Tampa HistoryYbor City

Reefer Madness Hits Ybor City

Marijuana Assassin of Youth by H. J. Anslinger 
U.S. Commissioner of Narcotics, in The American Magazine, July 1937.

That’s not always café con leche and tobacco smoke you smell wafting through the streets of Ybor City. Could be a bit of Reefer Madness!

Reefer Madness Hits Ybor City

America's original Drug Czar, Harry Anslinger, was born in 1892, the eighth of nine children. He grew up in Western Pennsylvania.
America’s original Drug Czar, Harry Anslinger, was born in 1892, the eighth of nine children. He grew up in Western Pennsylvania.

GASP! It’s true! People in Ybor, just as they do all around the world, smoke *cue ominous thunder noise* MARIJUANA!

No, it can’t be true! Say it’s not so!

Sorry, but it’s so.

Not only are your Ybor City neighbors secretly toking up but Ybor City helped make marijuana illegal!

No, it can’t be true! Say it’s not so!

Sorry, but again, it’s true.

In an effort to justify the criminalization of marijuana, Henry Anslinger, who President Hoover named head of the newly-formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930, set out to prove that marijuana caused normally rational people to turn into violent criminals. Anslinger started a mass media campaign, writing articles documenting cases of marijuana-induced violence for newspapers and magazines across the country, a series of articles that has become famously known as the “Gore File.”

The file included a total of 200 stories, ranging from a young woman who claimed she murdered a bus driver in cold blood while high on marijuana; a child rapist who said marijuana made him do it; and a young man who said he murdered his entire family with an axe because he was high on marijuana. This particular axe-murderer was Ybor City resident Victor Licata and his tale of slaughtering his parents, sister and two brothers was the backbone of Anslinger’s anti-marijuana crusade.

The July 1938 issue of Inside Detective magazine devoted an entire article to the Licata family murders entitled “Marihuana Maniac!”.
The July 1938 issue of Inside Detective magazine devoted an entire article to the Licata family murders entitled “Marihuana Maniac!”.

“An entire family was murdered by a youthful addict in Florida,” wrote Anslinger. “When officers arrived at the home, they found the youth staggering about in a human slaughterhouse. With an axe he had killed his father, mother, two brothers and a sister. He seemed to be in a daze … He had no recollection of having committed the multiple crimes. The officers knew him ordinarily as a sane, rather quiet young man; now he was pitifully crazed. They sought the reason. The boy said that he had been in the habit of smoking something which youthful friends called ‘muggles,’ a childish name for marijuana.”

There is just one problem with Anslinger’s story–marijuana had NOTHING to do with the murders. Licata did admit to the police that he smoked marijuana the night of the murders. But the report also stated that Licata was long thought to be mentally unstable. He suffered from dementia, his family had a history of mental instability, and his parents were first cousins.  Nowhere in the report was marijuana mentioned as a cause of Licata’s mental instability.

Recently, researchers were able to prove that 198 of the 200 marijuana-induced violent crimes documented in the “Gore File” were erroneously blamed on marijuana use. Researchers couldn’t prove the remaining two false because no records of the crimes even existed.

Anslinger testified before Congress in 1937 that marijuana caused Victor Licata to murder his family and that if marijuana was not criminalized, more families could suffer the same fate. With a public swell of support behind him, Anslinger convinced Congress to pass the first federal anti-marijuana act–The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. The act levied a token tax of approximately one dollar on all buyers, sellers, importers, growers, physicians, veterinarians, and any other persons who dealt in marijuana commercially, prescribed it professionally, or possessed it. The purpose? To tax medical practices and companies that used hemp for clothing out of business. But, it had larger ramifications– it set a precedent that marijuana was a danger to society, leading to future laws that made all marijuana use illegal.

So next time you dim your lights and close your blinds in preparation of lighting up a joint, remember, you can thank Ybor City.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Featured in Cigar City Magazine in 2010

 

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