Ybor City murders contributed to pot criminalization

10:01 PM, Mar 14, 2014   |    comments
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In 1933, a man by the name of Victor Licata used an axe to murder his entire family inside their home on 1707 5th Avenue.


Tampa, Florida - Later this year, voters will decide whether to legalize medical marijuana in the State of Florida, but many likely won't remember the Ybor City murder that helped make pot illegal in the first place.

In 1933, a man by the name of Victor Licata used an axe to murder his entire family inside their home on 1707 5th Avenue.

"He wakes up in the middle of the wee hours of the morning - takes the axe from his father's fireplace and goes through the house and kills his family," said Ybor historian Joe Howden, who happens to live next door to the home.

Like Lizzy Borden just six years before, Licata, hacked up his father, mother, two brothers and sister while they slept.

"He had cleaned himself and dressed in his clothes. When they took him down to the police department and stripped him. They found his underwear was soaked in blood," Howden said.

While there was no law against it, the Tampa Police Chief at the time said that he investigated allegations that Licata was addicted to smoking marijuana cigarettes. W.D. Bush later downplayed the role marijuana may have played in the murder due to a lack of proof, but by then the cat was out of the bag.

The nation's drug czar at the time, Harry Anslinger, seized the opportunity to lobby federal lawmakers.

"He stood before the federal government and said we need to criminalize marijuana," said Paul Guzzo.

The Tampa Tribune reporter detailed the Licata murders in his book, The Dark Side of Sunshine.

"He spoke the loudest how that this young man got high on marijuana and he murdered his family, and if he was not stoned this would not have happened, and if we don't do something about it, your family could be next," Guzzo said.

Even the media helped the story along by making Licata the poster boy of how marijuana corrupts the mind.

Nearly four years after the murders and one year after the "Reefer Madness" movie debut, congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act - essentially criminalizing cannabis.

"They wanted to use marijuana to off shoot people from looking at what they were actually doing," said Rachelle Roach, a marijuana legislation advocate.

Even though Licata was never tried for the murder after it was learned that he suffered from schizophrenia and had been sent to a psychiatric facility- where he eventually committed suicide- Roach wrote a letter to the clemency board to clear his name.

"We don't think he's guilty of anything anyone said," she said.

The home where all of this happened in Ybor City still stands today, but has been turned into an art studio.

Eight months before voters decide on the future of medical marijuana, there's a twist of irony from the new owner of the home of a massacre that led to cannabis becoming illegal.

"As far as I'm concerned this new voting issues coming up - I'm going to vote for medical marijuana," said Helen Marshal. "It's time to come into the 21st century, so it's like take care of people now. And if they're suffering they need to get relief."

Recent coverage of the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana:

Fight for a Bill: 
-Medical pot has enough signatures for ballot
-FL Supreme Court oks medical marijuana initiative for Nov. ballot
-Medical marijuana bill filed in Florida

The Science: 
-Is marijuana more dangerous than alcohol?
-Sanjay Gupta: I was wrong about weed

The Politics: 
-Medical marijuana initiative could help Dems in governor's race
-Gov. Scott will vote against medical marijuana
-Medical marijuana gets traction in the Deep South
-Did he inhale? Rubio won't say whether he ever smoked marijuana
-Debate hits Sarasota: Sheriff vs. John Morgan

The Business Side: 
-Cannabis College opens in Tampa
-New guidelines help banks deal with marijuana business
-Marijuana stocks light up the market
-Recreational pot sales: Where the grass is much greener

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