet, of the 225 documented marijuana arrests in the Times-Picayune between 1923 and 1929, the newspaper identified only thirty-three total suspects by their ethnicity or race. Mexicans accounted for eleven of that thirty-three, and seven of those eleven came from a single seizure. The paper also identified two additional suspects of "Spanish" origin. Another nineteen suspects not explicitly identified by race or ethnicity did have a traditional Mexican or Spanish surname.85

The arrival of Mexican immigrants smoking marijuana did not capture the attention of civic groups and law enforcement, nor did the Times-Picayune give much attention to marijuana use by Mexicans. Neither was anti-Mexican or racist sentiment central to the discussion of the New Orleans city ordinance or state law prohibiting marijuana. Given the city's prominence in launching the "marijuana menace" as a nationwide phenomenon, the absence of blatant anti-Mexican sentiment and the limited number of arrests undermines the intense emphasis on Mexican immigrants found in many histories of marijuana prohibition.86

Black and white photograph of a long line of white identical houses, with people and children sitting on the front steps.
New Orleans "Negro" street, 1935. Photograph by Walker Evans. Courtesy of The New York Public Library Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/d9317bb0-baca-0132-749d-58d385a7b928.

The same was true of African Americans—another group often associated with marijuana use during this period. Bonnie and Whitebread, for example, suggested that the main users of marijuana in New Orleans were "black and lower-class white elements."87 Likewise, in the mid-1930s, FBN Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger often proclaimed a connection between marijuana and black jazz musicians. There is indeed little doubt that marijuana played an influential role in the lives and artistry of many jazz musicians by the 1930s, as many popular songs eluded to marijuana in both implicit and explicit ways.88 Yet, the arrest records featured in the Times-Picayune include almost no references to jazz musicians or African American marijuana users. Between 1923 and 1929, the paper explicitly identified just sixteen suspects as "negro."89 In the cradle of jazz, during a period defined by the use of racialized terms to distinguish and denigrate African Americans, the local newspaper evidence reveals little connection between these groups and marijuana use.

The lack of African Americans identified among those arrested for marijuana during this period appears especially stark given that the majority of those arrests occurred in and around today's French Quarter.90 The nearby Storyville, Tango Belt, and Back o' Town neighborhoods were home to many African Americans and were prominently associated with vice, entertainment, and jazz. Storyville was the legendary tenderloin district, a sanctioned site of prostitution until 1917. At its peak, the Tango Belt housed one of the highest concentrations of commercial jazz venues in the city. The Back o' Town was the boyhood home of Louis Armstrong and known as the "colored red-light district."91 Nevertheless, very few of the documented marijuana arrests in these areas identified jazz musicians or African Americans as the suspects. In May of 1925, for example, a Times-Picayune headline proclaimed, "Vice Squad Again Hits Tango Belt; Score Arrested." Of the fourteen men and six women arrested, only two faced marijuana charges, and neither was identified by the paper as African American.92

Black and white photograph of children walking and playing in a street.
Children in a French Quarter street, New Orleans, Louisiana, ca. 1920–1926. Photograph by Arnold Genthe. Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC, loc.gov/pictures/item/agc1996001404/PP.

Though most marijuana arrests occurred near North Rampart Street between Elysian Fields Avenue and Canal Street, there were also smaller pockets of arrests throughout the city, especially south of St. Charles Avenue along the Mississippi River. Interestingly, however, the available home addresses for marijuana suspects show a more even distribution throughout the city when compared with their arrest location. This was true of suspects from working-class areas nearer to the river, especially between Magazine Street and Tchoupitoulas Street, as well as suspects from more affluent areas of the city, including the Garden District and the Uptown/Carrollton area near Tulane University. Based on newspaper reports, the average distance between place of arrest and place of residence was 1.7 miles, with a median distance of 1.1 miles.93 These patterns of arrest and home address suggest an illicit market, not unlike those of the present, where the sale of illicit drugs is often concentrated in specific areas of the city, but users regularly come from other neighborhoods to buy.

