Skip to content
Interpreting the Evidence

Local Officials Pick Up Marijuana Plants, Schenectady County, 1940

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    The Great Depression and WW II (1929 - 1945)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Civil Rights

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    Capital District
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Local Officials Pick Up Marijuana Plants, Schenectady County, 1940 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Local officials pick up marijuana plants in Schenectady County, 1940.
Historical Context
Drug laws in the United States came into existence during the early part of the twentieth century. During the first two decades of the century, individual states passed laws limiting the use of narcotic drugs with no medicinal value. New York State had one of the earliest laws prohibiting the use and possession of narcotics. In 1933, New York passed a more comprehensive Uniform Narcotic Drug Act as a part of Public Health Law. The Narcotic Drug Act prohibited the manufacture, possession, sale, prescription, administration, dispense, or compound of any narcotic drug unless otherwise authorized for medicinal use. The law defined a narcotic as “cocoa leaves, opium, cannabis (marijuana), and every substance neither chemically nor physically distinguishable from them.” Cannabis, another term for marijuana, was further defined as “all parts of the plant cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture or preparation of such plant…” Therefore, the location of growing plants on someone’s property would serve as a violation of this law.
In the event that a law officer encountered a violation of this law, all narcotic drugs were to be seized and destroyed. The commissioner of health was required to keep all records related to the confiscated drugs and their disposal, including types, quantities and forms. The above photograph shows law enforcement officers seizing marijuana plants in Schenectady County in 1940. The action taken by these men was required by the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act of 1933.
Essential Question
How does the government try to regulate individual behavior?
Check for Understanding
Write a brief paragraph explaining the scene in this photograph.
Historical Challenges
How does New York State currently handle the possession of marijuana? Compare the current narcotic laws to the one from 1933. How are they different or similar?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Art: Draw a poster discouraging the use of narcotics.
English Language Art: Write a newspaper article to go with the featured photograph.