For years and years — before it became even a remote possibility that cannabis would be legalized — I wanted to tell the story of HOW CANNABIS WAS MADE ILLEGAL in the first place. As stories go? It is the Epitome of Bullshit.
And we owe it all to one man, really — THIS GUY —
Harry J Anslinger, the first head of the nation’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics (1930 — 1962).
“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
Anslinger worked for the government’s Bureau of Prohibition — so you know where HIS heart was. When Prohibition ended, Anslinger pushed his way to a new gig at The Treasury Department — in a newly created office: The Bureau of Narcotics.
Problem? While local laws in various places DID restrict the sale of ‘Indian Hemp’ as ‘medicinal cannabis’ was sometimes called, it did not make it illegal because — as with opium, cocaine and every other ‘illicit’ drug — THEY WEREN’T ILLEGAL. And there is nothing in the US Constitution that actually ALLOWS them to make these things illegal — without bending the laws, as written — which is exactly what Harry Anslinger ultimately did…
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”
When Harry first opened shop in 1930, he had an office, a handful of staff, a miniscule budget and a Mandate to do… NOTHING.
Book-keeping was their ‘job’. Keeping track of how much hemp was moving from field to marketplace (to be used in rope or other products) or from field to factory (to be turned into parachutes) to marketplace. And Harry didn’t like that.
“You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother”.
Prior to joining the Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger is on the record pronouncing how HARMLESS cannabis was: “There is no more absurd fallacy,” Harry said, than the idea that marijuana makes people violent. Or anything. Nobody cared about it. Because it wasn’t a problem.
And then… Magically, it became a problem (MAGIC being the operative word here). Virtually overnight, Harry Anslinger became convinced that cannabis was the Demon Weed itself. And he began to say things about it that were patently untrue — for instance: “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”
Weird, huh? Did Harry get an eyeful of incredible new research that suddenly ‘informed’ him and his will to make the world a better place by ridding it of a blight?
Um, no. That did not happen. Because nothing about cannabis changed. Harry changed. He needed manpower. He needed a budget. He needed a Mandate for his pox-y little bureau…
And so he made up a story — literally — about Mexicans coming across the border in order to sell their stinking, Mexican weed to SCHOOL CHILDREN…
“Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death”.
And so it began… The newspapers published the story (why wouldn’t they — it was coming from the newly appointed Director of the Bureau of Narcotics — surely HE knew what he was talking about.
Then Harry took the published articles — and held them up for all to see — how Mexicans were doing this terrible thing with this terrible weed — and the outrage to empower Harry was born.
Helping Harry along to perpetuate this bullshit was RANDOLPH HEARST — owner of many newspapers and much timber land — whose wood was used to provide newsprint for his and many other papers. Hemp, it turns out, had suddenly become competitive as a replacement for wood pulp — and Hearst was having none of it.
So Hearst threw in with Harry — and helped perpetuate the lie. It wasn’t Hearst’s first time at THAT rodeo — his Yellow Journalism having helped bring us the Spanish-American War already…
“No one knows, when he places a marijuana cigarette to his lips, whether he will become a joyous reveller in a musical heaven, a mad insensate, a calm philosopher, or a murderer”.
And the Du Pont Chemical company also played a part — as they had already spent a bomb developing a process to turn petrochemicals into a new-fangled thing called PLASTIC. An alternative method — using hemp oil — needed to die.
And so it did.
But even then — the road to making Hemp & Cannabis illegal was hard — because there’s no basis for doing it. NONE..
The AMA wouldn’t go along with Harry. They told him that cannabis was actually A GOOD MEDICINE. They knew that in the 30’s! The AMA KNEW IT and even tried to stop Harry from making it illegal…
In the end, after being told there was no way to do what he wanted, Harry went the taxation route to punish cannabis users. He created legislation that put an onerous tax on both the sale and purchase of hemp. Anyone caught selling or buying hemp — and not paying the onerous tax — went to jail.
Some people tried to get around the onerous tax. Most others just gave up on growing and dealing with hemp. A very useful product went away (one with few natural enemies, requires very little pesticide and pretty much grows like a weed) and in its place — prison time and legal bills and chaos and destruction.
What have we gained from 80 years of cannabis prohibition? Has it made the country cannabis-free? Did it make the nation safer? More productive?
It didn’t make America any more violent — that’s for sure. Maybe a little more paranoid here and there but — that’s just guys like Lil Jeff Sessions.
If ever a man needed to partake of the weed and ‘get medicated’ — it’s Lil Jeff Sessions. But first he’d have to stop Bogarting the joint — and let go of his inner racist.
I may hold my breath — to keep in some lovely smoke — but it won’t ever be to wait for Jeff Sessions to do anything…