BOISE — Idaho’s strict marijuana laws may be out of step with the path most other states are taking now, but when it banned pot originally, Idaho was following the trend of other states.
Idaho is one of at least a dozen states that banned “marihuana,” as it was more commonly spelled then, in the 1920s. Passed in 1927, Idaho’s original law banned growing, possessing or selling “Cannabis Sativa, otherwise known as Cannabis Indica, Indian Hemp, American Hemp, or Marihuana, or any preparation thereof in a form capable of internal administration,” under penalty of a fine of $100 to $250 and/or up to six months in jail.
Unlike today’s law, the original didn’t include gradations of penalty based on the amount or distinguish between use and sale, but it did contain an exemption letting medical professionals possess it and dispense preparations that were in a form unfit for smoking or eating.
While the minutes of the debate have been lost to history, the legislative journals from 1927 show it passed both the House and Senate unanimously, which is usually a sign something wasn’t too controversial.
Marijuana use does not appear to have been anywhere near as common in the U.S. at the time as it is today. Newspapers published in Twin Falls in the late 1920s — the Twin Falls Daily Times, the Idaho Citizen, the Twin Falls Daily News and the Twin Falls Weekly News — didn’t even run anything on the Legislature’s action as it was happening. The Idaho Daily Statesman did run a few brief mentions as the bill worked its way through the legislative process and a short article with more detail when it passed the Senate in late February.
“Senators had some fun, both with the clerk when he stumbled through its Latinity, and with each other when it was found the measure forbids growing of the hemp, which in fact is a rather common weed, they were told,” the anonymous Capitol correspondent wrote.
“Senator Baker, chairman of the health committee, confessed that he had known little about the drug until police of Boise told him that its use was prevalent among the young people of Boise, with ‘deplorable’ results,” the article continues. “He told some of the tales of horror which he had unfolded in his researches, and cited others he had learned from the indefatigable police, who, it seems, are unable to prosecute anyone for selling the weed, in spite of its narcotic effects.”
According to the Statesman’s clips, Rep. L.W. Hatch, a Republican from Preston in southeastern Idaho, introduced the bill in early February to “add to the list of prohibited narcotics the drug known as Indian hemp.” He withdrew it a week later in favor of a substitute bill which became law and added the above-mentioned exemption for doctors and pharmacists.
Before the law passed, cannabis appears to have been an ingredient in cough medicines sold in Idaho, judging by the Pertussin ads that ran frequently in the Statesman in the late 1920s bragging of how the cough mixture was “entirely free from the usual ‘dope’ (such as narcotics, chloroform, cannabis or other injurious drugs) and can therefore be freely given to delicate children as well as adults.” The paper also contains many references to the use of hemp as a material for cloth and rope during the period.
The first mention of it as a drug in the Twin Falls press appears to have been a four-paragraph article “Marihuana lands Mexican in court” that ran in the June 14, 1927, edition of the Idaho Citizen.
“The Twin Falls country is gaining a reputation for a new agricultural crop that threatens to gain unmerited popularity,” the article starts. “It is marihuana, or hemp, and was responsible for the arrest Friday evening of Frank Kutch, native of Mexico, who was found by R.E. Leighton, chief of police, on a downtown street.
“Marihuana is a narcotic herb, said to be raised in small quantities in this vicinity,” it continues. “A law passed at the last session of the state legislature makes it unlawful to have it in one’s possession. It can be smoked, chewed, snuffed, or made into a drink, and many who have used it are said to have become crazed.”
Judge C.A. Bailey sentenced Kutch to 60 days in jail, but he was “paroled to Frank Pico, Mexican interpreter, pending Kutch’s good behavior.”