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Nov. 2, 1951 - The Boggs Act is Signed into Law

This Day in Cannabis History:

On November 2, 1951, President Harry S. Truman signed the Boggs Act of 1951—an amendment to the Narcotic Drugs Import and Export Act that established mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes for the first time in the United States.

Named after Democratic congressman (and future House Majority Leader) Thomas Hale Boggs Sr. of Louisiana who sponsored it, the law was originally intended to apply only to narcotics. But thanks to the testimony of Federal Narcotics Bureau Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger, marijuana was added to the list of harder drugs included in the bill—arguing that though marijuana itself wasn't deadly, it was a "stepping stone" to the other harder drugs in the bill. Sound familiar? That's because Anslinger's argument would later come to be known as the "gateway drug" theory pushed by Drug War proponents during the 1970s and '80s.

The Boggs Act imposed harsh new penalties for both possession and trafficking: under this law, a first offense for marijuana possession carried a sentence of 2-5 years in prison and a $2,000 fine (the equivalent of $20,000 today); a second offense would get you 5-10 years, and for a third offense you were looking at 10-20 years behind bars. One representative from New York reportedly even proposed a 100-year sentence for dealers, but fortunately, that provision was not adopted. Sadly though, mandatory minimums would be reinstituted and expanded in later years: in the Narcotic Control Act of 1956, and again with The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.


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