Pubdate: Mon, 22 Mar 2010
Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO)
Copyright: 2010 The Pueblo Chieftain
Author: Peter Strescino
Photo: Harry Anslinger
Poster: A poster for the propaganda movie 'Reefer Madness.'


If Harry Anslinger were alive today, he would no doubt be in front of 
a Colorado House or Senate committee on regulating medical marijuana 
dispensaries, imploring the gathered politicians to ignore the will 
of the people and ban the wicked weed outright.

"There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S.," Anslinger 
might say, "and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and 
entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from 
marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual 
relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others."

Actually, Anslinger did say that, and much more. With the help of the 
federal government, the states, DuPont, pharmaceutical companies and 
the Hearst newspaper chain, Anslinger sought to keep the heartbeat of 
Puritanism alive. He was the assistant Prohibition commissioner and 
then commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930 to 1962.

Anslinger had a receptive audience in Jim Crow America, where 
apartheid was codified. Someone had to be blamed for the economic 
calamity that had overtaken the United States and the world in the 
1930s. And Mexicans were streaming across the border, taking jobs 
that were scarce in states like Colorado.

"Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men," Anslinger said.

Until that time, not much had been done legally in regard to 
marijuana. A few states had laws against the plant, but most were 
instituted as a means of keeping nonwhites down. Another means - as 
if they needed more tools - of making sure who knew who was boss.

A Long History

A few years before the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, about 4,670 years 
before, actually, Shen Neng, the Chinese emperor, touted marijuana 
tea as a treatment for gout, rheumatism, malaria and, of all things, 
poor memory. Shen sounds like he could have been a pitchman on 
overnight cable TV with claims like that.

Even before Shen, in about 8,000 B.C.E., according to the Columbia 
History of the World, "the earliest known woven fabric was apparently 
hemp (marijuana)."

Hemp is the fibrous stalk of the cannabis plant. Marijuana is the 
flowers and leaves.

Hemp was used for clothing, oils, rope and many other useful items, 
as well as medicine and one must assume its powerful sister marijuana 
was used as a mood enhancer for religious and other purposes.

Marijuana is one of the five sacred plants mentioned in the Arthava 
Veda, a Hindu holy text. It's certainly No. 1 for Rastafarians.

 From 1,000 B.C.E. to 1883, according to "The Emperor Wears No 
Clothes," hemp was the planet's largest agricultural crop, producing 
most of the world's fiber, fabric, lighting oil, paper, paints and 
varnishes, incense and medicines. Marijuana also was one of the most 
widely used substances in many religions and cults - taken to 
manifest the spirit world and help users get closer to their maker.

The first hemp law in America was enacted in Jamestown Colony, Va., in 1619.

The law required farmers to grow Indian hempseed. Similar laws were 
enacted in Massachusetts in 1631, Connecticut in 1632, and in George 
Washington's time the Virginia Constitution stated that a certain 
percentage of a plantation had to produce hemp.

Washington, Father of Our Country and presumably a person Harry 
Anslinger looked upon favorably, was said to be the largest hemp 
producer in the colonies. Benjamin Franklin started one of America's 
first paper mills with cannabis.

According to the anti-drug Web site Narconon, "Marijuana was listed 
in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1850 until 1942 and was 
prescribed for various conditions including labor pains, nausea and 

In the 1880s, Turkish smoking rooms in the Northeast were the rage 
for a while. They were not smoking tobacco in these places.

 From accounts by older Puebloans, their mothers and grandmothers 
would pick the ubiquitous weed along riverbeds and railroad tracks 
and use it as a cold medication and pain reliever.

The Age of Reform

It is estimated that in 1900, 2 to 5 percent of all Americans were 
addicted to opiates. Opiates and opium-based products were sold over 
the counter, and even soft drinks, such as Coca-Cola (cocaine), were 
loaded with what would now be considered Schedule 1 narcotics.

The "aughts" were a reformist, trust-busting age, the beginning of 
true regulation in the United States. The food industry was exposed 
by Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," and even college football caught 
the eyes of reformers, or "muckrakers" everywhere, in the spirit of 
improving the lot of ordinary Americans.

