The Marijuana Tax Act (MTA) of 1937 imposed a tax on all sales of marijuana, hemp or cannabis in the United States. The Act was the brainchild of the head of the Federal Narcotics Bureau, Harry Anslinger, who had noticed an increase in the number of people smoking marijuana. The MTA effectively forced everybody involved with the marijuana trade to pay a tax to the government. It did not, however, make possessing or using cannabis a crime.
Violation of the provisions of the Act could result in a $2000 fine or five years in prison. Members of the American Medical Association (AMA) opposed the Act, due to the fact that the tax was also imposed on doctors who prescribed marijuana, the pharmacists who filled the prescriptions and farmers who cultivated the plants. The AMA feared that the Act would effectively eliminate marijuana as a medical treatment option.
Dr. William Woodward, counsel for the AMA, argued that there was no evidence that marijuana was addictive, caused violence or could result in overdose. He also argued that since many doctors called the substance “cannabis”, they did not realize what the “Marijuana Act” was really targeting and, thus, had not been given the opportunity to present medical evidence in support of the drug. The MTA was superseded by the Boggs Act in 1951.