The dearth of documented arrests for African Americans and Mexicans in New Orleans during the 1920s calls into question long-held historiographic beliefs about the demographics of typical marijuana users.94 Indeed, the available arrest evidence from the Times-Picayune suggests the most common marijuana user in the city was a white male in his early twenties.95 Evidence from the Times-Picayune also sheds light on the contemporary concern with the use of marijuana by school age children. The belief that New Orleans youth were falling victim to the marijuana habit was a significant factor in the city's sustained efforts at prohibiting the drug and curbing its use. School officials and civic groups repeatedly claimed that children as young as third and fourth grade used marijuana.96 Despite the fact that little more than anecdotes supported these assertions, newspaper arrest reports do offer some clues. Of the approximately one hundred arrest reports that provided an age, some twenty-five percent were teenagers. Sixty percent were in their twenties, most under the age of twenty-four. The youngest documented arrest in the Times-Picayune was sixteen-year-old William Casey, seized alongside three other men in their twenties "smoking marijuana cigarettes in the rear room of a soft-drink shop."97 Two police officers arrested seventeen-year-old Eddie Barker with marijuana cigarettes after he nervously ran away when they approached him on the sidewalk.98 Though it is difficult to draw sweeping conclusions from such limited data, there is nonetheless enough evidence here to support insight into the city's concern with youthful marijuana use.

Conclusion: Patterns and Precedents from the Big Easy

As one of the first significant metropolitan markets for marijuana, New Orleans offers fascinating insights into the user population and an excellent test case for existing historiography. Based on newspaper evidence there is little doubt that a thriving illicit market for marijuana existed throughout the 1920s and continued long into the 1930s, as arrests for violation of city and state ordinances continued apace. So, too, did a stern resolve among numerous civic groups, local officials, and law enforcement to curb marijuana use.99 New Orleans played an outsized role as the "hypodermic needle feeding the entire Middle West with drugs" and as a clear nexus of the "marijuana menace" paradigm.100 Locally, two common themes informed the characterization of marijuana as dangerous—a link between the plant and crime alongside a perceived threat to its growing use by young people. The existing historiography offers minimal city- or state-level research on marijuana markets during these years, often dismissing claims of rising use as sensational journalism, police propaganda, and xenophobia. Previous studies have often perpetuated the belief that marijuana use was most prominent among African American musicians and Mexican immigrants, which prompted a racist backlash against the drug that led to its criminalization.101 Without discounting the role of overt racism in early marijuana legislation across the United States, the evidence from New Orleans shows a more complicated picture as the demographic and spatial nature of the city's marijuana market contrasts with those common depictions in the existing literature.

Reefer Madness Original Trailer, 1936. Film by George A. Hirliman Productions. Courtesy of YouTube user Propaganda Time.

New Orleans is perhaps the best place in the United States to witness the emergence and consolidation of anti-marijuana sentiment, serving as the epicenter for what became broadly known as the "marijuana menace." Events that transpired in the Big Easy during the 1920s and 1930s influenced and previewed what emerged at the federal level. The ways in which media coverage, law enforcement, and civic concerns in New Orleans coalesced and reinforced a negative characterization of marijuana repeated themselves elsewhere across the country. The city's concern with youthful marijuana use and the drug's alleged criminogenic effects proved highly influential in the push for federal marijuana legislation. New Orleans produced a tight coterie of local law enforcement, public health, and social welfare officials who carried their anti-marijuana campaign to the federal level. So much so that when Commissioner Anslinger and the FBN launched the now infamous "reefer madness" campaign in the mid-1930s, they drew on existing depictions of marijuana gathered from sources across the country—especially the "muggleheads" of New Orleans.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to Southern Spaces staff members Stephanie Bryan, who helped create the digital maps published here, and Hannah C. Griggs, who copyedited the map database spreadsheets.

