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Documents a connection to America’s drug culture

Internal Revenue Special Tax Stamp

Collecting historical objects can sometimes delve into the weird, strange and coincidental.

One of way of looking at things in the history collecting hobby is, “The stranger the item, the more I have to have it.”

Recently, while sorting items, I opened up a wooden cigar box to rediscover three documents I knew I had, but had not seen for quite a while.

When I took a closer look at the items, I was surprised to read “Hawesville, Ky.,” on each of them. Perhaps I had read that before when I acquired the documents, but there was not the connection for me that there is now.

The items are two Treasury Department Form 713s, one from 1933 and another from 1939, and an Internal Revenue Special Tax Stamp from 1938. It is understandable if you do not know what these forms are, since their usage has evolved over time.

The Form 713 was used by medical providers and pharmacies to inventory “Opium, Coca Leaves, Marihuana, etc.,” for submission to the Treasury Department.

The Special Tax Stamp was sold to practitioners who dispensed “Opium, Coca Leaves, Etc.,” at a cost of $1 per year.

Each form is attributed to Dr. F. M. Griffin, RFD 1, Hawesville, Ky.

I’ve not been able to find out much about Dr. Griffin, aside from a citation in the 1902/1903 “Biennial Report of the State Board of Health, Ky.,” which stated he had graduated from the Kentucky School of Medicine in 1898 and was licensed to practice medicine on July 23 of the same year.

While opium and cocaine are still used in medicine today, typically for pain relief and local anesthesia, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 substance under federal law.

Despite that scheduling – reserved for substances which have no medical use, in the eyes of the authorities – there are today 36 states with so-called “medical marijuana” laws, and in 18 states and the District of Columbia, the plant is legal for recreational use for those over 21 years of age.

Eleven states – such as Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee – have programs allowing the use of low-THC hemp-based products.

The federal prohibition on marijuana did not become a thing until the passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and the plant has been an accepted part of medical care for about 1,600 years, first documented in 400 A.D. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 severely restricted the use and sale of cannabis, with penalties for possession increasing in 1951 and 1956. Limitations on research of the substance were created out of these laws.

Certainly, in this part of the country, we are well aware of opium and the problems it has caused our state and neighbors in the form of opioid pharmaceuticals.

Treasury Department Form 713

But, rest assured, the government has always been involved in the drug business.

Elsewhere in my collection, I also have a stack of medicinal liquor prescriptions from a pharmacy in Central City. People were coming from all across west Kentucky to this pharmacy to get their whiskey prescriptions during Prohibition. One of these prescriptions states, “Take 2 ounces every hour or as needed.” Two ounces an hour, well, I bet he was hammered.

Dr. Griffin reported to Treasury that on June 5, 1939, he had in his stock 20 tabs of morphine sulfate at an eighth of a grain dosage each, for a total of two-and-a-half grains. The grain is the oldest unit of measurement in human history, equivalent to the weight of a single grain of wheat. It is most common in pharmacology and in measuring gunpowder.

While historical documents might only tell a small part of the story, it is always wise to look at the broader context in the times of the day. These documents can help pave the pathway of understanding in how we got to the place we are today.

To me, this is most exciting thing about not only documents and items, but in attempting to understand how our society – nationally and globally – has evolved to what it is now, for better or worse.

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C. Josh Givens is a reporter. He can be reached at c.josh.givens@gmail.com and 270-927-6945.

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