The First Marihuana Tax Act Arrest

By David Jenison

Trivia question #1: What was the first major U.S. city to legalize recreational cannabis?

The answer: Denver, Colorado.

In November 2005, city residents voted to legalize small amounts of cannabis, which inspired the Rocky Mountain News headline, “OK of Pot Issue Gives New Meaning to Mile High City.” The measure, which passed with 54 percent of the vote, was largely symbolic since state and federal law still prohibited the plant.

Trivia question #2: Where did the first cannabis arrest occur after the Marihuana Tax Act went into effect?

Answer: Denver, Colorado.

America’s unofficial cannabis capital also claims the first Drug War POW. Accounts vary slightly, but the day (or a few days) after the law took effect, the police raided the Lexington Hotel in Denver and arrested 58-year-old Samuel Caldwell and 26-year-old Moses Baca. Caldwell, a local resident and unemployed farmer suffering under the Great Depression, was selling two cannabis cigarettes without a tax stamp.

Caldwell’s arrest made national headlines and motivated Narcotics Bureau chief Harry Anslinger to travel to Denver for the photo op. About a week after the arrest, Caldwell was indicted by a federal grand jury and sentenced to a $1000 fine and four years hard labor at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Judge Foster Symes, who oversaw the trial, added, “I consider marijuana the worst of all narcotics, far worse than the use of morphine or cocaine. Under its influence men become beasts. Marijuana destroys life itself. I have no sympathy with those who sell this weed. The government is going to enforce this new law to the letter.”

Caldwell, who was born in 1880, finished his prison term in 1940. A year later, he died. Baca, meanwhile, was sentenced to 18 months for possession.

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906

The Origin of "Marijuana"

Timothy Leary vs. Marihuana Tax Act

The Boggs Act & Mandatory Minimums

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937

Was Harry Anslinger a Racist?

The Anslinger Gore Files

Harry Anslinger: The Godfather of Cannabis Prohibition

The "Marihuana" Adoption

Hooked on Euphonics

Is "Marijuana" Racist?

Richard Nixon's Drug War

The Substance Schedules

Scheduling Conflicts

The Controlled Substances Act