About the Author

Adam R. Rathge holds a PhD in American history from Boston College. His dissertation and book manuscript, "Cannabis Cures: American Medicine, Mexican Marijuana, and the Origins of the War on Weed, 1840–1937," charts nearly a century of medical discourse, social concern, and legislative restrictions surrounding the drug, demonstrating that the origins of our nation's prohibitions on marijuana are much older and more complicated than previous studies have suggested. He is currently Director of Enrollment Strategies at the University of Dayton, where he also teaches undergraduate courses as part-time faculty in the department of history.

  • 1. David F. Musto, "The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937," Archives of General Psychiatry 26, no. 2 (February 1972): 102. For more on Dowling, see Richard J. Bonnie and Charles H. Whitebread, The Marijuana Conviction: A History of Marijuana Prohibition in the United States, Drug Policy Classic Reprint from the Lindesmith Center (New York: Lindesmith Center, 1999), 43–44.
  • 2. Though usually spelled "marijuana" today, "marihuana" was the most common spelling in the United States during the early twentieth century. Different spellings from that period also included: marajuana, mariguana, mariahuana, marahuana, marihuano, mariguana, in addition to other common names like "reefer" and "muggles." For consistency, I use "marijuana" throughout, unless directly quoting from sources with varied spellings.
  • 3. For examples of these enforcement measures, see "Cops Make First Marihuana Raids," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), June 17, 1923; "Marijuana War Is Planned by Mrs. Gregson," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), November 30, 1924, sec. Three; "Ax Killer's Trial Set as 'Muggles' Drive Is Ordered," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), April 18, 1929; "Police Open New War on Dealers in Marihuana," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), October 26, 1930.
  • 4. For prominent examples, see Howard Becker, Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance (New York: Free Press, 1963); Alfred Ray Lindesmith, The Addict and the Law (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1965); David Solomon, ed., The Marihuana Papers (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1966); Donald T. Dickson, "Bureaucracy and Morality: An Organizational Perspective on a Moral Crusade," Social Problems 16, no. 2 (Fall 1968): 143–56; Richard J. Bonnie and Charles H. Whitebread, "The Forbidden Fruit and the Tree of Knowledge: An Inquiry into the Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition," Virginia Law Review 56, no. 6 (October, 1970): 971–1203; Michael Schaller, "The Federal Prohibition of Marihuana," Journal of Social History 4, no. 1 (October 1970): 61–74; Lester Grinspoon, Marihuana Reconsidered (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971); Musto, "The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937"; David F Musto, The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1973).
  • 5. Richard J. Bonnie and Charles H. Whitebread, The Marihuana Conviction: A History of Marihuana Prohibition in the United States (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974).
  • 6. Bonnie and Whitebread, 44.
  • 7. Bonnie and Whitebread, 92.
  • 8. Bonnie and Whitebread, 44.
  • 9. Bonnie and Whitebread, 67, 71, 92.
  • 10. For recent examples that draw heavily from Bonnie and Whitebread's interpretation, see Richard Davenport-Hines, The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics, 1st American ed. (New York: Norton, 2002); Martin Booth, Cannabis: A History, First U.S. Edition (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2004); Martin A. Lee, Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana—Medical, Recreational and Scientific (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013); Johann Hari, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2015). For three notable exceptions that have challenged aspects of Bonnie and Whitebread's conclusions and proved highly influential to my own research, see Jerome L. Himmelstein, The Strange Career of Marihuana: Politics and Ideology of Drug Control in America (Westport, CT.: Greenwood Press, 1983); Dale H. Gieringer, "The Forgotten Origins of Cannabis Prohibition in California," Contemporary Drug Problems 26, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 237–88; Isaac Campos, Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico's War on Drugs (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).
