Law Commentary

How Did Pot Get Banned in Canada? This Is One Time When You Can Blame the Media

How Did Pot Get Banned in Canada? This Is One Time When You Can Blame the Media
by Mark Bourrie
February 26, 2024
How Did Pot Get Banned in Canada? This Is One Time When You Can Blame the Media

Marijuana prohibition in Canada was imposed because of a belief among  early 20th century decision-makers that social ills could be reduced, or even eliminated, by government action.[1]

Senior politicians, media, and progressive elements in society, especially women’s activists, social reformers and farmers’ movements, also accepted the premise that marijuana was a dangerous drug that should be prohibited.[2]  This acceptance by the media was shown by the negative articles on marijuana published in Maclean’s, written by social reformer Emily Murphy, and the coverage of cannabis of the Globe and Mail and major daily newspapers in the months immediately after the Canadian government followed the U.S. lead in banning marijuana cultivation in the late 1930s.

The coverage of marijuana in these publications – two of which, the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail, is examined in this paper — stands in marked contrast to the attitudes of many of the public servants who had expertise in drug enforcement, health and agriculture, especially in the years before the 1938 Canadian ban on the growing of hemp/marijuana. Correspondence between senior Department of Health and Pensions officials, shows in 1937, when the U.S. banned cannabis, there was virtually no marijuana use in Canada. Archival files show the leadership in the Department of Health and Pensions and their colleagues in the Department of Agriculture believed by 1938 a marijuana ban was unworkable, prohibition of marijuana cultivation and the resultant publicity would advertise the drug, rather than impede its spread into Canada, and there was no need for public education – including journalism – on the issue.[3]

Canada banned marijuana in 1923. The government forgot that ban, and banned it again in 1938.

The First Marijuana Ban, 1923

The first Canadian ban on marijuana (in a regulation under the Opium and Narcotics Act, 1923) predates the federal U.S. ban by fourteen years and is among the first national marijuana prohibitions by a western country[4], yet the ban itself receives, at best, marginal mention in historical literature. U.S. writers either do not mention the Canadian ban[5] or are confused about the genesis of Canada’s marijuana prohibition laws.[6] They accept the flawed idea that Canada underwent the same type of politician and civil service-inspired “reefer madness” campaign that spread through the U.S. in the mid-1930s.  In fact, public servant-media co-operation in demonizing marijuana was unique to the United States.

Macleans magazine and its owner were vocal advocates in print and behind the scenes for tougher drug enforcement. Carstairs says Maclean, deliberately set out to influence the 1923 legislation and hired Murphy to write this series because she “was one of Canada’s best-known writers.”[7] The magazine published five major articles on the illicit drug issue, all written by Murphy, an Alberta provincial magistrate. Murphy, a vocal social reformer, usually wrote under the pen name Janey Canuck.  She was extremely well-connected: a friend and correspondent of many senior Liberal and Conservative politicians, senior members of the women’s suffrage movement, and media owners. She was born to a wealthy, conservative family in Cookstown, Ontario. Her grandfather, a politician and newspaper proprietor, was a founder of the Ontario branch of the Loyal Orange Lodge. One of her uncles was a Supreme Court of Canada justice, while another was a senator.[8] After marrying an Anglican priest and moving to Alberta, she was appointed a police magistrate in Edmonton. While she used the honorific “judge” Murphy for the rest of her life, the appointment did not require her to have a law degree. The title, however, gave her writing and private advice added credibility.

Her anti-marijuana article in Maclean’s was reprinted as CHAPTER XXIII of The Black Candle, a Canadian best seller. It contains lurid descriptions of the insanity and social evils caused by marijuana use:

Emily Murphy's The black candle
Emily Murphy’s 1922 The black candle [Wikipedia]

THIS drug is not really new but, as yet, is completely unknown in the United States and Canada, although three of the American States – California, Missouri, and Wyoming – have legislated against its use, the authorities and police officers being woefully ignorant of its nature or extraordinary menace…

Charles A. Jones, the Chief of Police for the city, said in a recent letter that hashish, or Indian hemp, grows wild in Mexico but to raise this shrub in California constitutes a violation of the State Narcotic law. He says, “Persons using this narcotic, smoke the dried leaves of the plant, which has the effect of driving them completely insane. The addict loses all sense of moral responsibility…

“When coming under the influence of this narcotic, these victims present the most horrible condition imaginable. They are dispossessed of their natural and normal will power and their mentality is that of idiots. If this drug is indulged in to any great extent, it ends in the untimely death of its addict…”

The Black Candle is a racist tract that uses lurid photographs to buttress its attacks on people of colour. One photograph shows a (fully-clothed) white woman reclining with shirtless black man, torsos showing, with the caption: “When she acquires the habit, she does not know what lies before her; later she does not care.”[9]

Giffen, Endicott and Lambert credit Murphy’s writings with inspiring the 1923 ban.[10] Solomon and Usprich[11] say the anti-marijuana articles in Murphy’s Maclean’s magazine writings[12] and in The Black Candle, encouraged the Canadian delegation to push for the inclusion of cannabis in the Geneva Convention of 1925, the product of the first anti-drug conference to be held by the League of Nations.[13]  Earlier, at The Hague conference of 1912, hashish was discussed at the insistence of Italy, which had recently acquired hashish-growing regions in North Africa, but the delegates to those conferences did not add cannabis to their list of controlled substances.[14]

The LeDain Commission on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs reported in 1973: “Her writings were extremely influential in shaping Canadian drug laws,” and many of her “original proposals are still reflected in our narcotics legislation.”[15] Solomon and Green also credit her with having a major influence on the King government’s narcotics legislation.

Opium policy scholar Catherine Carstairs does not. She says: “Although Murphy’s articles marked the beginning of a sustained anti-drug campaign, she had little impact on the Vancouver drug panic and her importance has been overstated by herself and subsequent drug historians.” [16] She notes that one senior official in the Narcotics Department later regretted supplying information used in Murphy`s writings.[17] Her theory, backed by a 1974 quote of a statement of Alexander B. Morrison, then Deputy Minister, Health Protection Brach, Health and Welfare Canada, that Sharman had had placed marijuana on the list of proscribed drugs after returning from a League of Nations narcotics conference, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The Hague conference of 1912 deferred the issue after a few minute’s discussion.[18] The next international drug enforcement conference was hosted by the League of Nations in 1924. Sharman was not hired until 1927.[19]

The Canadian cabinet appears to have included marijuana on its list of banned drugs in 1923 for several reasons: Emily Murphy’s publicizing of marijuana; the ban of marijuana by a small number of U.S. states; and the international discourse on marijuana and hashish among government officials and delegates to the string of drug conferences that began with the Shanghai meetings of 1908.

Unfortunately, the historical record is incomplete. There is no “smoking gun” memo in government archives or minutes of cabinet debates that assigns credit for the ban on marijuana to any one factor. In fact, it seems it was placed on the list as, at most, an afterthought.

