Harry Anslinger was the worst thing to happen to marijuana, ever. He not only demonized pot in the United States but played a significant role in marijuana prohibition worldwide. As the very first drug czar his legacy of outright slander and hatred founded on nothing other than personal opinion lives on today. Anslinger began his career in the railroad police and later moved into military and other domestic roles. He developed a hatred for drugs and drug users early in life and it served him well in the developing industry of drug policing. In 1929 Anslinger caught a big break into the position of assistant commissioner of the US Federal Bureau of Prohibition. That agency dissolved after alcohol prohibition ended in the US in 1933 later resurfacing as the ATF. In 1930 Anslinger was appointed head of the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) which is now known as the DEA
Marijuana was not the primary concern at the beginning of his career in the FBN but soon became the focus of Anslinger life. Marijuana laws existed at the state level dating back to 1906 but were limited to a handful of states. In the early 1930s hemp was being advertised as a new billion dollar crop. The processing of hemp was very labour intensive and during this time major advances were made in machinery that could do the work. Anlsinger saw it as his duty to demonize the plant in order to keep all drugs illegal. In 1934 the FBN began an anti-marijuana campaign aimed at alarming the public. Until then cannabis was only used by isolated groups in the United States. The white majority had no idea it even existed. Although they had been using cannabis extracts in patent medicines for decades the connection between smoked pot and medicine would not be made for fifty years. Using the mass media with the help of William Randolph Hearst, Anslinger spent the rest of his career trying to scare the public away from marijuana. The style of reporting featured exaggeration of news, sensationalism, scandal-mongering and other unprofessional practices. Hearst had much to gain from this as well. He was owner of a huge chain of newspapers and had invested vast amounts of money in the timber industry to support his newspapers. As hemp was set to become a major competitor to timber it was an easy target. Of course the sensational style of news helped sell papers as well. There are countless articles conspired by the FBN and printed in Hearst papers, here is one example: “By the tons it is coming into this country — the deadly, dreadful poison that racks and tears not only the body, but the very heart and soul of every human being who once becomes a slave to it in any of its cruel and devastating forms…. Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters. Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him….” In 1937 Anslinger introduced his plans for the Marijuana Tax Act to congress. The proceeding featured testimony that continued the same sensational lies and disinformation as the media articles, some claimed cannabis caused “murder, insanity and death”. Anslinger’s statement can be read online HERE. The representative of the American Medical Association, Dr. Woodward, testified that Anslinger had distorted AMA documents and lied about the effects and dangers of the drug. The years of propaganda had their effect and congress attacked Woodward, questioning his motives, and the law was passed. Anslinger saw continued escalation of marijuana prohibition throughout his career including his recommendation of adding marijuana to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Anslinger’s career finally ended in 1962 when he was forced to resign by JFK.
- “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” Jack Herer, 1985