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Prohibition ’37 — Woodward Won’t Fold

Continued from last week’s AVA, the 1937 Congressional hearing at which marijuana prohibition was discussed prior to enactment. The witness is William WOODWARD, MD, representing the American Medical Association. The AMA, most of whose members were Republicans, had not supported Social Security when it was introduced. The Southern Democrats had made sure it excluded farm workers and domestic servants (mainly Black people). Fred VINSON  was from Kentucky. Robert DOUGHTON from North Carolina.

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VINSON: Doctor, you have been appearing before committees of Congress on behalf of the AMA for 15 years in your present status, and for several years before that, is that correct?

WOODWARD: Back to 1892, seldom a year has passed that I have not appeared before one or more committees of Congress.

VINSON: Would it be too much trouble for you to give us a statement of the bills on which you have testified, representing the AMA, and the stands that you took?

WOODWARD: It would be certainly impossible to do that.

VINSON: I want to know what legislation, what affirmative action of the Congress, has the American Medical Association sponsored since you have been connected with it.

WOODWARD: I should have to go back to search the records.

VINSON:  Three years ago, when the social security bill was pending, when we had Title Six before us, which some of us thought was quite helpful, where were you?

WOODWARD:  Where was the American Medical Association?

VINSON: Where were you? President Behring of the American Medical Association testified, not because he was authorized to do so by the house of delegates of your association, but he testified in favor of the legislation —Title VI, dealing with public health.

NARRATOR: The implication is that Woodward is at odds with the organization.

VINSON: I was just wondering where you were when that piece of work was pending?

WOODWARD: I personally, I presume, was in Chicago. That is where my headquarters are.

VINSON: You knew about it did you not?

WOODWARD: We knew about it, and we might differ with you in your judgment as to whether it was or was not a piece of medical legislation.

VINSON:  As a matter of fact, you do differ —you, personally, differ.

WOODWARD: I certainly do.

VINSON: You do not approve it now?  I am not speaking of the law, but you do not approve the performance of that kind of a function now?

WOODWARD: What kind of a function, Mr. Vinson?

VINSON:  Title Six.

WOODWARD: What is Title Six? Let's get it in the record, please.

VINSON: Title Six of the social security bill provided for an authorization of $10 million, $2 million of which was to go for research and investigation, and $8 million of which was to be used in grants to states for public-health work.

WOODWARD: I do not believe the American Medical Association ever opposed provisions for research and investigation. It has been and is consistently opposed to anything that seems to involve, through subsidies, the purchase of state rights by the federal government.

VINSON: You do not agree with that policy?

WOODWARD: The purchase of state rights?

VINSON (very angry): I am talking about the policy set forth in the social security bill, Title Six, with which you are very familiar.

WOODWARD:  I am thoroughly in favor of the appropriation by the federal government of adequate money for research by the Public Health Service or any other agency of the government; and an adequate appropriation of money by the federal government to meet the needs of the destitute and suffering

VINSON: I still ask you to say whether or not you favored the passage of that act at that time, or whether or not you favor the principle set forth in it now.

NARRATOR: Bear in mind that Social Security, a program we all need, did not protect farmhands and domestic servants —jobs held by Black people— thanks to Vinson and his fellow Dixiecrats.

WOODWARD: We took no position.

VINSON: I am not talking about “we.” I am talking about you personally. Because I know that you have quite an influence on the policy of the American Medical Association.

WOODWARD: You flatter me in that respect. I should say the general policy of the federal government, with respect to the old-age pensions—

VINSON (starting to flip):  No! That is not what I asked. Title Six! Public health!

WOODWARD:  I just stated that we favor anything that promotes the public health.

VINSON: You did not favor it, did you?

WOODWARD: Yes, we favor that.

VINSON:  You did not appear. We happened to catch the president of the American Medical Association while he was visiting here, and he was big enough and broad enough to come to the support of the legislation.

WOODWARD:  I did not appear in that because I was not instructed to. I might say —it might interest the committee to know my background. I was health officer of the District of Columbia for 24 years, from 1894 until 1918. I was health commissioner of the city of Boston from 1918 to 1922.

COOPER: Doctor, I understand you to say that you did not favor the passage of the Harrison Narcotic Act.

WOODWARD: We favored it to the extent of actively cooperating in the framing of it and securing its passage. We did not regard it as an act that was going to accomplish what it set out to accomplish; and it has not. If you will stop for a moment to think that the addicts of the country are still obtaining their supply of narcotic drugs through the drugs that are illicitly brought into the United States in contravention of the Harrison Act, and that they distribute them in contravention of that act.

We cannot enforce the act, and you would find the enforcement of this act a thousand times more difficult than the enforcement of the Harrison act.

COOPER: I understood you to state that you did not favor the passage of the Harrison Narcotic Act because you entertained the view that the control should be exercised by the states.

WOODWARD: I think you are probably correct. But we cooperated in securing its passage.

COOPER: You did not favor it, though?

WOODWARD: Did not favor the principle —no.

COOPER: Are you prepared to state now that the act has produced beneficial results?

WOODWARD: I think it has.

COOPER: I understand you as criticizing the failure of testimony to be presented here from the Bureau of Prisons, the Children's Bureau, the Office of Education, and other Government Agencies on this subject.

WOODWARD: The Indian Bureau, for instance, among whose charges there is certainly a tendency to use narcotics. They have no evidence to submit on this bill.

COOPER: Regardless of all that, do you state now before this committee that there is no difficulty involved —that there is no trouble presented because of marijuana.

WOODWARD: I do not.

COOPER: Do you recognize that a difficulty is involved and regulation necessary in connection with marijuana?

WOODWARD: I do. I have tried to explain that it is a state matter.

COOPER; Regardless whether it is a state or a federal matter, there is trouble?

WOODWARD (wearily): There is trouble.

COOPER: And something should be done about it.  It is a menace, is it not?

WOODWARD: A menace for which there is adequate remedy.

COOPER: Well, it probably comes within our province as to what action should be taken about it. To what do you object in this particular bill?

WOODWARD: I object because it is utterly unsusceptible of execution, and an act that is not susceptible to execution is a bad thing on the statute books. My interest is primarily, of course, in medical aspects. We object to imposing an additional tax on physicians, pharmacists, and others catering to the sick; to require that they register and re-register, that they have special order forms to be used for this particular drug, when this matter can just as well be covered by the Harrison Narcotics Act.

COOPER: Do you think the doctors of this country would object to the payment of a dollar a year?

WOODWARD: The unnecessary payment of a dollar a year? Yes. They object to paying fees and the execution of forms and the use of special records, and everything of that kind.

NARRATOR: Doctor Woodward is lucky he didn't live to see managed care and HMOs.

COOPER: Has the method employed under the Harrison Narcotic Act produced satisfactory results, in your opinion?

WOODWARD: The method of registration has not satisfactorily solved the narcotic problem for the United States, and never will. It registers the honest man, the men who will comply with the law; and the offenders who will not comply with the law not only do not register, but they are not required to register.

COOPER: Do you not think registration is necessary to meet the problem that we have here?

WOODWARD:  Some kind of registration, yes; but we have it already. We ask cooperation on the part of the federal government by not imposing an unnecessary burden which in the end falls on the sick.

NARRATOR: Imposing paperwork on doctors leads to higher costs to patients and less time for the practice of medicine. What a radical concept.

McCORMACK: Do doctors register under the state laws where they now exist?

WOODWARD: They register under the Harrison Narcotic Act as compliance with state law.

McCORMACK:  You do not object to registration under state legislation?

WOODWARD: I do not.

McCORMACK: And you do not object to making out forms under state legislation?

WOODWARD: We do object —as a matter of fact, that is the reason that the uniform state law provides—

McCORMACK:  (interrupting) Doctor, I just asked a very simple question. You do not object to registering under state law?

WOODWARD: We are already registered.

ROBERTSON: Dr. Woodward, does the production of cannabis or marijuana or Indian hemp differ in some respects from the principal narcotics covered by the Harrison narcotic law?