Carstairs downplays the role other scholars have assigned Murphy. She notes The Black Candle, has just one chapter on marijuana “only seven pages long and was easily lost in the shuffle.”[20] Since the book sold extremely well, and these seven pages were the first and only time members of the public were to hear of marijuana for several years, Carstairs may be too dismissive. In 1921, the Canadian public was a tabula rasa. It was Murphy who made the first marks on this chalk board, and she did not do so in obscure publications. Carstairs also argues the narcotics “department had little respect for Murphy and was unlikely to take her views seriously”[21]. That may be so, but no one in the department came out to engage Murphy in public debate. While officials in the narcotics department may have had little faith in Murphy, the government chose, whether because it had faith in her, or respected the power of her political base, to appoint Murphy as an advisor to Canadian delegation to the first League of Nations drug conference in 1924-25.[22] As well, the League of Nations purchased copies of her book for conference attendees.[23] This conference was the first to accept the proposal for a full cannabis ban (of both hashish and marijuana).

The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star, representative of mainstream Canadian newspapers, did not print major articles on marijuana in 1923, and, in fact, ignored the drug until after the U.S. ban of 1937. While U.S. media stories quoted, and were sometimes written by, Harry Anslinger, head of the U.S. federal narcotics agency, Col. C.H.L. Sharman, Anslinger’s Canadian counterpart, is not quoted in any of the Toronto Star or Globe and Mail’s marijuana coverage during the time period covered by this paper, nor is anyone else in his department.

Solomon and Green (1982) note that, once cannabis was added to the drug schedule of the Opium and Narcotics Act in 1923, “presumably as a result of Mrs. (Emily) Murphy’s warning”, tough sanctions against people possessing and selling marijuana, as well as sweeping police powers of search and seizure (under Writs of Assistance, virtual blank cheque search warrants issued by judges) were made available to authorities. For marijuana, however, the statistics are quite simple: despite the outlawing of possession and the severe powers allowed to police, no one was convicted of illegal possession or sale of cannabis until 1932, nine years after the substance was banned.

Chapman[24] argues that Murphy and other Western Canadian anti-drug crusaders were motivated by evangelical Christian religion that “would not tolerate the existence of non-Protestant values in their domain, nor the rapidly growing phenomenon of irreligion”.[25]

Carstairs, in her study of Canadian drug policy, describes how Parliament debated and passed the 1938 Opium and Narcotics Control Act and the government sent RCMP officers to find and destroy cannabis plants, almost always grown as hemp. She does not, however, note the actions of municipal police forces, especially in southern Ontario, to root out cannabis plants and charge users of the drug, nor does she seem to have examined the news coverage prior to, and at the time of, the passage of the 1938 Canadian bill and the subsequent marijuana scare stories printed in the two largest Toronto newspapers in 1938-39.[26]

The Second Marijuana Ban: 1938

The 1938 bill was, in fact, a ban on hemp cultivation, but, at the time, it was seen as the prohibition of a new drug.  The Hansards from the 1938 debates of the House of Commons and the Senate show the ignorance of MPs and Senators of Canada’s original marijuana ban, as does the newspaper reporting of the debates. Canadian reporters writing about cannabis in the wake of the passage of the U.S. Marijuana Tax Stamp Act (August, 1937) didn’t appear to have realized that the “new” drug they wrote about was already banned in Canada.

In 1937, cannabis sale and possession was already banned but hemp (Cannabis sativa) could be grown for its commercial uses (mainly birdseed and as windbreaks for vegetable gardens) and there had been, with the exception of a single conviction, no serious police enforcement of the regulation prohibiting possession. The federal Narcotics Division was concerned in the 1920s and 1930s primarily with the international trade in opiates and cocaine, and the sale and storage of prescription narcotics.[27] It was only after the 1938 law that police, mainly in Ontario and the Montreal area, began a short-lived crackdown on hemp windbreaks, wild cannabis and the small number of marijuana users. This campaign ended in September, 1939, with the outbreak of World War II.

The Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail helped justify the 1938 legislation with a series of articles that began shortly before the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in August, 1937, continued through the lead-up and passage of the Canadian amendments to the Opium and Narcotics Act in March, 1938, and ended with the outbreak of war in September, 1939.

According to researcher Harry Levine, the media champions drug crackdowns because police raids and arrests make good copy. Without cost to publishers, this coverage shows the media to be public-spirited. There’s very little controversy: few people are willing to take a stand in favour of dangerous, illegal drugs.[28]

Support for the U.S. anti-marijuana campaign spread across the political spectrum. Many left-wing newspapers would, much later, swing around to support decriminalization, but during those New Deal years they backed President Franklin Roosevelt’s drug policies. Supportive newspapers like the New York Daily Worker printed sensational features about honest citizens whose lives were ruined by the marijuana pushed on them by drug dealers:

It destroys the willpower, releases restraints, and promotes insane reactions. Continued use causes the face to become bloated, the eyes bloodshot, the limbs weak and trembling, and the mind sinks into insanity. Robberies, thrill murders, sex crimes and other offenses result … The habit can be cured only by the most severe methods. The addict must be put into an institution, where the drug is gradually withdrawn, his general health is built up, and he is kept there until he has enough willpower to withstand the temptation to again take the weed. The spread of this terrible fad can be stopped only when the unscrupulous criminals trafficking in the drug are rooted out.[29]

Not only did the U.S. Narcotics Bureau supply information for journalists, it also sent out articles for publication.  Anslinger’s “Marijuana: Assassin of Youth” first appeared in American Magazine before being condensed and syndicated, and seven articles published between 1935 and 1937 explicitly credited the bureau or its commissioner as a source of information.

In June, 1937, the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act was referred to a House of Representatives committee, where Anslinger told congressmen: “marihuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.” The medical profession protested mildly in favor of leaving the drug legal. Its witness told the committee: “The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marihuana is a dangerous drug.” [30]

The bill banning marijuana and hashish was brought onto the floor of the House of Representatives on August 20,1937. After dealing with one question from a Republican (whose party was in the minority), the bill was passed on a Friday afternoon without a recorded vote.[31] It was passed by the Senate with no debate at all. Those who believe the U.S. was caught in a full-blown marijuana panic may wish to consider the fact that the New York Times reported the passage of the bill in a brief buried inside the newspaper.

In 1937, the police tried to reassure Canadians there was no marijuana problem in Canada. The RCMP told newspaper reporters that Canada was pretty much free of the drug. The Globe and Mail reported the RCMP’s observations and added:

Marijuana, peddled to many young people in the United States, causes insanity in many cases. Its effect is often unpredictable. It has been known to turn quiet, respectable youths into raving murderers, seeking victims to satisfy their delusions. [32]

Mitchell[33] claims a close working relationship between Anslinger and Sharman to push for a marijuana crackdown: “Both Anslinger and Sharman marched to the beat of the same drummer and both played a central role in shaping drug legislation.” This is a simplistic view of their relationship and of their anti-drug strategies and is a major error in the historiography of Canada’s drug enforcement establishment. Correspondence in the National Archives of Canada shows that, until the passage of the U.S. Marijuana Tax Stamp Act and the resulting press coverage, there was very little worry in Canada’s drug enforcement agencies about marijuana and no desire to publicize drug use as a worsening public menace. In fact, in 1933, when J.B. MacLean, owner of Maclean’s Magazine, tried to interest the government in another series on the drug issue, he was rebuffed by senior Narcotics Division officials.[34]

Writing from “The Breakers”, his Palm Beach, Florida winter home, Maclean offered Murray MacLaren, the Minister of Pensions and National Health in the Conservative government of R.B. Bennett, the use of his magazine to fight the traffic in drugs:

I have taken the matter up with Napier Moore, the editor of Maclean’s Magazine, and suggested to him that Maclean’s take the matter up, with a view to informing the public as to the gravity of the whole drug scandal. Mr. Moore writes me that he is of the opinion that the best possible man to tackle the subject would be Lieutenant-Colonel George A. Drew[35], who has for some time been interested in the subject.

