After a decade of U.S. government scare propaganda that convinced Americans that crazed Mexicans, blacks and fans of jazz clubs were pushing marijuana "reefers" on school children and honest youths, turning them into raving murderers, politicians decided to act.
The U.S. Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act. Growing and selling marijuana were still legal, but only if you bought a $1 government stamp. And that stamp was not for sale.
On the day the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act was enacted -- Oct. 2, 1937 -- the FBI and Denver, Colo., police raided the Lexington Hotel and arrested Samuel R. Caldwell, 58, an unemployed labourer and Moses Baca, 26. On Oct. 5, Caldwell went into the history trivia books as the first marijuana seller convicted under U.S. federal law. His customer, Baca, was found guilty of possession.
Caldwell's wares, two marijuana cigarettes, deeply offended Judge Foster Symes, who said: "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 was sentenced to four years of hard labour in Leavenworth Penitentiary, plus a $1,000 fine. Baca received 18 months incarceration. Both men served every day of their sentence. A year after Caldwell was released from prison, he died.