“Delusions of Affability” — Marijuana in 1930s Dallas
by Paula Bosse
420 Day“The weed with roots in hell…” (click for larger image)
by Paula Bosse
Today is April 20, also known as the cannabis-friendly “420 Day.” So why not take a look at the early days of marijuana awareness in Big D?
The “marijuana problem” in Dallas didn’t really start to be reported regularly in the pages of The Dallas Morning News until the 1930s, but there were a few stories that showed up in the early 1920s, such as this one about a raid on an opium-den-style house in Little Mexico in 1921 (click for larger image).
Heading into the 1930s, the legality of the possessing and selling marijuana was fairly vague. After reading a bit about what was happening in Dallas in regard to “Mexican cigarettes,” I’m still not sure when the possession and selling of marijuana became illegal. The federal, state, and local laws all seemed to be different, and all were constantly in flux. There might even have been conflicting laws on the city and county books. Like I said, confusing. Nevertheless, here are a couple of interesting tidbits from the opening months of 1931 concerning the first charge in Dallas County against a person selling marijuana and the first conviction in Dallas County for a person selling marijuana. (According to the Inflation Calculator, today’s equivalent to the $25-to-$500 fine of 1931 would be, approximately, a $395-to-$7,900 fine.)
Still, marijuana was considered only a minor annoyance locally — the Asst. D.A. even went so far as to say that there was “little use of the drug in Dallas.”
Actually, throughout the ’30s, a lot of policemen didn’t even know what marijuana plants looked like — one wonders how much marijuana-related activity was going on all around them in plain view? In these early days, when the police did stumble onto large quantities of “loco weed,” it was sometimes merely by accident while investigating something else — like what happened in this report of what cops found when tracking down counterfeit half-dollar coins (counterfeit 50-cent pieces?!). (My favorite part of this story is at the very end: “One of the Mexicans carried twenty-seven of the coins in one of his shoes.” Wow.)
And then, suddenly — around the mid ’30s — marijuana was everywhere. Just in time for the Texas Centennial, when thousands and thousands of potential new customers would be flooding into the city! Enterprising individuals were growing it all over the place — in their yards, in their fields with other crops, and even on a little island called Bois d’Arc Island in the middle of the Trinity River bottoms, a few miles south of Dallas.
Even though the purchasing, the selling, the use, and the growing of marijuana was going on all over the city — in white, black, and Hispanic neighborhoods — the main areas of enforcement were, unsurprisingly, in Little Mexico and Deep Ellum.
Here’s an interesting story on how the federal government was attempting to deal with the marijuana problem — by taxing it so highly that it would discourage those participating in the loco weed trade: $100 tax on every ounce! At a time when you could buy a joint for anywhere from a dime to a quarter. Talk about your “sin tax”!
Marijuana/marihuana was generally demonized as a highly addictive drug which caused psychosis and led, inevitably, to all sorts of heinous acts and/or lewd behavior. …Or death. A lot of helpful, cautionary exploitation movies began to appear, such as Marihuana from 1936 (which, incidentally, had an Oak Cliff child actor — Gloria Brown — in the cast).
(The full Marihuana film can be viewed free here, although it’s surprisingly dull.)
Even though most marijuana warnings were dire and filled with exclamation marks, I kind of like this more subdued one: “Smoking of the weed gives the subject delusions of riches, success and affability.”
And there you have it, a little slice of unexpected Dallas historical trivia.
Related Flashback Dallas post: “3800 Main: Fritos Central — 1947,” here.
Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.