Mr. Moore also tells me that you and the officials of your department have considerable information with regard to the drug traffic. You will agree, I think, that one of the reasons why little is being done to stamp it out is that public opinion isn’t sufficiently consolidated. This is unquestionably due in turn to the fact that the public has received very little information on the subject.

I think that Maclean’s could render a service and help materially to get public opinion behind you in any move that might be made, and I would appreciate it very much if you could see your way to allow Colonel Drew to go into the matter with those of your staff who are best informed on the subject, and have access to whatever information might be available. We already have considerable facts, but we want to be sure of our source.

I need hardly say that no mention would be made of the source of this information; that it would be scrupulously guarded. You can depend on the discretion and reliability of both Colonel Drew and Mr. Moore.[36]

The charge that “little is being done to stamp it out” rankled the government officials. On March 16, Sharman wrote a memorandum to the minister suggesting the government, at most, use League of Nations figures to show that there was a serious international drug problem but it was not out of control. He also wanted Maclean to be told that Canada’s domestic drug problem was in hand. He advised MacLaren some publicity might be useful, as only 10 of the 25 countries needed to ratify the League of Nation’s new convention on narcotics, which outlawed cannabis and controlled the production and sale of opiates, had endorsed the agreement, and that the deadline to do so was looming[37]. He added that the United States (which was not a member of the League) and the Vatican had put pressure on signatory countries to ratify the convention, and that negotiations were at a sensitive stage. The next day, he decided even this low-key approach would only inflame matters and wrote to MacLaren rejecting outright the idea of assisting Maclean’s and suggesting the drafting of a letter to refute the charge that “little is being done”.

He suggested a letter with this wording:

While undoubtedly there are certain angles of the narcotics problem in connection with which publicity, with a view of educating the public, would be helpful, I am afraid, however, that it is inapplicable as far as the international traffic is concerned. It has always been considered advisable to keep that angle of the work confidential, and I must confess to sharing that view.

The annual reports of my Department have in the past contained a considerable amount of material indicating the work being done in Canada itself. This, as of necessity, has had to be carefully scrutinized before publication, and I do not think it would be advisable to extend the scope of information previously furnished[38].

Three days later, J.J. Heagarty, the minister’s chief executive assistant, wrote back to Sharman:

I saw the Minister this morning with regard to your memorandum. He wants a letter to Colonel MacLean (sic) somewhat on the following lines:

‘Acknowledge that drug traffic regulatable and recognize value of press in bringing it before the people. He hopes that the press will draw attention to the excellence of the practice.

With regard to the statement that ‘little is being done,’ he is pleased to state that the matter is under the active and efficient direction of this Department; and, from the nature of the problem, its control must be pursued without publicity. The valuable work that is being done is having a marked effect. Minister says we should not say that we are in a position to give information.

Maclean dropped the idea but, the next year, he tried to interest then-Opposition Leader Mackenzie King in a new publicity effort, this one a bizarre effort to link senior British politicians to the drug trade. King records this story in his diary:

Col. Maclean told me he was preparing an article on the anti-narcotic drug campaign, which would include reference to a communication he had received from Mustafa Kemal, the president of Turkey, in which Mustafa Kemal claimed that the effort to drive the Turks out of Europe, at the end of the Chenak incident, had back of it a combination of people interested in the traffic of drugs; that he, Mustafa Kemal, had been trying to end the traffic by substituting tobacco and other plant growing for that of opium, but the financial backers of Lloyd George – Birkenhead and Churchill – were men connected with this drug circle.

There may be nothing to this, though Col. Maclean is convinced there is. He re-emphasized what he said about my action in refusing to send troops to Chenak until we knew what the trouble was about, as having averted a war. His article on this appears in Maclean’s magazine of Nov. 15, 1922. He wishes to revive the subject in an article he is now preparing on the drug question.[39]

In another letter, this one dated Oct. 8, 1936 from E.S. Archibald, director of the Central Experimental Farm, to Dr. G.S.H. Barton, deputy minister of agriculture, Archibald dismissed the need for any type of publicity about marijuana:

I have your memorandum of September 30th and am herewith returning the enclosures which you forwarded in reference to Marihuana. This is just like any other warning concerning narcotics. I do not know what sort of educational campaign should be carried on or just how much damage would be done by advertising the matter.[40]

In fact, Sharman and his department deliberately avoided publicity and discouraged reporting on its activities. In correspondence with John A. Crawford, a reporter with the Cleveland Plain Dealer who had an assignment with a major magazine that is unnamed in these letters, Sharman gave Crawford no information of any use and tried to convince him not to write his article. Crawford asked for information about a drug dealer convicted in Montreal in 1927. Sharman told Crawford he had no files on the case, no idea how the writer could obtain a transcript of the trial, and no longer had a copy of a speech he had given on the case. At the same time, Sharman wrote to Anslinger saying he had no information on the case. In correspondence with his own staff, Sharman said he discouraged the reporter (and Anslinger) because the drug trafficker had served his jail term, was staying off drugs, and could lose his job and family if his case was publicized.[41]

This reticence to stoke public fears about marijuana existed at the cabinet level as well. The Minister of Health turned down a request from a Renfrew doctor that an anti-marijuana educational campaign should be launched. Like Archibald, the minister believed an education campaign would serve only to draw attention to the drug and to the ease of which it could be obtained.[42]

However, at the time of the passage of the 1937 U.S. Marijuana Tax Stamp Act, the policy of the federal bureaucracy, especially of some of the senior officials in the Department of Health, changed. This time, Barton, whose department operated the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, was taken to task by his superiors for failing to make the connection between hemp and marijuana. By then, press coverage of marijuana and hemp, especially by the Toronto newspapers, had begun to intensify. R.E. Wodehouse, deputy minister of pensions and national health, wrote to Barton, demanding the removal of the display:

That the public is not altogether unaware of the opportunity offered to obtain marihuana (common name for the dried leaves) in large quantities, the illicit value of which is $20 per pound, is instanced by the efforts some time ago of a Jew to obtain the leaves and flowering tops of all hemp plants grown at the Central Experimental farm, which, he stated, he intended to use in the manufacture of a ‘rheumatic remedy”. His request was refused and as he was seen near the hemp fields some days later, the Mounted Policeman on duty was requested to keep an eye on him.

Marihuana is a most dangerous product from the narcotic standpoint, and several people are now in gaol in Canada for the illicit possession thereof. A most serious situation in relation to addiction to this plant, particularly in young people, exists in the United States at the present time, and we have so far and to a comparatively large extent, escaped the duplication thereof in Canada, by prompt action against those illicitly possessing or trafficking in same, by the imposition of heavy sentences by the courts. While Cannabis Sativa is known to grow wild in this country, no cases involving the use of native-grown cannabis have come to our knowledge, but such supplies as reach Canada from time to time are smuggled in from the United States, the West Indies and West Africa.[43]

Bureaucrats in the Department of Agriculture opposed that position.  Barton wrote back to Archibald that there was no likelihood that anyone would be encouraged by the display to take up marijuana use:

During all of these years (that the Experimental farm has been breeding hemp) it has been common knowledge that in the South the Negroes use the leaves and flowers for smoking or making steeped tea for sedative purposes. If the production of hemp has got to now be put under license, or if during the period of blossoming and harvesting it must be put under inspection by Preventative Officers of the Department of Pensions and Health, it seems to me that the same procedures should have been followed years ago.[44]

In a follow-up letter to Barton, Archibald commented on the health department’s plans to try to stamp out marijuana use in Canada by banning hemp, saying the health department’s deputy minister was ill-advised to push for a quick banning of the plant:

Dr Wodehouse is certainly going to have a real job on his hands.

I did not mention in my previous correspondence the use to which hemp is being put by tobacco growers and certain small fruit growers in Western Ontario. The wind-swept fields they are running rows of hemp through the fields for protective purposes. This applies also to the West, particularly in Manitoba where they are using hemp for a wind break and to hide ugly fences. They have been doing this for many years, and it seems to me that if Dr. Wodehouse is going to insist in the matter of licensing hemp growing he is going to have people who have never thought of its narcotic use pretty much stirred up. However, the matter is beyond our jurisdiction.[45]

On Sept. 27, 1937, Archibald to wrote to Barton to reinforce his point that hemp growing in Canada had a long history. He sent Barton a photostatic copy of an 1801 proclamation issued by the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada and the Province and the Governor and Lieutenant Governor Commanding in Upper and Lower Canada, that provided for the free distribution of hemp seed.

At the same time, officials of the Narcotics Division had no plans for a campaign against marijuana. While the drug was illegal in Canada, there was no sign that anyone was using it. Until the passage of the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act and the 1937-38 campaign by the Toronto newspapers to push authorities to enforce the anti-marijuana regulation and to ban hemp, federal officials, in the mid-1930s, were far more concerned with the traffic in prescription drugs, especially over-the-counter medications with large amounts of codeine. The annual reports of the Narcotics Division show it kept track of about one hundred licensed narcotics wholesalers and hundreds of retail druggists. By 1935, according to an internal report, the department believed it had a handle on the country’s drug problem.

Due to the increasing shortage of illicit narcotics in certain cities, the efforts to obtain narcotics unlawfully from legal sources have increased 300% in the past three years. At the present time, in Montreal for instance, illicit narcotics are practically unobtainable, due to the recent arrest of the leading Chinese trafficker, and which has closed down any supply of Opium available, and the arrest of the head of the Narcotics Squad of the Montreal City Police, and certain other people connected with him, whose activities were also very extensive. This cessation of the illicit traffic had its immediate repercussions amongst the addicts, who will naturally go to any lengths to continue their supply, and this in turn compels us to keep the closest possible check upon the legal traffic in that city[46]

During the 1930s, the staff of the Narcotics Department numbered between fifteen and twenty people, most of them clerks.[47] In the 1939 annual report from the Chief of the Narcotics Division to the Deputy Minister of Health, there is no mention at all of cannabis in the five legal-sized page document. The report, covering the period one year after police began seriously looking for marijuana users and hunted wild and cultivated hemp, is, as were the reports of the previous years, focused on the illicit trade in codeine and other narcotics diverted from legal drug wholesalers and drug stores

Sharman and his co-author Dr. C.P. Brown, in a short article, “The Control of Narcotics in Canada”, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 1936 (two years after the journal had printed a short editorial condemning marijuana), made no mention of cannabis.[48] Instead, they focused their attention on synthetic and natural opiate drugs imported to Canada for use in hospitals and sold in drug stores. In fact, it was months after the passage of the King government’s anti-cannabis bill that Sharman sent out a Narcotics Division circular on cannabis. This circular contains the oft-quoted error that Anslinger often made, equating marijuana with hashish. Still, despite a warning that cannabis use has “deplorable’ effects, the memorandum shows Sharman was not overly concerned about the cultivation of marijuana:

In the Schedule on page 12 you will note that Cannabis sativa, and its preparations, is listed as a narcotic. While this is its scientific name, it may be more familiarly known to you as Indian Hemp or Hemp. It is the same as Hashish, a very well-known Oriental drug of addiction, and on this continent is often known as marihuana. Its effects on those who smoke it, particularly young people, are deplorable…

From a recent survey of Canada it has been ascertained that there is considerable growth in this country, none of which is for commercial purposes. It has, however, been found in gardens and on farms, where it is used as a windbreak. There is also a very considerable wild growth, particularly on or near garbage dumps, as a result of bird seed from canaries’ cages being included in garbage.[49]

There was very minor media coverage of cannabis between the summer of 1937, when the U.S. marijuana ban was instituted, and February, 1938, when the King government introduced a bill in the House of Commons to ban the growing of hemp and the possession of drug use paraphernalia. The first mention of marijuana by the Globe and Mail was in a tiny story printed on June 4, 1937, on P. 27, a classified advertising page with a few ‘filler” wire copy stories:


Pierre, S.D. (UP) – Federal authorities here are alarmed by reports of the increasing use of marijuana throughout the state by high school youths. Chief W.H. Gordon of the Division of Investigation of the Justice Department said that the use of the drug was common in the sections of the State inhabited by Mexicans.

The Globe and Mail, like most North American newspapers, did not cover the passing of the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act, but, on July 6, 1937, it carried a front-page story, “Marijuana Cigarets Not Menacing Canada”, which quoted an unnamed RCMP source saying Canada was pretty much free of the drug, “said to be the cause of thousands of crimes in the United States, particularly murder.” Marijuana had been found growing “profusely in most states of the Union,” the story said, “though curiously enough, it has not been found in the Dominion. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who are responsible for enforcement of the Federal Narcotics Act in Canada, do not consider this particular drug to be a problem in this country, but they are watching the situation in the United States closely.” Police were quoted in the story saying a “Negro” caught by the RCMP somewhere in southwestern Ontario was found to be carrying marijuana cigarettes, but police couldn’t prove he was selling them to anyone, so he was released. “Marijuana, peddled to many young people in the United States, causes insanity in many cases. Its effect is often unpredictable. It has been known to turn quiet, respectable youths into raving murders, seeking victims to satisfy their delusions.”

Marijuana is first mentioned in passing in a Toronto Star story that was printed on the front page of the second section of the Aug. 6, 1935 issue, when a British toxicologist who was working on an oral insulin medication briefly describes earlier work detecting drugs slipped into drinks. In the Jan. 22, 1937, the Star carried a one-paragraph report from Monroe, Michigan, on the front page of the second news section, reporting the life sentence at hard labour handed down to Alcide “Frenchy” Benoit, a Sudbury native and “marijuana addict” convicted for the kidnap-murder of a Michigan state trooper.

The first mention of an official Ontario position on marijuana was printed in a five-page story on p. 9 of the Toronto Star’s July 8, 1937 edition, below a story about an angler catching a large lake trout in Georgian Bay:


Marijuana Creates Tendency To Wilful Violence, Says Health Minister

There are no records of anyone ever having been admitted to Ontario hospitals through addiction to marijuana, the narcotic drug which is becoming an increasing menace in the United States, Hon. J.A. Faulkner, (provincial) minister of health, stated today.

