He Made Prohibition His Career

According to the DEA’s criteria, the cannabis plant has no currently accepted medical use in the United States and is highly addictive. It’s the federal government’s reasoning behind marijuana’s Schedule I status in this country, though it’s increasingly apparent to more people that it clearly doesn’t belong in that classification.

But why does the Drug Enforcement Agency list cannabis on a roster of over 150 other opioids, hallucinogens, opiates, stimulants, depressants and other substances when it is widely used for medicinal purposes and has been proven safe?

A few decades before the 91st Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970, Harry Jacob Anslinger’s Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 served to change the course of cannabis in the United States and consequently, much of the rest of the world.

Harry Anslinger

Harry was born on May 20, 1892, in Altoona, Pennsylvania to Robert and Rosa Anslinger who had immigrated to the United States from Switzerland.

Anslinger was employed as a railroad investigator for a couple of years during his early twenties before working with various other military and law enforcement agencies around the world to stop drug trafficking into his late thirties.

Many of the active narcotics policies in the United States and other countries around the world are largely attributed to Harry’s influence.

In 1929 Anslinger returned to the United States where he worked as an assistant commissioner in the United States Treasury’s Department of Prohibition. In the same year, Anslinger married the niece of wealthy Andrew Mellon who was the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury at the time.

Mellon appointed Anslinger as the first commissioner of the Treasury’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) in 1930 and allotted him a budget of $100,000 for the department to use.

Alcohol prohibition was in its final years when Harry stepped into the new position. The federal ban ended a short time later in 1933, leaving Anslinger’s new department with much less to do. Cocaine and heroin were banned in 1914, and neither were used by many people at the time, so the bureau needed to find a new windmill to attack.

Ultimately, Anslinger decided to put cannabis in the crosshairs.

Prior to taking his new government position, Harry Anslinger never claimed to have any issue with people using marijuana. When asked if he thought that it made people crazy, he dismissed the notion as an “absurd fallacy.” But Harry’s public stance changed when the FBN needed something to occupy their time, money, and efforts.

Dr. James Munch

Looking for evidence to support his new crusade, Harry contacted a group of prominent scientists of the day to ask if they felt cannabis was hazardous enough to be banned. Of the thirty individuals that Anslinger communicated with, only one pharmacologist from Temple University believed it was a dangerous drug.

Dr. James C. Munch had previously conducted tests on dogs where he injected cannabis directly into their brains. Of the three-hundred canines used in the experiments, two of them died from the procedures.

He testified in court at one point that when he gave marijuana to the dogs, they would go insane.

When asked by a Senator if he had experimented with using cannabis on himself, the pharmacologist confirmed that he had, and claimed, “After two puffs on a marijuana cigarette, I was turned into a bat.”

The doctor stated that he flew around the room for fifteen minutes and then down into the bottom of a two-hundred-foot inkwell.

Dr. Munch was made the FBN’s special advisor on marijuana from 1938 through 1962.

Banking on the claim that marijuana makes people mentally unstable and violent, Anslinger instructed his field agents to begin compiling what is known as the Gore Files, detailing case after case of violence and depravity committed allegedly under the influence of cannabis.

The collected stories were regularly published in true yellow journalistic fashion via William Randolph Hearst’s vast empire of media outlets.

William Hearst

One of Anslinger’s favorite tales involved a man by the name of Victor Licata who killed his sister, two brothers, and both parents in their sleep with an axe at their Ybor City home in Tampa, Florida on October 16, 1933. Despite the fact that mental illness was something experienced by some members of Licata’s family, law enforcement and the press alleged that the murders were a result of Victor smoking marijuana.

Licata was institutionalized for “dementia praecox with homicidal tendencies.” Later investigation of his files revealed that he had not smoked cannabis in the six months leading up to the murders and even Licata himself denied ever using marijuana.

The Licata case was also referenced during a scene in the propaganda film, Reefer Madness when Dr. Carroll is talking with Mr. Wyatt at the Bureau of Investigation.

“Yes. I remember,” says Dr. Carroll. “Just a young boy…under the influence of drugs…who killed his entire family with an axe.”

Some people believe that Licata was framed for the murders and used as a scapegoat for anti-marijuana propaganda, attributing his family’s slaying to an axe murderer who was active in Tampa at the time.

Since their publication, researchers have proved that 198 of the 200 cases in the Gore Files had no association with marijuana; only two of them could not be disproved.

After the publishing of an article that Anslinger wrote entitled “Marihuana: Assassin of Youth,” savvy lawyers began using it to support arguments in court that cannabis had made their clients temporarily insane, and impaired their ability to act responsibly.

As prosecutors across the country became aware that this defense could allegedly be used to prevent the conviction of violent criminals, Anslinger’s prohibitionist narrative eventually changed, and the notion that marijuana is a gateway drug was born.

Written by Anslinger, and introduced in the House by Robert L. Doughton (D-NC), the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 took the United States down a path that has disrupted the lives of millions of its citizens in the decades since.

The American Medical Association (AMA) opposed the bill because it imposed a tax on physicians, pharmacists, and cultivators who worked with cannabis. AMA legislative counsel Dr. William Creighton Woodward was against the measure, arguing that it had been drafted in secret without allowing proper opposing statements to be prepared and presented.

Dr. Woodward also expressed doubt as to the claims of addiction and violence surrounding cannabis use, as well as the use of the word ‘marihuana,’ which most people did not know at the time. He said that many people in the medical field didn’t realize they were losing cannabis because it was being called something different.

“Marijuana is not the correct term,” said Woodward. “Yet the burden of this bill is placed heavily on the doctors and pharmacists of this country.”

Shortly after the passage of the act, FBI and Denver City police arrested Moses Baca and Samuel Caldwell for failure to pay the marijuana tax, and a never-ending series of cannabis arrests in the United States began.

The repercussions of Anslinger’s campaign against cannabis proved to be far-reaching and are still being felt in 2018.

The United States federal government continues to maintain that cannabis is a harmful drug with no redeeming medicinal qualities, even though modern medical research and a majority of Americans disagree.

Many states have legal cannabis

But it doesn’t take a medical professional to vouch for the efficacy of medical cannabis. Any child who experiences a reduction in epileptic seizures from taking CBD oil can tell you that it works.

Cannabis is safely used by millions of people each day who rely on its medicinal properties to treat a multitude of conditions; its benefits are undeniable. And yet, restrictive federal policies remain active in 2018 despite the fact that over half of the states have laws in place to regulate medical marijuana.

Current federal policies regarding cannabis are rooted in decades-old lies, propaganda, and the words and actions of a man who quickly turned against marijuana when alcohol was released from the chains of prohibition.

The resulting damage to countless lives in the decades since has been more devastating than any cannabis use could ever be.

In 2018, the federal government has yet to release cannabis from its Schedule I prison, though some members of Congress have stepped up efforts to fix the problem by signing on to legalization bills from 2017 as well as drafting new measures for 2018.

In a war that began close to a century ago on a foundation of lies and deceit, it is the vigilant efforts of people armed with the truth that will finally bring it to an end.