Marijuana advocates, meet your enemy: Harry J. Anslinger
There are pockets of grim news for marijuana advocates around the country this week. In Montana, newspapers are having to re-argue the case for medical marijuana even though that state passed permissive legislation by 62 percent in 2004 now that a state senator has vowed to introduce legislation overturning that law.In Colorado Springs, Colo., cops, politicians and the local business community are edging ever closer to allowing a citizen vote to ban dispensaries there, a move that, if passed, will almost certainly land the city in court. There are about 130 dispensaries in the city. And cops in Michigan busted a "smoking club," which the owner, Wayne Dagit, describes as a private space where medical marijuana patients can bring their pot to medicate together. The club doesn't sell medical marijuana, and Dagit says it complies with Michigan's 2008 medical marijuana law. Cops disagree and Dagit faces 15 years in jail.
What all these situations have in common are near-hysterical quotes in the local papers by law-and-order types who see the fabric of civilization crumbling. Dispensaries are "out of control" and in need of "extinction."
Regarding the peaceful tokers in Michigan -- who were all medical marijuana patients smoking indoors -- the sheriff called their club "a joke."
"This is exactly what law enforcement said would happen when they passed the (medical marijuana ballot measure)," he told the Lansing State Journal. "This has nothing to do with medicinal marijuana. This has to do with getting high."
How terrible. The smokers were especially conniving in their attempts to appear in medical need -- one couldn't walk without a cane and Dagit, the owner, couldn't be arraigned because of a medical crisis that occurred in jail.
If you're wondering where this deep-seated fear of marijuana comes from, check out this link. It's the testimony of Harry J. Anslinger before the House Ways and Means Committee during a hearing to tax marijuana in 1937. Anslinger was the commissioner of the Federal Narcotics Bureau, the nation's first drug czar, and (next to newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst) one of the most rabid anti-marijuana zealots in history. It's a long document, but it's filled with gemstone quotes, including:
- "Opium has all of the good of Dr. Jekyll and all the evil of Mr. Hyde. [Marijuana] is entirely the monster Hyde, the harmful effect of which cannot be measured."
- "It affects different individuals in different ways. Some individuals have a complete loss of sense of time or a sense of value. They lose their sense of place. They have an increased feeling of physical strength and power. Some people will fly into a delirious rage, and they are temporarily irresponsible and may commit violent crimes. Other people will laugh uncontrollably. It is impossible to say what the effect will be on any individual."
- "In Florida a 21-year-old boy under the influence of this drug killed his parents and his brothers and sisters. The evidence showed that he had smoke marihuana. In Chicago recently two boys murdered a policeman while under the influence of marihuana. Not long ago we found a 15-year-old boy going insane because, the doctor told the enforcement officers, he thought the boy was smoking marihuana cigarettes."
The last quote was typical of Anslinger's hyperbole. He had amassed scores of such alleged atrocities in what he called his "Gore Files." Trouble is, hardly any of them could be substantiated and several were conclusively debunked as having nothing to do with marijuana. In particular, Victor Licata, the 21-year-old Florida axe murderer, who supposedly slaughtered his family while stoned, turns out to have been a long suffering psychotic with homicidal tendencies. Authorities tried to commit him to a mental hospital the year before the murders, but his parents convinced them that they could take better care of him at home.
Worse, Anslinger was a blatant racist. In other writing, he blames "Negroes, Hispanics and musicians" for plying white women with "satanic music" inspired by marijuana. He's quoted as saying, "Colored students at the University of Minnesota partying with (white) female students, smoking and getting their sympathy with stories of racial persecution. Result: pregnancy."
In any other context, Anslinger's words would be written off as those of a paranoid clown, but echoes of the tripe he spouted more than 70 years ago can still be heard today.
Photo: The nation's first drug czar, Harry J. Anslinger, who continues his war on marijuana from beyond the grave.