The government is determined to keep it out of Canada if possible,” the minister said. There is only one case of illicit marijuana dealing in Canada during the year 1935-1936. The vendor was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and a fine of $500 for each of three charges…

Eight days later, the Toronto Star carried a one-paragraph story on p. 14 about three Detroit juveniles caught picking six pounds of marijuana growing wild on vacant lot. There are no other references to cannabis in the Toronto Star until the early winter of 1937-38, after the passage of the U.S. Marijuana Tax Stamp Act.

In fact, newspapers like the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star did not even have a consistent style for spelling the names of marijuana and hashish. “Marijuana”, “marijuana,” “marihuana,” “hasheesh” and “hashish” found their way into coverage of the cannabis issue, with variations sometimes showing up in the same story.

In the late fall of 1937, the Star introduced its readers to the marijuana menace facing Canada. Its coverage provided more background than the Globe and Mail’s articles and tended to focus on the use of marijuana in Toronto. There is a racial overtone to much of the coverage. Reports tended to point out U.S. users of the drugs tended to be blacks. While almost all of the arrests of Canadians are of whites, the reports often allege that they acquired the drugs from blacks in the U.S.

On Jan 17, 1938, the Star printed a two-paragraph story on page 3, “Marihuana cache seized at U.S. border”. The story, with a Windsor dateline, reported a seizure of marihuana “sufficient to make 1,000 cigarettes”. Police said the suspect, William De Boxy, was “a grower of the Mexican drug weed.”

At the same time, the Star, for six weeks ran a daily serialized novel on its heavily-read comics page that demonized marijuana as a drug used by unscrupulous men to seduce otherwise virtuous women.

As the federal government prepared to introduce the 1938 bill, which was drafted by Wodehouse and sponsored by his minister, C.G. Powers, the issue of marijuana was discussed by Toronto municipal politicians at a meeting which received front-page coverage in the Star but was not reported at all by the Globe and Mail. The Star story ran above the fold and was illustrated with a drawing of a marijuana plant. It contains considerable background information on the U.S. marijuana “problem”, including claims the drug was responsible for murder, rape and insanity, that its users were primarily black Americans and that dealers of the drug directed their efforts toward school children:

Marijuana Probe Ordered

Board of Control has asked the health department for a report on the use of the marijuana drug in Toronto. Con. Canboy expressed fears the drug weed is being grown in flower pots. These leaves are said to be the basis for the drug which is held directly responsible for crimes of violence.

The board of control today launched a drive against a Mexican drug, the name of which none of the members could pronounce.

The drug is marijuana and was brought to public attention by reports it was used by “Shorty” Bryans, now held on a charge of murder following the slaying of John Ford on Saturday night…[50]

In the United States, it is smoked most widely in the southwest and around New Orleans. It is also used extensively in Harlem, New York.

Authorities differ on the harmful properties of the weed in the human body. All, however, agree that it gives the addict a feeling of exhilaration, maddens his senses, overcomes him with a feeling of great importance and confidence in his ability to carry out any deed.

One reason for its popularity is said to be its cheapness. In New York and Detroit it sells for as little as five cents a cigarette, but more commonly for two for twenty five cents. One cigarette is said to be sufficient to intoxicate the smoker.

The public prosecutor at New Orleans said recently that 30 per cent of all prisoners and 50 per cent of all murderers were habitual smokers of the plant. It is said to be responsible for many sex crimes. Some authorities say the weed, when used habitually, drives a person to insanity…

In some sections of the United States federal agents have reported the cigarettes sold to school children.    

George Charboneau, a 21-year-old Windsor man, was the first Canadian charged with bringing marijuana into the country. The Globe and Mail reported his arrest in a three-paragraph news item.[51] The Globe and Mail, in early February, 1938, begin steady coverage of the marijuana issue, beginning Feb. 3 with a p. 4 story about the sentencing of William De Bazy, 22, of Plymouth, Michigan, who was jailed three years for possession of marijuana. The RCMP found “the largest amount of marijuana ever seized in Canada” in De Bazy’s car on a Windsor street just after he arrived from Detroit. His lawyer said he had “picked the weed off a vacant lot” in Detroit for his own use, having acquired the habit “while serving with the United States Army in Panama”. The story quotes special prosecutor Keith Laird asking De Bazy: “Are you aware that marijuana causes murderous intent in some people?”

“No,” De Bazy replied. “It never affects me that way.”[52]

In the Feb. 9, 1938 edition, the paper reported:

Marijuana Considered Most Vicious Narcotic

Marijuana, a harmless-looking weed that grows in profusion in some Southwest States and is common in Canada is considered by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations to be ten times more powerful than cocaine and the source of the most menacing narcotic problem facing the American Continent.

The drug is too powerful to be used as a snuff. The weed is usually cured like tobacco and smoked like cigarets. In some parts of the United States people drink it in tea or coffee as part of their daily fare. Top price of the “reefer” or “muggles” as the cigarets are known to addicts is about 25 cents each. Some sell for as low as 5 cents. One or two produce a three-hour “jag” inducing a feeling of exhilaration and superiority, which sometimes develops into aggressiveness and a desire to test his physical strength on imaginary foes.

Continued and regular use of the drug brings on hysteria, followed by exhilaration and superiority, which the Bureau circular (F.B.I.) asserts often ends in complete insanity within three months. While in the third and next dangerous stage, the addict becomes a fiend, with savage “cave man” tendencies. His sex drive is now aroused and horrible crimes result.

He may be driving an automobile. To his drugged, distorted mind, he may think he is only creeping along at 25 miles an hour, while the car might actually be travelling 60 or 70 miles (per hour).

Only once since the drug became popular has the Toronto police had trouble here. Two years ago, several colored jockeys and stable boys were caught with a quantity of drugged cigarets during a racing meet. Many criminals have admitted taking the dope, but the police believe none of their crimes can be attributed to it.

The plant is described as a straight-stalked weed, bearing elongated, highly dentated leaves which give off a narcotic odor.

In many Southwest States, the weed is cultivated and grown in huge quantities between rows of corn. In other sections it grows wild. Horses grazing in those areas have gone mad from eating the weed.[53]

The day debate began on the federal government’s anti-cannabis bill, the Star printed a small editorial about the pronunciation of the word “marijuana”, which, for the first time, the paper spelled with the letter ‘i’, rather than “a” as the second vowel. On Feb. 8, 1938, as the House of Commons was about to debate the marijuana/hemp cultivation bill, the Star printed, on its editorial page, a précis of Anslinger’s Marijuana — Assassin of Youth, a magazine article that was now more than 18 months old. Conservative MP Alfred J. Brooks (Royal, N.B.) cited this report in the House of Commons Committee of the Whole discussion on the bill the day the Star printed a condensed version of Anslinger’s article.

(Anslinger) calls this drug the assassin of youth and states that it is one of the greatest menaces which has ever struck that country. It seems to me that very severe penalties should be imposed for the production or sale of this drug. The eradication is certainly necessary. If there are no good purposes to which it can be put, I do not see why licenses should be granted; rather steps should be taken to eradicate it entirely, because it is something that could undermine the youth of the country[54].

On February 22, the Star carried a story on a City news page (30), “Marijuana Smokers Seized With Sudden Craze to Kill”, a 14” article from Detroit that quoted Ralph H. Oyler, district narcotics supervisor, saying: “We got some that has come from the Canadian side and some that went into Canada from here.” Oyler said: “Hideous crimes have been committed by smokers of these cigarettes and we have had reports and investigations that show even school children have been smoking them. We have files that show many victims have been confined to institutions for the insane after smoking these cigarettes for a period of time.”

During debate in the Senate March 10, Liberal house leader J.H. King spoke for the government on the necessity of the bill. He, too, cited Anslinger’s article, adding, in error, that it discussed the situation in Canada:

Within the last few years the authorities in the United States have realized that this drug is being used extensively by the younger people. Cigarettes are manufactured from the leaf of Cannabis Sativa, commonly known as a hemp product, and sold to pupils in high schools and to the young people at dance parties, and so on. It is a rather interesting story, and I would refer honourable members to an article in the American Magazine of July, 1937. There they will find a full account of the increasing use of the drug in the United States and this country. The writer states that the police records indicate that the smoking of cigarettes made from Cannabis Sativa leaf has been the cause of many sex crimes, murders, robberies, and other crimes[55].

In a front-page story in the Feb. 25, 1938, edition of the Globe and Mail, the paper’s Parliament Hill correspondent reported on the House of Commons debate on second reading and committee of the whole of the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act, the bill to ban hemp cultivation:

Power’s Measure Against Marijuana Is Given Second Reading

Government called a Sham, D.J. Hartigan Tells House

OTTAWA, Feb. 24— Lax administration of legislation governing the sale of codeine, opium and other drugs, was charged in the House of Commons today by D.J. Hartigan (Liberal, Cape Breton South).

Other similar charges were made on the floor of the House during debate on a Government measure to secure control of control and distribution of the drug “marijuana”, the newest menace in the drug field, encountered by the police in the United States and Canada, which has received second reading.

“Marijuana is by no means a new drug,” said Hon. C.G. Power, Minister of Pensions and National Health, who sponsored the bill. “It has been known as far back as the times of Homer. It was formerly known as hasheesh and is extremely stimulating.”

The weed from which the drug came was introduced to Canada during the war years, when it was used for making twines, said Mr. Power. The stock (sic) of the plant is not harmful but the leaves are rolled into cigarettes and sold to men and women.

The bill would give the government absolute control, not only of sale and distribution, but of cultivation as well. Production will be prohibited as far as possible, but in rare cases, licenses may be issued, he said…[56]

The minister went on to talk about how the weed had made it into Canada. It had slipped into the country, he said, during World War I, when hemp fibre was used for making twine and for stuffing furniture. Liberal members of parliament criticized their own government for its “sham” drug protection policies. J.K. Blair, a Liberal, worried that evil-doers were spiking ordinary cigarettes with marijuana and other drugs. “I think a great number of our highway accidents are caused by smoking cigarettes with dope in them,” he said[57].

The Star gave less space to the marijuana cultivation bill in its coverage of the second reading debate, but used Anslinger’s famous “assassin of youth” phrase in the story’s lead paragraph. As much space was given to the official U.S. perception of marijuana as was afforded to the parliamentary debate itself. As well, the article had a confusing reference to drug stores, as the writer took out of context a part of the debate that dealt with federal inspections of pharmacies for violations of the rules on sales of opiates, especially codeine. The story ran on the front page of the Feb. 25, 1938 edition of the Star:


Special to the Star

Ottawa, Feb. 25 – Federal action against production, cultivation and use of marijuana, described as “the assassin of youth”, was launched in the House of Commons yesterday. Parliament gave second reading to a bill to rid Canada of the weed which, dried and smoked, is blamed for many murders and sex crimes in America each year.

Admitting the plant had been found growing in western Canada and was used as a wind-break in some areas, Hon. C.G. Power, minister of national health and pensions, announced a survey is being made of localities in which the plant is growing and to what extent. It is unlikely licenses will be issued for its production, he promised.

J. Hartigan (Lib., Cape Breton South) charged laxity in the present administration of the Narcotic Act and urged a complete change. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are not competent for the job, he asserted. He was willing to prove his allegations that reports submitted to Ottawa by the police did not always indicate what was revealed through their check-up of drug store sales.

The bill was given third reading March 2 and sent to the Senate. No committee hearings were held by either house, suggesting the government did not see a need to publicly consult hemp farmers, police, doctors or its own officials.

On Feb. 27, while the bill was before the House of Commons, police in Hamilton, Ont., announced they planned to smoke some marijuana. The plan was reported on p. 15 of the Globe and Mail:

Its use is causing concern in many large centres but so far it has not appeared in Hamilton, according to Chief of police E.K. Goodman, but he fears that sooner or later officials will have to cope with the problem and he believes in being prepared.

In a March 11 story, the police chief said officers lit some marijuana “just to attune their nasal powers so in future by merely sniffing, they’ll be able to detect the drug.” As no marijuana had been seized in the city, Hamilton police had to ask the RCMP for some marijuana. The Globe and Mail reported, in a short article on p. 15, police put some marijuana in a tin can, set it on fire and took turns inhaling the smoke. “Even in a crowded room where cigars, good and bad, pipes and cigarettes are sending up a smokescreen, the trained nostrils of the officers, with the certainty of efficient bloodhounds, will be able to single out the marijuana addict and enable them to get their man,” the Globe and Mail staff writer commented. “Constables declared they would have no difficulty in spotting anyone smoking the weed. They agreed that it has an aroma all its own.” The Globe and Mail followed up coverage of this experiment with a short editorial that ran March 19, 1938:

Now it is the Senate that is interested in the suppression of the marijuana weed. Have senators followed the example of Hamilton policemen and tried a few puffs of a marijuana cigaret? This might liven up the proceedings.

In very short articles March 3 and March 4, the Globe and Mail noted passage of the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act through the House of Commons, but did not cover the debate on the bill in the Senate and its coverage shifted to the new police campaign against the drug.

In stories published between the spring of 1938 and the summer of 1939, the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star  treated the arrests of a handful of people and the destruction of some wild hemp plots as though police were dealing with an important new threat to Canadian society. Coverage of the issue, except for a few briefs in the fall of 1939, ended with the outbreak of World War II.


The media had an important role in the banning of marijuana in Canada, although, in Canada the media acted independently of drug enforcement officials and, without influence from the federal bureaucracy, pushed for a marijuana ban. This was into the U.S., where impetus for cannabis prohibition came from within the federal bureaucracy. Emily Murphy’s alarmist writings on marijuana were accepted by Canadian policy-makers accepted them as truth, and marijuana was added to the list of banned substances under the Opium and Narcotics Act of 1923.  Marijuana faded as an issue in Canada until the passage of the U.S. 1937 Marijuana Tax Stamp Act. Within days of the passage of that bill in August, 1937, Canadian media took up the issue. Despite warnings from federal bureaucrats, the King government passed a new marijuana bill in the winter of 1938. A police crackdown on marijuana and hemp began that spring with eager press coverage. This crackdown, and the newspaper coverage, continued until the outbreak of war in September, 1939. Marijuana was not a serious issue again in Canada until the 1960s, when growers, users and sellers began to be prosecuted under regulations and laws passed two generations earlier.


[1] See Ramsay Cook, The Regenerators: Social Criticism in Late Victorian English Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1985) for an excellent analysis of politics and this journalism at this time.

