War On Drugs 3.8
April 1, 2018
BFTN #1 2018-04-09
April 9, 2018
Show all

Part NINE of War on Drugs series – more on the history of cannabis.

Show Notes:

  • HARRY ANSLINGER
  • As we mentioned in an earlier episode, after WWI, Harry Anslinger ended up working for the Prohibition bureau, in the Bahamas.
  • He eventually came back to the US and was the Assistant Commissioner of the Prohibition Unit.
  • In early 1930, the guy in charge of the narcotics division of the prohibition bureau, L.G. Nutt, got fired for padding his arrest record.
  • Harry took over his job.
  • Then on June 14, 1930Harry Anslingerwas made the head of the new Federal Bureau of Narcotics, an agency of the Department of the Treasury, thanks to his wife’s uncle who was the Treasury Secretary at the time.
  • Here’s a question – Why would a drug czar be under the Treasury and not the Dept of Justice?
  • His original brief was to police the relatively new laws against using cocaine and heroin – the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, 1914 and the Narcotic Drugs Import and Export Act, 1922 (aka Jones-Miller Act).
  • So it’s about taxes.
  • Just as today, the illegal trade in alcohol (then still under Prohibition) and illicit drugs were targeted by the Treasury not primarily as social evils but as losses of revenue since they could not be taxed.
  • Appointed by department Secretary Andrew W. Mellon, his wife’s uncle, Anslinger was given a budget of $100,000 and turned loose.
  • On July 1, 1930, a few weeks later, the Prohibition Bureau was transferred FROM the Treasury Department to the Department of Justice.
  • Obviously it’s not making money.
  • It’s about cracking heads.
  • It was later moved to the FBI for a short period before Prohibition was repealed, then it was moved back to the Treasury.
  • Remember why prohibition ended?
  • Great depression. FDR wanted the tax revenue.
  • BTW, do you know who created the FBI?
  • Attorney General Charles Bonaparte – grandson of Jérôme Bonaparte, the youngest brother of Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • Now it seems like Harry was a smart guy.
  • Like most people, he knew that prohibition was on its way out.
  • So he needed to build this whole narcotics thing into a big deal.
  • But the problem was that cocaine and heroin weren’t used by a lot of people.
  • How do you build a huge department out of that?
  • But then he starts to read stories in the papers about marijuana.
  • The New York Times jumped on the hysteria bandwagon, printing headlines like “Kills Six in a Hospital:  Mexican, Crazed by Marihuana,  Runs Amuck With Butcher Knife”  and “Mexican Family Go Insane:   Five Said to Have Been Stricken  by Eating Marihuana”
  • It explained: “A widow and her four children have been driven insane by eating the Marihuana plant, according to doctors who say there is no hope of saving the children’s lives and that the mother will be insane for the rest of her life.” The mother had no money to buy food, so she decided to eat some marijuana plants that had been growing in their garden. Soon after, “neighbors, hearing outbursts of crazed laughter, rushed to the house to find the entire family insane.”
  • And he sees marijuana as an easy target.
  • Harry had long dismissed cannabis as a nuisance that would only distract him from the drugs he really wanted to fight.
  • He insisted it was not addictive, and stated “there is probably no more absurd fallacy” than the claim that it caused violent crime.
  • He wrote to thirty scientific experts asking a series of questions about marijuana.
  • Twenty-nine of them wrote back saying it would be wrong to ban it, and that it was being widely misrepresented in the press.
  • Anslinger decided to ignore them and quoted instead the one expert who believed it was a great evil that had to be eradicated.
  • On this basis, Harry warned the public about what happens when you smoke this weed.
  • First, you will fall into “a delirious rage.” Then you will be gripped by “dreams . . . of an erotic character.”
  • Then you will “lose the power of connected thought.”
  • Finally, you will reach the inevitable end point: “Insanity.”
  • You could easily get stoned and go out and kill a person, and it would all be over before you even realized you had left your room, he said, because marijuana “turns man into a wild beast.”
  • Indeed, “if the hideous monster Frankenstein came face to face with the monster Marijuana, he would drop dead of fright.”
  • A doctor called Michael V. Ball got in touch with Harry to counter this view, saying he had used hemp extract as a medical student and it only made him sleepy.
  • He suspected that the claims circulating about the drug couldn’t possibly be true.
  • Maybe, he said, cannabis does drive people crazy in a tiny number of cases, but his hunch was that anybody reacting that way probably had an underlying mental health problem already.
  • He implored Anslinger to fund proper lab studies so they could find out the truth.
  • Anslinger wrote back firmly. “The marihuana evil can no longer be temporized with,” he explained, and he would fund no independent science, then or ever.
  • So almost overnight, he began to argue the opposite position. Why?
  • He believed the two most-feared groups in the United States—Mexican immigrants and African Americans—were taking the drug much more than white people, and he presented the House Committee on Appropriations with a nightmarish vision of where this could lead.