Over-the-counter medications and intoxicants were not spared from 
reform and banishment and, eventually, the U.S. launched into the 
ill-fated Prohibition period, from 1920 to 1933. All Prohibition did 
was make ordinary Americans criminals and give rise to real organized 
crime in this country.

But Prohibition sure made Harry Anslinger happy.

When the ban on booze finally ended, guys like Anslinger and FBI 
Director J. Edgar Hoover needed something to keep them in work until 
they could conjure another menace to society.

Demon Weed

Marijuana, which was largely used by minorities and musicians then, 
became that menace.

And William Randolph Hearst, who helped spark the Spanish-American 
War in 1898 with sensationalized reporting by his newspaper chain, 
helped Anslinger and others demonize marijuana.

The result was the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which Anslinger 
arranged to push through Congress after a single hearing. The only 
dissent heard in that session was from the head of the American 
Medical Association, who disputed Anslinger's characterizations of 
the plant's effects and the AMA's position on it.

The act stated that to grow and sell marijuana, one must pay taxes. 
The first person arrested under the law, the day it was enacted, was 
a Denver man who was sentenced to four years of hard labor in 
Leavenworth (Kan.) Federal Prison for selling a couple of joints. The 
man who bought the marijuana served 18 months in prison for his part.

A now-hilarious but then-serious movie, "Reefer Madness," helped 
scare the public further. But the movie fizzled and only became 
popular (especially with marijuana fans) when rediscovered in 1971.

Hearst also had financial and racial motivations. His hatred of 
Mexicans, whom he considered to be marijuana users to the man, was 
well-known. Pancho Villa had taken Hearst's Mexican forests during 
the Mexican Revolution, and hemp also was a threat to Hearst's U.S. 
forests as means for paper production.

Not everyone agreed with Anslinger and Hearst. New York Mayor 
Fiorello LaGuardia commissioned a study by physicians and scientists 
that disputed Anslinger's claims. It is documented that Anslinger 
hunted down each copy of the report and had it destroyed.

Red Scare Practices

DuPont sparked legislation to outlaw hemp in the 1950s. DuPont had 
developed nylon in the mid-1930s and wanted to eliminate the use of 
hemp as a base for rope and clothing. Growing hemp is illegal in the 
U.S. under federal law due to its relation to marijuana, and any 
imported hemp products must meet a zero-tolerance level.

During the 1950s, Anslinger used Red Scare tactics to further 
demonize marijuana, saying the Chinese Communists were sending joints 
into the country to spread immorality among America's youth.

"Marijuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing," Anslinger said.

Anslinger finally retired in 1962, but his attitude about marijuana 
remained prevalent in the United States.

Until the late 1960s.

High Times Again

The times were changing indeed, and in the previous decade the Beats, 
the daddy-o's of the hippies, used marijuana as part of their 
lifestyle. When, because of the Vietnam War and other reasons, much 
of the Baby Boom generation revolted, weed, pot or grass, or any of 
the many names marijuana was called, became a common part of their 
everyday life.

This development was not taken lightly, and President Richard Nixon 
lumped marijuana into the same category as heroin and LSD, much 
stronger drugs. Nixon had Mexican marijuana fields sprayed with 
paraquat, an herbicide that kills green plants on contact and also is 
toxic to humans.

Nixon ran as a law-and-order president, and he pushed for a war on drugs.

That war lasts to this day, costing the taxpayers billions. Marijuana 
is part of the war, even though polls now show that more than half of 
adults believe marijuana should be legal. That positive response is 
even higher in Western states.

Presidents since Nixon have followed his opposition to legalization, 
from Ronald Reagan's wife Nancy's "Just Say No To Drugs," to Bill 
Clinton, who lawyerly said he didn't inhale when he tried pot. 
Fourteen states have made medical marijuana legal, and the current 
president, Barack Obama, has ordered the Drug Enforcement Agency not 
to raid dispensaries in those states, a rare bit of states' rights 
trumping federal power.

The battle rages and the result is unclear. It's another cultural 
thing, apparently.

But one thing is clear: Marijuana was made illegal by subterfuge, 
racism, corporate greed and coercion.

Mostly led by a guy named Harry.

Research for this article was done in several histories on the Internet. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake