Colorado Cannabis Time Capsule, 1937: "A Growing Social Menace"
In doing research for our feature on the history of cannabis in Colorado, we came across some amazing old news stories from local papers about marijuana arrests and more. We'll share the most memorable of them in our quasi-regular feature, Colorado Cannabis Time Capsule.
Today's item, from August 8, 1937: "Marijuana in Denver? Sure, Plenty of the Stuff."
By the 1930s, cannabis was considered a growing menace in Denver society. The drug of choice for minorities (mostly Hispanic natives and immigrants who worked the farm fields surrounding the town), it apparently wasn't too hard to find.
At some point in the summer of 1937, two enterprising (and unnamed) Rocky Mountain News reporters delved into the depths of Denver's marijuana scene by spending a night out on Larimer Street for an article titled "Marijuana in Denver? Sure, Plenty of the Stuff." And it was far from objective. In it, the reporters constantly make mention of the skin color and education of the people they encounter, quoting their broken English and ridiculing the Hispanic revelers out for a night of relaxation with friends.
Rocky Mountain News screen capture
Nowadays, Larminer Street is known for it's tony clothing boutiques and expensive restaurants. But back in the '30s, it was more like East Colfax, and everyone knew that a trip to Larminer Street meant a night out with a more seedy Denver crowd. As the headline reads: "Darkest dives in town sell Dream Stuff." And that pretty much sets the tone for the blatantly biased article that follows.
The reporters start out by saying that marijuana can be found easily, especially after dark. They detail their encounter with a loud, dark-skinned, drunk man who sobs to them that while he's not a Mexican, he's "no good" and has been drinking away his wife's $17-per-week salary. The reporters -- posing as musicians from Nebraska -- buy the guy a few drinks, then hit the poor drunk up for some weed. The man says he doesn't smoke anymore because he's so broke, but turns to the crowd at the bar and points out a woman who is apparently high and can help the reporters score.
At that point, the reporters move over to the woman, take a seat in the booth she is in, and buy a round of beers for everyone before asking where they can score some "hay." No doubt they felt they were being slick, but even now, the reporters sound like fish out of water in this bar -- and probably came across as narcs judging by the woman's reaction.
Rocky Mountain News screen capture
"What do you want to use that lousy stuff for? It don't do you know good," the woman is quoted as saying. Though they never go so far as to call her Hispanic, the reporters make a point to quote her broken English perfectly and to insert a few random Spanish phrases she used into their article -- namely when she turns to her "amigo" at the bar and asks if he can hook up her new friends with a "stick" or two (slang for joints back in the day).
One interesting thing is the woman's offhand mention that "last year's weed" was almost gone and because of that, the prices were really high. She tells the reporters they would have to wait until the harvest in September to find fresh, less-expensive cannabis. But the persistent reporters continue asking one brown-skinned person after another until they finally score some herb from a Mexican for just a few dollars.
The photographs from the Rocky article show a lump of sticks and seeds piled next to a couple of joints and some matches, with the description: "Above is shown a marijuana addict's full lay-out for the character-corroding practice of smoking the narcotic weed."
Unfortunately, these stereotypes continue today. As a recent study of FBI crime statistics done by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project show, Latinos use less cannabis than their white counterparts, but are arrested at 1.5 times the rate. Blacks are arrested at nearly three times the rate of whites for marijuana possession.
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