  • 11. Between May 1923 and December 1929, the Times-Picayune published at least three hundred stories with references to marijuana, roughly one per week. The number of articles mentioning marijuana more than doubled during the subsequent seven-year period. From 1930 through federal marijuana prohibition in 1937, the newspaper published more than six hundred and fifty pieces referencing marijuana, demonstrating the continued growth of public concern with the drug.
  • 12. "New Drug Habit Rapidly Growing, Health Heads Say," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), February 18, 1922. Though a federal law targeting marijuana use would not pass for another fifteen years, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings on the "Prohibition of Peyote and Marijuana in Interstate Commerce" in 1922.
  • 13. "Questions and Answers," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), October 23, 1921, sec. Two.
  • 14. For extensive analysis of the link between hashish and Islamic assassins, see Jerry Mandel, "Hashish, Assassins, and the Love of God," Issues in Criminology 2, no. 2 (1966): 149–56; Farhad Daftary, The Assassin Legends: Myths of the Ismaʻilis (London: Tauris, 1994); Campos, "Cannabis and the Psychoactive Riddle," in Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico's War on Drugs, 7–38. Just prior to the passage of the federal Marihuana Tax Act, Harry J. Anslinger, first and long-time commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, subsequently made this link famous in "Marijuana: Assassin of Youth," The American Magazine 124, no. 1 (July 1937).
  • 15. "Questions and Answers."
  • 16. On the heels of pioneering experiments with cannabis conducted in India by Dr. William Brooke O'Shaughnessy, American physicians began debating the potential merits and dangers of cannabis in the 1840s and regularly published their assessments in prominent medical journals. By the late nineteenth century, most agreed that cannabis could be both helpful and harmful and was therefore in need of legal regulation and medical oversight. Nonetheless, after the turn of the century, ongoing difficulty in standardizing medicinal preparations and occasionally frightening side effects in patients led to steady declines in medicinal cannabis use. For an example promptly assessing O'Shaughnessy's work with cannabis, see W.B. O'Shaughnessy, "New Remedy for Tetanus and Other Convulsive Disorders," The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal XXIII, no. 10 (October 1840): 153–55. On the evolution of American physicians' assessment of cannabis medicines, see Adam Rathge, "Cannabis Cures: American Medicine, Mexican Marijuana, and the Origins of the War on Weed, 1840–1937," (PhD diss., Boston College, 2017), http://hdl.handle.net/2345/bc-ir:107531.
  • 17. For examples, including comparisons between marijuana addiction and stamp collecting as well as a casual mention of marijuana smoking, see "Just What Is Dishonesty," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), July 1, 1923, sec. One-B; "Literature—and Less—Comments on the Books of the Day," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), July 15, 1923.
  • 18. "Says 'Muggles' Incites Orleans Youths to Crime," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), May 29, 1922.
  • 19. "Mary Warner Epidemic," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), May 8, 1923.
  • 20. "Council to Act on Sale in City of Mary Warner," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), May 20, 1923; "Use of Mexican Dope Forbidden by City Council," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), May 30, 1923.
  • 21. "Use of Mexican Dope Forbidden by City Council"; "A Yarn of Many Threads," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), July 1, 1923, sec. One-B.
  • 22. For two examples, see "Police Capture Weed, Wine and Owners in Raid," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), August 26, 1922; "Drug Ring Hunt Seems to Score," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), December 24, 1922.
  • 23. For example, see "Narcotic Leaves Seized on Vessel," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), September 21, 1922.
  • 24. Lyle Saxon, "The Victim," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), June 3, 1923, 20. It is worth noting that while marijuana's effects are often widely varied, its use may have the exact opposite effect on a user's eyes—constricting rather than widening. Known as photophobia, this squint is now a common trope in pop culture references to marijuana use. Many of the tropes in this story appear drawn from the temperance movement. For an exploration of how "eyes wide open" was often used as a symbol of madness linked with marijuana use, see Campos, Home Grown, 155–80.
  • 25. Saxon, "The Victim," 20.
