The godfather of America’s war on drugs was a man named Harry Jacob Anslinger. He earned that title in August of 1930 when he was appointed the first director of the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).
He got his start in the world of harassing his fellow countrymen through alcohol prohibition – of which he was a zealous supporter. If he had gotten his way, far more Americans would have been locked in cages for drinking, purchasing, or selling alcohol.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of permitting wiretaps to aid enforcement of alcohol prohibition, Judge Louis D. Brandeis was referring to men like Anslinger when he said in his dissenting opinion, “The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.” Unfortunately, Brandeis’s wise words went un-heeded, and beginning in 1934, Anslinger turned his attention to cannabis.
The reason for his new focus on this plant that he complained grows “like dandelions” was that his FBN was floundering. When his bureau had its budget slashed during the Great Depression, he made it his mission to convince Congress and the American people that a terrible new drug menace was on the loose, and that only immediate action from a well-funded FBN could possibly save them.
He was willing to say whatever needed to be said, and tell whatever lie needed to be told in order achieve the goal of saving his precious bureaucracy.
This began by promoting fearsome myths about the effects of (what he began referring to as) “marijuana”, including pot-crazed axe murderers, playground drug pushers, sordid drug dens, and reefer babies born to “addicted” mothers and whose lives were ruined from the start. At one point, he went so far as to call it “the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”
Eventually, enough regular folk were able to see through this fear-mongering nonsense. On top of that, serious research had been published essentially disproving Anslinger’s claims about the criminal tendencies brought about by cannabis consumption.
In response to this, Anslinger did what any good politician or bureaucrat would do – he switched up his lie. By the mid-1940s, he had made a complete U-turn. In a blatant contradiction, he was now declaring marijuana to be a threat because it turned its users into apathetic & docile zombies who would be too stoned to be able or even willing to fight the “Red Menace” of communism.
As happens, the facts were of little consequence compared to the power to define them. In the political world, some things never change.
Fortunately for us, those are the bad old days.
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This has been another edition of “420 Words”
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