December 4, 1950: Victor Licata
My story today is from the Miami Herald.
"After years of partisan squabbling over … Florida’s medical marijuana program, Democrats and Republicans are coming together to push what they’re calling a major reform bill. A few of the items covered by HB 679 include:
Doctors will have to complete a six-hour training course before recommending cannabis
Telehealth will be expanded in medical cannabis treatment
Cannabis patients’ registration cards will last two years instead of one.
I’m telling you all this because I'm using this current news story as a lure for the story I really wanted to tell about an important but relatively obscure cannabis milestone: December 4th.
On December 4th, 1950: 38-Year-Old Victor Licata Died at Florida State Prison
Trust me: you can draw a straight line from December 4, 1950 to today.
THE DEEP DIVE
You’d have to be a real student of cannabis history to remember Victor Licata’s name, but you’ll remember his story. Years earlier in 1933, 21-year-old Victor Licata killed his entire family with an axe.
Licata admitted the crime but was never prosecuted for murdering his family. That’s because psychiatrists diagnosed him with "dementia praecox with homicidal tendencies". The contemporary term: SCHIZOPHRENIA.
"At trial, evidence showed that a year before the murders, Tampa police had filed a petition to have Licata institutionalized for mental illness.
Mental illness ran in the family
His paternal granduncle and two paternal cousins had been institutionalized for mental illness
His brother was a diagnosed schizophrenic
His parents were first cousins
He was committed to the Florida Hospital for the Insane . He escaped in 1945, and when he was caught in 1950 he was incarcerated at the Florida State Prison. A few months later, on December 4, 1950, Licata hung himself.
The reason Victor Licata is crucial in cannabis history is because “the day after the axe murders, a city chief detective claimed he had made an investigation prior to the crime and learned the slayer had been addicted to smoking marijuana cigarettes for more than six months.”
It's important to note that marijuana was never mentioned in Licata’ medical report,
But the fuse was lit:
3 days later, another story landed called “Stop This Murderous Smoke"
3 years later, the movie "Reefer Madness" told the story of teenagers driven to melodramatic mayhem and murder by marihuana with an H
In 1937 Victor Licata’s story was twisted by the Head of the Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger in his article “Marihuana, Assassin of Youth”
Later that year, Anslinger successfully urged the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act by lying to Congress with his version of Licata story, which he claimed was proof that mariHuana makes users incurably insane and uncontrollably violent.
Thirty years later, in 1966 the United Nations published the Licata/Marijuana story in an article entitled “Marijuana and Crime”
Eighty years late in 2019, Alex Berenson’s scandalous fear-mongering screed Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence starts with "a personal anecdote": One night, Jacqueline Berenson, a forensic psychiatrist and Berenson’s wife, recalled a case in which a man “cut up his grandmother or set fire to his apartment.” At some point in the discussion, Jacqueline remarked, “Of course he was high, been smoking pot his whole life.”
THE LOOP BACK
One straight line is that today in Florida, Victor Licata’s mental health treatment could have included cannabis.
Another straight line is, because of the lies about cannabis:
A Google search of “cannabis and insanity” yields more than 7 Million results
The Last Prisoner Project is still trying to free the estimated 40,000 cannabis prisoners
Hundreds of thousands of black and brown people have been unfairly targeted by police
And thousands of patients around the world have been kept from what can be lifesaving medicine.
Victor Licata’s sad story of madness was distorted and abused into one of the signature events of cannabis Prohibition and the War on Drugs that we’re still battling today.
Let's remember December 4th, 1950. Rest in Peace, Victor Licata.