  • 26. Saxon, 27.
  • 27. Saxon, 27.
  • 28. "Children Using 'Mary Warner,' Officials Fear," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), June 16, 1923.
  • 29. "A Yarn of Many Threads," Times-Picayune (New Orleans).
  • 30. Saxon, "The Victim," 27.
  • 31. "A Yarn of Many Threads."
  • 32. Saxon, "The Victim," 27.
  • 33. For Oser's quotes see "Red Sticks—Against Marijuana," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), May 14, 1925, 3; "Bills Introduced," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), May 15, 1924, 2.
  • 34. "Bill Outlaws Marijuana," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), June 4, 1924, 2.
  • 35. "House Warms Up to Legislative Work," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), June 13, 1924, 4.
  • 36. The law restricted prescriptions to medicinal preparations containing a limited percentage of cannabis extract. "Marajuana Outlawed," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), July 2, 1924, 15; "Bills Signed by Governor Fuqua," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), July 13, 1924, sec. One-B, 5; "Orleans Parish Lawmakers to Tell About It at Dinner," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), July 28, 1924, 3.
  • 37. "Mentality Tests for Speeders Urged by Coroner Roeling," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), May 31, 1925, 1.
  • 38. "Women to Fight Marijuana Sale," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), November 25, 1924, sec. Part Two, 17.
  • 39. "Marijuana War Is Planned by Mrs. Gregson." Gregson's use of the term "stepping stone" here may signal the origins of the "gateway drug" theory that ultimately proved highly influential in bolstering a prohibitory stance on marijuana throughout the second half of the twentieth century.
  • 40. "A Yarn of Many Threads," Times-Picayune (New Orleans).
  • 41. For coverage of Gregson's announcement, see "Marijuana War Is Planned by Mrs. Gregson," 9; "No Man's Land," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), December 14, 1924, sec. Three, 15.
  • 42. "Thousands of State's Youth Marijuana Addicts, Survey by Criminologist Show," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), August 12, 1926, 6.
  • 43. For examples, see "Women to Probe Drivers' License Issuance System," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), October 26, 1926, 3; "National Officer of School Clubs Will Visit," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), October 28, 1926, 5; "Public School Vice Quiz Opens Feb. 23," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), February 20, 1927; "School Alliance Holds Meeting—Stricter Legislation Towards Marijuana Sellers Is Urged," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), May 10, 1927; "School Children Smoke Muggles, Alliance Is Told—Startling Reports Made at Meeting by Mrs. J.G. Skinner," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), May 13, 1928.
  • 44. "Gambling in City Leaves Its Mark on School Boys," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), January 11, 1927, 2.
  • 45. "More Children Smoke Muggles Alliance Hears," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), November 15, 1927, 2.
  • 46. Their efforts mirrored earlier attempts out of New Orleans urging federal action on marijuana, dating to Dr. Dowling's letters in 1920. For additional examples, see "We Want Walmsley for Congress," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), March 23, 1924, sec. One-B; "Women Endorse City Bond Issue—Federation of Clubs Will Ask Us Action Against Marijuana," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), November 23, 1926, 19. On the Public School Alliance, see "Alliance Seeks Government Ban on Marihuana," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), December 12, 1928, 37.
  • 47. The Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 regulated and taxed the production, importation, and distribution of opiates and coca products as well as closely monitored the proscribing habits of registered physicians.
  • 48. "Children Smoke Marihuana, Says Head of Alliance—Fight for More Severe Legislation to Be Carried On," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), January 15, 1929, 12; "Alliance Seeks Government Ban on Marihuana," 37.
  • 49. "War on Hashish Smoking Is Carried to Congress in Effort to Save School Children," The Brooklyn Eagle, December 20, 1928, 3; "Federal Agents Powerless to End Hashish Traffic," The Brooklyn Eagle, December 21, 1928.