[2]Louis Aubrey Wood, A History of the Farmer’s Movement in Canada (Toronto: Ryerson, 1924) provides a valuable examination of rural progressivism. Some 80 per cent of Canadians lived on farms or in small towns in the first quarter of the 20th century.  Unfortunately, the book had a small press run and is almost impossible to find.

[3] See correspondence Archibald-Barton, Oct. 6, 1938, in Records of the Department of Health and Pensions (Narcotics Branch, Department of Health and Pensions, RG29, (National Health and Welfare), Library and Archives Canada Volume 548 Box 497-1.

[4]Only France, among Western countries, has an older cannabis ban. It dates from 1848.Ernest        Abel, Marijuana, the First 12,000Years. (New York: Plenum: 1980)

[5]See Jacob Sullum, Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use (New York: Putnam, 2003); John Kaplan, Marijuana: The New Prohibition (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1970); David Solomon (ed), The Marijuana Papers (New York: Signet, 1966).

[6]See  Jerome L. Himmelstein, The Strange Career of Marijuana (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983); Ernest Abel, op cit, 23. Abel also erroneously dates the Canadian marijuana prohibition to 1929 (see Chap. 12)

[7] Catherine Carstairs, “Hop Heads ” and “Hypes”: Drug Use, Regulation and Resistance in Canada, 1920-1961 (PhD thesis, 2000), 33-34.

[8] Christine Mander, Emily Murphy, Rebel. (Toronto: Simon and Pierre, 1985) 20

[9] Mariana Valverde, in The Age of Light, Soap and Water (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991), places this photograph and the anti-Black remarks in The Black Candle within the context of what she argues was a wave of anti-Black racism in the West in the early years of the 20th century that included a massive recruitment to the Ku Klux Klan (112-114).

[10] P.J. Giffen, Shirley Endicott and Sylvia Lambert, Panic and Indifference: The Politics of Canada’s Drug Laws, CCSA 1991:180.

[11] Solomon, R.M., S.J. Usprich,, “Canada’s Drug Laws”. In Journal of Drug Issues Vol. 21:1

[12] Christine Mander, Emily Murphy, Rebel, 103

[13] Ernest Abel, Marijuana: The First 12,000 Years, 235

[14] Ernest Abel, Marijuana: The First 12,000 Years, 193

[15] Report of the Royal Commission into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1973, Vol. 1:322

[16] Catherine Carstairs, “Hop Heads” and “Hypes”: Drug Use Regulation and Resistance in Canada, 1920-1961, 31.

[17] Catherine Carstairs, “Hop Heads” and “Hypes”: Drug Use Regulation and Resistance in Canada, 1920-1961, footnote, 31.

[18] P.J. Giffen, Shirley Endicott and Sylvia Lambert, Panic and Indifference: The Politics of Canada’s Drug Laws 180.

[19] Catherine Carstairs, “Hop Heads” and “Hypes”: Drug Use Regulation and Resistance in Canada, 1920-1961, 49.  There is a typographic error in her text that may confuse its meaning. For more detail on the international conferences dealing, in part, with cannabis, see Ernest Abel, Marijuana: The First 12,000 Years, 235. Carstairs did know the year Sharman was hired, as she has it in a footnote on 162.

[20]  Catherine Carstairs, “Hop Heads’ and ‘Hypes’: Drug Use, Regulation and Resistance in Canada, 1921-1961”, 49

[21] Catherine Carstairs, “‘Hop Heads’ and ‘Hypes’: Drug Use, Regulation and Resistance in Canada, 1921-1961, 49

[22] See the Alberta government web site on the Famous Five,

[23] Christine Mander, Emily Murphy, Rebel, Simon and Pierre, 1981, 103

[24] See T. Chapman, “The Anti-Drug Crusade in Western Canada 1885-1925”. In Law and Society in Canada in Historical Perspective D. Bercuson and L. Knafla (eds.) (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1985) 197

[25] T . Chapman, 1985: 89

[26] Catherine Carstairs, ‘Hop Heads’ and ‘Hypes’: Drug Use, Regulation and Resistance in Canada, 1921-1961,” 50

[27] The Narcotics Branch correspondence between agents of Canada and those of foreign governments deals almost entirely with international smuggling of opium, heroin, and cocaine. Hashish is mentioned rarely and marijuana is not mentioned at all.  Domestic correspondence on the marijuana issue is limited to internal memoranda dealing with the wisdom of publicly raising the issue at all.

[28] Harry G. Levine, “The Secret of Worldwide Drug Prohibition”, in Independent Review, Vol. 7, Issue 2, p. 4.

[29] Daily Worker, Jan. 19, 1937.

[30] Ernest Abel, Marijuana: The First 12,000 Years, 243

[31] Martin Booth, Cannabis: A History, 155

[32] Globe and Mail, June 12, 1937

[33] Mitchell, Chester N., “Introduction: A Canadian Perspective on Drug Issues”. Journal of Drug Issues, Vol. 21, Issue 1 (Winter 1991)

[34]All of the Correspondence of the Narcotics Branch, including Col. Sharman’s reports, the Mclean correspondence and the notes between officials regarding the marijuana ban, are in Records of the Department of Health and Pensions, RG29 , (National Health and Welfare) , Volume 548 Box 497-1.

[35] Drew later served as Premier of Ontario (1943-1948), leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, and leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons (1948-1956),

[36] Maclean to MacLaren, March 1, 1933, in Correspondence of the Narcotics Division, National Archives of Canada, RG29, (National Health and Welfare), Volume 548 Box 497-1

[37] Carstairs suggests the department did not co-operate with Maclean because officials did not want to help Murphy write about drugs again (See Catherine Carstairs, “Hop Heads” and “Hypes”: Drug Use, Regulation and Resistance in Canada, 47). The correspondence is very clear about Drew being the prospective author. At the time, Murphy was gravely ill with diabetes and would, in fact, die seven months after this exchange.

[38] Maclean to MacLaren, March 1, 1933, in Correspondence of the Narcotics Division, , (National Health and Welfare), National Archives of Canada, RG29 Volume 548 Box 497-1

[39] Mackenzie King Diaries, Aug. 4, 1934.

[40] In Correspondence of the Narcotics Division (National Health and Welfare), National Archives of Canada, RG29, Volume 548 Box 497-1

[41] Correspondence of the Narcotics Division (National Health and Welfare), National Archives of Canada, RG29, Volume 548 Box 497-1

[42] P.J. Giffen, Shirley Endicott and Sylvia Lambert, Panic and Indifference: The Politics of Canada’s Drug Laws 185.

[43]R.E. Wodehouse to Dr. G.E.S. Barton, Aug. 19, 1937, in Correspondence of the Narcotics Division (National Health and Welfare), National Archives of Canada, RG29, Vol. 548 Box 497-1

[44] Barton to Archibald, Correspondence of the Narcotics Division (National Health and Welfare), National Archives of Canada, RG29, Volume 548 Box 497-1

[45] Correspondence of the Narcotics Division (National Health and Welfare), National Archives of Canada, RG29, Volume 548 Box 497-1

[46] Annual Report of the Narcotics Commissioner to the Minister of Health and Pensions, 1935, p.3.

[47] Annual Report of the Chief of the Narcotics Division to the Minister of Health, 1939. Records of the department show that most of members of its staff were female secretaries and there was a high turnover.

[48] Brown, C.P., and C.J.  Sharman, “The Control of Narcotics in Canada”. In Canadian Medical Association Journal, Vol. 35: 199-202.

[49] Narcotics Division Circular N-195-F, Aug. 13, 1938

[50] The Bryans case will be discussed below. Bryans was the only Canadian murderer to float the “reefer madness defence” in the 1930s and did so rather half-heartedly and without success.

[51] Man faces marijuana charge. Globe and Mail, Dec. 6, 1937, 12

[52] Jail for marijuana possession. The Globe and Mail, Feb. 3, 1938, 4

[53] Marijuana Considered Most Vicious Narcotic. Globe and Mail, Feb. 9, 1938, 3

[54] Debates of the House of Commons (Hansard), 1938:773

[55]Debates of the House of Commons (Hansard), 1938: 775

[56] Globe and Mail, Feb. 25, 1938, p. 3

[57] Debates of the House of Commons (Hansard), 1938:776

References Cited and Consulted

Primary Sources: Archival Material

National Archives:

Diaries of W.L. Mackenzie King (National Archives of Canada searchable databank)

Records of the Narcotics Branch, (Department of Health and Pensions), RG29, Volume 548

Government Reports

Annual Report of the Narcotics Commissioner to the Minister of Health and Pensions, 1935

Annual Report of the Narcotics Commissioner to the Minister of Health and Pensions, 1936

Annual Report of the Chief of the Narcotics Division to the Minister of Health, 1939

Narcotics Division Circular N-195-F, Aug. 13, 1938

Federal Bureau of Investigation (U.S.) Law Enforcement Bulletin, Feb. 1, 1939

Federal Bureau of Narcotics (U.S.). Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs Report, 1931

Federal Bureau of Narcotics (U.S.). Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs Report, 1935

Federal Bureau of Narcotics (U.S.). Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs Report, 1933

Report of Mayor LaGuardia’s Committee on Marijuana. New York: City of New York, 1944

Report of the Narcotics Intelligence Bureau of the League of Nations, Cairo, March 1, 1937.

Circular of the Narcotics Intelligence Bureau of the League of Nations, Dec. 4, 1938

Report of the Royal Commission into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1973

Parliamentary Records

Report by W.L. Mackenzie King, C.M.G., On the need for the suppression of the opium traffic in Canada. Sessional Papers Volume 17, 7-8 Edward VII (1908) 36b

LeDain Commission: 1973 Inquiry into the Non-medical Use of Drugs. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer 1973

Debates of the House of Commons (Hansard), 1938, Vol. 1772-779; 909-910

Debates of the Senate (Hansard), March 10, 1938, 77-78


Abel, Ernest, Marijuana: The First 12,000 Years. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982

Anslinger, Harry J., and Will Oursler, The Murderers. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Cudahy, 1961

Bonnie, Richards, The Marijuana Conviction: The History of Marijuana Prohibition in the United States. New York: Bookworld Services, 1999

Booth, Martin: Cannabis: A History. London: Doubleday, 2003

Carstairs, Catherine, “Hop Heads” and “Hypes”: Drug Use, Regulation and Resistance in Canada, 1920-1961. Unpublished PhD thesis, 2000.

Chapman, T., The Anti-Drug Crusade in Western Canada 1885-1925. In Law and Society in Canada in Historical Perspective D. Bercuson and L. Knafla (eds.), Calgary: University of Calgary Press

Cook, Ramsay, The Regenerators: Social Criticism in Late Victorian English Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985

Giffen, P.J., Shirley Endicott and Sylvia Lambert, Panic and Indifference:The Politics of Canada’s Drug Laws. Ottawa: CCSA, 1991.

Granatstein, J.L., Mackenzie King: His Life and World. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1977

Grinspoon, Lester, Marijuana Reconsidered. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971

Harkness, Ross, Joe Atkinson of the Star. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963

Herer, Jack, The Emperor Wears No Clothes: The Authoritative Historical Record of Cannabis and the Conspiracy Against Marijuana. New York: AH HA Publications, 2000

James, Donna, Emily Murphy. Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2001

Lang, Marjory, Women Who Made the News: Female Journalists in Canada, 1880-1945. Kingston-Montreal: Queen’s-McGill University Press, 1999

Mander, Christine, Emily Murphy, Rebel. Toronto: Simon and Pierre, 1981

McKenty, Neil, Mitch Hepburn. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1967

Mencken, H.L., The American Language. New York: Knopf, 1958

Murphy, Emily: The Black Candle. Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1922

Sotiron, Minko, (editor), An Annotated Bibliography of Works on Newspapers in Canada 1914-1983. Montreal (self-published), 1987.

Wood, Louis Aubrey, A History of the Farmer’s Movement in Canada. Toronto: Ryerson, 1924

Young, Alan, Justice Defiled: Perverts, Potheads, Serial Killers  & Lawyers. Toronto:Key Porter 2003

Zimmer, Lynn, and John P. Morgan, Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts. New York: The Lindesmith Center, 1997

Journals and Periodicals:

Anonymous, “Marihuana”, Canadian Medical Association Journal 31:545 (1934)

Anonymous, “Marihuana” (unsigned editorial), Canadian Medical Association Journal 31:545 (1934)

Anslinger, Harry J., “Marijuana: Assassin of Youth”, American Magazine, January, 1935

Beauschesne, Line, “Social morality and the civil rights of Canadian drug users”, Journal of Drug Issues, Vol. 21:1 Winter 1991

Boyd, Neil, “The Origins of Canadian Narcotics Legislation: The Process of Criminalization in Historical Context”. Dalhousie Law Journal, Vol. 8 (1984) No. 1

Carstairs, Catherine, “Innocent Addicts, Dope Fiends and Nefarious Traffickers: Illegal Drug Use in 1920s English Canada”. Journal of Canadian Studies, Vol. 33 (1988), No. 3

Green, Melvyn, “A History of Canadian Narcotics Control”. University of Toronto Faculty of Law Review, Vol. 37 (1979): 42

Green, Melvyn, “Canadian Narcotics Control: The Formative Years” University of Toronto Faculty of Law Review, Vol. 39 (1979)

Hear, Sean, “Re-reading Fundamental Justice and the prohibition of Marijuana”. Criminal Law Quarterly 44: 487-513 May 2001

Levine, Harry G. “The Secret of Worldwide Drug Prohibition”. Independent Review, Fall 2002, Vol. 7 no. 2.

Mitchell, Chester N., “Introduction: A Canadian perspective on drug issues”. Journal of Drug Issues, vol. 21:1 Winter 1991

Parry, A., “The Menace of Marihuana”, American Mercury No. 36 (1935)

Solomon, R, and M. Green “The First Century: The History of Non-Medical Opiate Use and Control Policies in Canada, 1870-1970”. University of Western Ontario Law Review Vol. 20:307

R.M. Solomon and S.J. Usprich, “Canada’s Drug Laws”. Journal of Drug Issues, 21:1 Winter, 1991

Trasow, G.E., “History of the Opium and Narcotic Drug Legislation in Canada”. The Criminal Law Quarterly, Vol. 4 (1961-62)

Newspapers and Magazines

The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

Maclean’s magazine

The Star (Toronto)[57]

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