Question: what do cannabis prohibition and “The Big Lie” have in common? More than you realize. If there was a “Pantheon Of Liars”, Donald Trump’s bust would sit out front, greeting all visitors. Certainly, Trump’s more than just a “liar” (the word seems so mild when held up to him). Even “epic liar” seems epically too mild. Trump is clinically sociopathic; he has zero relationship with the truth. Still, he understands how to work the truth. He gets how to profit from subverting it while subverting it. Still, the truth is, Trump didn’t invent “The Big Lie”, he merely perfected telling it. And Trump didn’t invent “The Big Lie Playbook”, Harry Anslinger did.
Who’s Harry Anslinger?
He was America’s first “drug czar”, taking charge of the new Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930. Anslinger invented The Big Lie Playbook several years later in order to “illegalize” cannabis.
The Big Lie works via repetition. Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels said (it’s been attributed to him), “Repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth,”. As we know, Trump is a “student” of fascism. The one book he kept on his night stand was a book of Hitler’s speeches. Hitler definitely grasped how to work The Big Lie. The Kenyan birth certificate? The Big Lie! “But her emails”? The Big Lie! Trump’s entire presidency? Yeah – that big lie thingy.
Trump Perfects “The Big Lie”
Trump knows one thing: construction. He knows that every structure needs a foundation. Trump built The Big Lie on a foundation of bullshit and repetition. He told The Big Lie non-stop. Never backed down from it. He’s made acceptance of it mandatory. The press has done it’s part – repeating The Big Lie and calling it “journalism”. Even when they refute The Big Lie, The Big Lie wins. We’re talking about it. It’s a player. Does it really matter if it’s true?
Anslinger’s always fascinated me. Eons ago, I pitched an off-the-wall version of his story around Hollywood. Lots of love for the pitch (at the time, few people knew about Anslinger or his story). No love for a deal. Sucks being too far ahead of the curve.
Anslinger invented “reefer madness“. He didn’t coin that term. As far as I can tell the producers of the movie “Reefer Madness” did. They were going for a lurid “sales pitch in a movie title”. But, in those two words, they captured America’s delusional apprehension about this new thing.
More importantly, the movie’s producers captured the essence of Anslinger’s sales pitch to America: marijuana equaled madness.
Ah, but whose madness? That madness was Anslinger’s secret sauce. For the first five years of his tenure, Anslinger didn’t give “marihuana” (his spelling) a moment’s thought. It wasn’t like he could have done anything about it. His agency was underfunded, undermanned and, from Anslinger’s POV, “under-mandated”.
Back then, most drugs were more or less legal though regulated. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics could claim one small patch of real estate for their own: interdiction. Keeping outside drugs out.
As I wrote in “Blunt Truths“, a thirteen part series for Weedmaps News (back when Weedmaps News “was”), Anslinger was a raging racist. But, also, he was a very talented bureaucrat. When Anslinger applied his racism to his bureaucratic responsibilities, his racism always won out. And, his racism drove his flip-flop on cannabis.
Cannabis Comes To America
Before 1910, cannabis was rare and rarely used in America. Alcohol was most Americans’ drug of choice. The Mexican Revolution started in 1910. Mexican refugees headed north to safety across the US border. They brought their habits, customs and methods of self medication including marijuana.
Marijuana use spread slowly across the Southwest. By the early 1920’s, it had reached the South and found a whole fan club in the Black musicians busily inventing jazz. Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong (among many, many others), knew it was impossible to create or play music when sloshed. Opioids? Even less compatible with creativity. But cannabis was entirely different.
Marijuana enhances not just the creative process but the very creativity the creative process produces. It connects dots like nothing else. The connected dots being produced – jazz music – speak for themselves. Anslinger despised jazz and despised the Black musicians who invented it.
Harry Anslinger Tickles The Ivories
To blow off steam, Anslinger played the piano. According to his biographer John C. McWilliams, Anslinger was actually quite good and took great pride in his playing. He played European classical music. To Anslinger, that was “music”. Nothing else need apply.
The worst offender to Anslinger’s white-as-can-be-ears? Jazz. And he reserved the worst of his hatred for jazz’s inventors (before long, Anslinger would go after Louis Armstrong repeatedly). But, even jazz wasn’t what triggered Anslinger’s obsessive need to obliterate marijuana above all other drugs.
Every now and then, New Orleans would throw out all the musicians. Each time that would happen, the musicians would head north along the Mississippi, settling in Memphis, Nashville and Chicago. They took both their music and their marijuana with them. To Anslinger, it was bad enough that white people began listening to jazz. It was far worse that they began smoking dope.
But Is It Bad For You?
Anslinger went to war. His problem: nothing in the Constitution justifies marijuana prohibition. In fact, aside from Anslinger, no one really had a problem with marijuana. The few people aware of it approved of its use as medicine. That included the American Medical Association. In fact, the one question Anslinger NEVER asked anyone about cannabis was: “Is it bad for you?“
What mattered to Anslinger: it was “bad” for white people.
In addition to understanding how bureaucracy worked, Anslinger understood the press and knew he’d need them on his side. Here’s where Anslinger’s truest genius stepped up to the plate.
How To Tell & Sell A Lie!
Anslinger used his office to maximum effect. He’d go to the press and tell them something like “We’re hearing at the Bureau that Mexicans and Black people are selling marihuana to school children on their school yards!” The news media figured, “Hey, he’s the Commissioner of the Bureau of Narcotics, surely he knows what he’s talking about”. The newspapers would print the story.
Then Anslinger would hold up the printed newspaper with his bullshit story printed in it. The press had just validated Anslinger’s words by printing them. And, holding up the newspaper for all to see, he’d say “See? It IS as bad as I say – it’s in the newspaper!”
The Gore Files
Anslinger kept these stories in what he called his “Gore Files”. These days we’d call them “unsubstantiated bullshit”. That’s what they were back then, too.
Mostly, the Gore Files were literal file folders stuffed with newspaper articles and other bits and pieces of random racism. They told stories of Black men smoking marijuana and immediately going bonkers or raping a white woman. Or both. Anslinger’s Gore Files ARE the book on how to use lies and lying to subjugate America. Anslinger would require lies and lying to accomplish his mission.
Unable to legislate marijuana out of existence, Anslinger – clever bureaucrat – used the tax system instead. He created the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 – the law that, in essence, illegalized cannabis in America.
The act stipulates that both the buyer and seller of every marijuana or hemp transaction pay a tax at the point of sale. To prove they’d paid the tax, they’d have to get a stamp. But the stamp didn’t exist. Neither did a way to charge or collect the taxes. So, anyone who bought or sold marijuana (or hemp) was going to become a criminal out of total ignorance.
That’s exactly what happened! Within 24 hours of the Tax Act’s passage, it scored its first victims. Two men were arrested in Denver – for tax evasion after one sold and the other bought a small amount of cannabis. Both men (both were white) went to jail, the first unfortunate victims of America’s “war on drugs”.
The “war on drugs“? That, too was and is a “Big Lie”. So was the “gateway theory” that marijuana use led directly to heroin use. None of it was based on science because no such science existed. Racism – Anslinger’s – alas, did.
Just like marijuana prohibition, The Big Lie is entirely a product of racism. The Big Lie’s goal: destroy American democracy and force permanent white minority rule on the America’s diverse majority. It’s taken America almost a century to see the light: cannabis isn’t for everyone, but Americans using it won’t destroy America or Western Civilization.
Hopefully we’ll see the light about The Big Lie way, WAY faster.