  • 50. See Bonnie and Whitebread, The Marijuana Conviction, 44. According to Bonnie and Whitebread, in the fall of 1926, New Orleans police suddenly "arrested more than 150 persons for violation of a law which had lain dormant for two years." It is unclear if they mean the city ordinance or the state law. Nevertheless, given the evidence shown here, there was obviously significant attention focused on marijuana for at least four to six years prior to that particular enforcement sweep in 1926. Contemporary reports clearly show continued enforcement and arrests for marijuana under both the city ordinance and state law throughout this period.
  • 51. For examples, see Musto, The American Disease; Bonnie and Whitebread, The Marihuana Conviction; John Helmer and Thomas Vietorisz, Drug Use, the Labor Market and Class Conflict (Washington: Drug Abuse Council, 1974); John F. Galliher and Allynn Walker, "The Puzzle of the Social Origins of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937," Social Problems 24, no. 3 (1977): 367–76; Himmelstein, The Strange Career of Marihuana.
  • 52. The widespread digitization of newspapers and related online databases has undoubtedly made this evidence more accessible to researchers and reinforces the need to reevaluate earlier interpretations.
  • 53. "Police Capture Weed, Wine and Owners in Raid," Times-Picayune (New Orleans).
  • 54. "Narcotic Leaves Seized on Vessel," Times-Picayune (New Orleans).
  • 55. "Drug Ring Hunt Seems to Score," Times-Picayune (New Orleans).
  • 56. "Marihuana Haul Made By Police," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), January 17, 1924; "American Craze for Marihuana Builds Industry," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), March 10, 1924; "Arrest Marihuana Seller," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), March 10, 1924, 14; "Marijuana Seized Valued at $3,000," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), April 20, 1924, sec. Five, 8; "Decision Upholds Recorder's Stand," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), May 1, 1924; "Alleged Ex-Convict Held, Drug Seized," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), May 31, 1924, 3.
  • 57. For examples of large marijuana seizures, see "Woman Charged Under Drug Act," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), September 27, 1924, 2; "Marijuana Seized," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), July 17, 1925, 23; "Liquors and Drugs Seized by Agents," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), March 23, 1926; "Healy Launches Attack on Vice and Marihuana," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), October 17, 1926; "Marijuana Leads to Arrest of Four," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), January 16, 1927; "Marijuana Drugs Are Seized on Ship," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), February 10, 1927, sec. Part Two; "Woman Is Accused of Marijuana Sale," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), June 28, 1927, sec. Part Two; "Two Marijuana Loads Confiscated," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), October 8, 1927; "Agents on Trail of Large Liquor Smuggling Ring," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), November 11, 1927; "Marihuana, Rum Seized by Federal Officers on Ships," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), February 10, 1928; "$5000 in Marihuana Taken from Ship," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), February 29, 1928; "Marihuana Seized by Captain at Sea," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), March 22, 1929; "Customs Agents Seize Marihuana Valued at $7500," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), October 4, 1929, sec. Part Two.
  • 58. "Cops Make First Marihuana Raids," Times-Picayune (New Orleans).
  • 59. "Alleged Marihuana Seized," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), June 24, 1923.
  • 60. "Restaurant Man Sold Marihuana, Police Charge," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), July 8, 1923, 9. A report for this arrest gave a different restaurant address and a slightly differently spelling of his name—Antonio Bernabe.
  • 61. "Cocaine, Marihuana Found, Two Jailed," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), May 24, 1929. Giacona was ultimately not tried for this offense, see "Records of the Day—Criminal Court," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), June 15, 1929.
  • 62. "Police Nab Youth, Seize Marihuana," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), August 1, 1929.
  • 63. "Alleged Ex-Convict Held, Drug Seized," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 3.
  • 64. "Youth Is Taken in Marijuana Raid," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), April 3, 1927, 15.
  • 65. For examples, see "A Yarn of Many Threads," Times-Picayune (New Orleans); "Marihuana Peddler Fined," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), July 3, 1923; "American Craze for Marihuana Builds Industry," Times-Picayune (New Orleans); "Arrest Marihuana Seller," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 14.
  • 66. "American Craze for Marihuana Builds Industry."
  • 67. "Arrest Marihuana Seller," 14.
  • 68. "A Yarn of Many Threads."
  • 69. "Liquor and Mary Warner Seized," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), June 5, 1924, 26.
  • 70. "Marijuana Seized Valued at $3,000," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 8.
  • 71. For this instance and others, see "Alleged 'Muggles' Habitues Are Fined," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), July 29, 1923, 3; "More Patrolmen Are Transferred," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), September 10, 1923, 13; "Finds Marihuana in Martina's Store," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), October 17, 1923, 7.
  • 72. The roles women have played in the business of drug trafficking is highly understudied. See Elaine Carey, Women Drug Traffickers: Mules, Bosses, and Organized Crime (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2014).
  • 73. "Unable to Find Verboten Law," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), October 2, 1924, 7.
  • 74. "Woman Charged Under Drug Act," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 2.
  • 75. For just one example, see "Possession Is Charged," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), July 30, 1925, 16.
  • 76. W. G. McAdoo, Treasury Decisions Under Customs and Other Laws, vol. 29 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1916), 257.
  • 77. "Smuggler Sentenced," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), March 5, 1925, 12.
  • 78. "Marijuana Seized," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 23.
  • 79. "Spanish Seaman Held," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), October 21, 1925, sec. Part Two, 17.
  • 80. "Pair Arrested Trying to Land with Marihuana," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), October 10, 1929, 1.
  • 81. For the use of this phrase, see Bonnie and Whitebread, The Marijuana Conviction, 33–34.
  • 82. Generally known as the "Mexican Hypothesis" or the "Mexican Vector model," this is the most prominent interpretation for marijuana prohibition in the United States. For more on these terms, see Himmelstein, The Strange Career of Marihuana; Campos, Home Grown.
  • 83. Campos, Home Grown, 2, 5.
  • 84. For examples, see "Seven Arrested and 36,000 Grains of Dope Seized," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), June 8, 1923; "Dope Swindle Exposed by Raid on Mexican Club," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), June 9, 1923; "Marihuana Haul Made By Police"; "American Craze for Marihuana Builds Industry," Times-Picayune (New Orleans); "Arrest Marihuana Seller," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 14.
  • 85. These names include: Martinez (five suspects) with one possible repeat offender, Gonzales (two suspects), Mendoza (two suspects), Busamente (one suspect), Rodrigues (one suspect), Ruiz (one suspect), Garcia (one suspect), Lopez (one suspect), Campos (one suspect), Belasques (one suspect), Torres (one suspect), Spinoza (one suspect), and Santos (one suspect). Those specifically identified as Mexican or Spanish by the Times-Picayune accounted for just five percent of the arrests reported between 1923 and 1929. Adding those with traditional surnames, but unidentified by race or ethnicity, yields twelve percent of documented arrests. The 1930 census data shows 717 citizens in New Orleans listed as "Mexican"—accounting for 0.1 percent of the city's 458,762 residents.
  • 86. For the most prominent examples of the "Mexican Hypothesis," see Musto, "The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937"; Musto, The American Disease; Bonnie and Whitebread, The Marihuana Conviction.
  • 87. Bonnie and Whitebread, The Marijuana Conviction, 92.
  • 88. Bob Beach, "'That Funny, Funny Reefer Man': Reading Reefer Madness Through Jazz Music During the 1930s," Points: The Blog of the Alcohol & Drugs History Society, April 30, 2015, https://pointsadhsblog.wordpress.com/2015/04/30/that-funny-funny-reefer-man-reading-reefer-madness-through-jazz-music-during-the-1930s/.
  • 89. This number accounts for about seven percent of the total arrests covered in this article. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, African Americans made up between 26 and 28 percent of the total population of New Orleans. For census data, see Campbell Gibson and Kay Jung, "Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals by Race, 1790 to 1990, and by Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, for Large Cities and Other Urban Places in the United States" (Washington, D. C.: U.S. Census Bureau, 2005), https://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0076/twps0076.pdf.