WOODWARD: The only difference is that the coca plant and the opium plant do not grow here as yet, and the cannabis plant does. But the Harrison Narcotic Act provides for the registration of producers, and the men who grow cannabis are producers.

COOPER: I understood you to say a few moments ago that you recognize there is an evil existing with reference to this marijuana drug.

WOODWARD (wearily): I will agree to that.

COOPER: Taking your statement, just as you made it here, that the evil exists and that the problem is not being properly met by state laws, do you recommend that we just continue to sit by idly and attempt to do nothing?

WOODWARD: No, I do not. I recommend that the Secretary of the Treasury get together with the state people who can enforce the law and procure the enactment of adequate state laws. They can enforce it on the ground.

COOPER: Effective results have not been accomplished in that way.

WOODWARD:  It has never been done.

COOPER: And you recommend that the thing for us to do is to just continue the doctrine of laissez-faire, and do nothing?

WOODWARD: It has never been done. The Secretary of the Treasury has ample authority and it is his duty to give the states information concerning the violation even of state laws, and to allow his own officers to go into the state courts and before state medical boards to enforce or help to enforce state laws.

McCORMACK: But Congress would have to pass some kind of legislation with reference to marijuana in order to make the law applicable?

WOODWARD: No. Here is the statute as it now reads: “The Secretary of the Treasury shall” —not may but shall— “cooperate with the several states in the suppression of the abuse of narcotic drugs in their respective jurisdiction.”  At the very time that this was passed, the definition of narcotic drugs was enacted by Congress in connection with admissions to the federal narcotic farms, and in connection with the definition of addict, the cannabis habit was included.

COOPER: If the fact remains, as you state, that there is this evil present, and it it is not being effectively treated or dealt with, do you not think something should be done, or some attempt should be made, to do something to try to meet that evil?

WOODWARD: Certainly.

COOPER:  To what extent is marijuana used by physicians in the country as a beneficial and a helpful drug?

WOODWARD: Very little.

COOPER; In fact, to such a small extent that the American Medical Association's own publication has left it out of the list of useful drugs, has it not?

WOODWARD: We probably did.

LEWIS: Judging from the expert medical testimony given here, it appears that it is rarely true that a physician would prescribe this drug. He would find other drugs more desirable, more sure in their operation. No physician then, who did not think well of this drug, would need to take out a special license at all, would he?

WOODWARD: He would not have to. But most physicians would want to preserve the right to use it —probably. The drug is a peculiar drug. The products are uncertain in their action and the composition of the drug is hardly understood. We do know that the resin is in fact the active principle may be broken down into other ingredients, some of which may have one effect and some of which may have another.

NARRATOR: Sign him up for Project CBD!

WOODWARD: Even according to what has been quoted from this report of Dr. Bouquet, there are evidently potentialities in the drug that should not be shut off by adverse legislation. The medical profession and pharmacologists should be left to develop the use of this drug as they see fit.

DOUGHTON: I have a statement here giving the number of prescriptions and showing the relative use of this drug. In 1885 there were five prescriptions out of every 10,000 as fluid extract; in 1895, 11.6; in 1907, eight out of every 10,000; in 1926, 2.3, and in 1933, the last figures we have, 0.4 out of every 10,000.

NARRATOR: So the peak was around the turn of the 20th century.


DOUGHTON: That corroborates your statement that its use as a drug for the treatment of diseases by the medical professional has greatly fallen off and is on the decrease. On the other hand, it seems that there has been a great increase in the use of it as a narcotic where it has its most dangerous and deleterious effects. If its use as a medicine has fallen off to a point where it is practically negligible, and its use as a dope has increased until it has become serious and a menace to the public, as has been testified here —and the testimony here has been that it causes people to lose their mental balance, causes them to become criminals, so they do not seem to realize right from wrong after they become addicts of this drug. Taking into consideration the growth of its injurious effects and its diminution in its use so far as any beneficial effect is concerned, you realize, do you not, that some good may be accomplished by this proposed legislation? ¥¥


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