  • 90. It is possible that newspaper reports from these areas simply implied the suspects were African American. That seems unlikely, however, given the frequent use of terms like "colored" and "negro" in other reporting by the paper, crime-related or otherwise.
  • 91. The adjacent South Rampart Street corridor also had many African American businesses. See "Jazz Neighborhoods—New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service)," accessed September 4, 2016, https://www.nps.gov/jazz/learn/historyculture/jazz-map.htm. Armstrong left New Orleans in 1922, but apparently did not begin using marijuana until white musicians introduced him to the drug in Chicago later that decade. Armstrong was highly fond of marijuana; he recorded the song "Muggles" in 1928, faced jail time in 1930 for marijuana possession in Los Angeles, and reportedly smoked daily for most of his life. For more on Armstrong and marijuana, see Thomas David Brothers, Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism (W. W. Norton & Company, 2014).
  • 92. "Vice Squad Again Hits Tango Belt," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), May 16, 1925.
  • 93. Distance data was drawn from 115 records that provided an address for both place of arrest and place of residence. Excluding records where the arrest and residence locations were the same, difficult to locate on a current map, or far outside New Orleans (Biloxi, MS, for example), left seventy-seven records for further analysis. Of those records, the average distance from arrest location to their residence was 1.7 miles, with a median distance of 1.1 miles. The maximum distance was 6.8 miles, the minimum less than 0.1 miles, with a mode of 0.3 miles.
  • 94. Though it is difficult to draw firm conclusions, based on the available newspaper evidence it is likely that the vast majority of marijuana suspects were white. Contemporary newspapers generally identified non-whites as "Negro," "Colored," "Mexican," or other similar terms. Thus, when the paper did not provide a race or ethnicity, it seems likely the suspect was white. For another example of identifying and classifying race among arrest records in New Orleans, see Tanya Marie Sanchez, "The Feminine Side of Bootlegging," Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 41, no. 4 (2000): 403–33.
  • 95. About 100 of the 225 documented arrests covered in this essay provided the age of the suspect. Of those with a reported age, the average age was 23.5 years old and the median age was 22.5 years old.
  • 96. For examples, see "Children Using 'Mary Warner,' Officials Fear"; "Gambling in City Leaves Its Mark on School Boys"; "More Children Smoke Muggles Alliance Hears"; "School Alliance Holds Meeting—Stricter Legislation Towards Marijuana Sellers Is Urged"; "School Children Smoke Muggles, Alliance Is Told—Startling Reports Made at Meeting by Mrs. J.G. Skinner"; "War on Hashish Smoking Is Carried to Congress in Effort to Save School Children"; "Children Smoke Marihuana, Says Head of Alliance—Fight for More Severe Legislation to Be Carried On."
  • 97. "Marijuana Leads to Arrest of Four," Times-Picayune (New Orleans).
  • 98. "Youth Is Arrested," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), January 15, 1929.
  • 99. For an excellent contemporary summary of various high points in the New Orleans anti-marijuana campaign during the 1920s, see "Crime Trail Widens as Marihuana Fume Descends Upon City," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), April 21, 1929, 22, 24.
  • 100. "Port Termed Hypodemic Needle Feeding Entire Middle West with Drugs," Times-Picayune (New Orleans), March 6, 1926, 1.
  • 101. See Himmelstein, "The Rise of the Killer Weed," in The Strange Career of Marihuana, 49–75. Though subsequent scholars have largely ignored his conclusions, Jerome Himmelstein remains a notable exception to this dominant interpretation. In 1983, Himmelstein emphasized the importance of youthful marijuana use in prompting federal action on marijuana in the mid-1930s. Though this essay lends credence to that finding, it also shows the specter of marijuana use among children originated in New Orleans more than a decade earlier.
Cover Image Attribution: 
Crescent Bend, New Orleans, Louisiana, ca. 1898–1931. Postcard by the Detroit Publishing Company. Courtesy of The New York Public Library, digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-8758-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99. Image is in public domain.
doi:10.18737/43316.2018
Creative Commons Licence

Browse by