  • He had been told, he said, of “colored students at the University of Minn[esota] partying with female students (white) and getting their sympathy with stories of racial persecution. Result: pregnancy.”
  • Preying on the preexisting prejudices of white Americans,  Anslinger claimed that cannabis  “makes black men forget the  appropriate racial barriers and  unleashes their lust for white women.”
  • Harry: 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 use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.“…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.” Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.”Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”Marihuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing”You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.“Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”
  • But the problem is that marijuana is still legal in most states.
  • California had banned non-prescription cannabis in 1913 as part of a campaign against drugs that was largely anti-Chinese; New York City in 1914; Texas in 1915.
  • Enforcement was almost entirely against Mexican and black communities.
  • So Harry tries to get it totally banned.
  • Not just regulated, like the Harrison Tax Act, but outright banned.
  • And he has some help from William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, the media barons of New York City.
  • We’ve talked about his before on the CW show.
  • From 1895 to about 1898 Hearst and Pulitzer were fighting their circulation war using “yellow journalism” or “tabloid journalism” as its known in Britain and Australia.
  • Joseph Pulitzer purchased the New York World in 1883 after making the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the dominant daily in that city.
  • Pulitzer strove to make the New York World an entertaining read, and filled his paper with pictures, games and contests that drew in new readers.
  • Yellow press newspapers pioneered daily multi-column front-page headlines covering a variety of topics, such as sports and scandal, using bold layouts (with large illustrations and perhaps color), heavy reliance on unnamed sources, and unabashed self-promotion.
  • Their stories were typical based on five characteristics:
  • 1. scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news
  • 2. lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings
  • 3. use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudoscience, and a parade of false learning from so-called experts
  • 4. emphasis on full-color Sunday supplements, usually with comic strips
  • 5. dramatic sympathy with the “underdog” against the system.
  • Think Fox News but as a newspaper.
  • Now the circulation war was over by the 1930s, Pulitzer died in 1911, but that style of newspaper worked and they didn’t want to give it up.
  • It never went away – Think the National Enquirer, National Examiner in the US and The Sun and the former News of the World in the United Kingdom.
  • So salacious headlines helped sell papers and back then, just like Fox and Trump do today, they would say outrageous and scary things, no fact checking, they didn’t care if it was bullshit, it was about getting attention.
  • But you may have heard a story about Hearst and du Pont helping make marijuana illegal because they were worried about hemp.
  • I remember reading this in a book years ago.
  • The story goes that Hearst had major investments in timber and pulp mills for making paper for his papers and he didn’t want hemp becoming a cheap alternative.
  • And Du Pont had come up with nylon and didn’t want hemp cloth competing with them.
  • Unfortunately, those stories don’t seem to stack up.
  • Hemp was a minor crop by the early 20th century and Hearst didn’t have any interest in timber that researchers have been able to find.
  • It’s just a myth.
  • But there’s no doubt that the papers had a field day with marijuana fear stories and that Harry milked them to build an empire.
  • The Evening Sun Baltimore, Maryland
  • Friday, September 18, 1931
  • Has a report on Harry trying to get the growing and possession of marijuana made illegal.
  • It also claims that the Wickersham Commission, which was set up by Hoover in 1929 to look into the evasion of Prohibition, claimed criminal Mexican immigrants were the source of the evil weed.
  • He started to ramp up the hype and the arrests.
  • For years, doctors kept approaching him with evidence that he was wrong, and he began to snap, telling them they were “treading on dangerous ground” and should watch their mouths.
  • Instead, he wrote to police officers across the country commanding them to find him cases where marijuana had caused people to kill—and the stories started to roll in.
  • On October 16, 1933, 20-year-old Victor Licata used an axe to murder his parents, two brothers, and a sister while they were asleep in Tampa, Florida.
  • Despite evidence Licata had a pre-existing history of mental illness, police and the press made unattributed claims that he was “addicted” to marijuana. On October 17, 1933, the Tampa Bay Times wrote:
  • W. D. Bush, city chief detective, said he had made an investigation prior to the crime and learned the slayer had been addicted to smoking marihuana cigarettes for more than six months.
  • This led to the killings being used in 1930s anti-drug campaigns against marijuana.
  • Harry pushed the media to give the story wide coverage.
  • People began to clamor for the Bureau of Narcotics to be given more money to save them from this terrifying threat.
  • Modern researchers have found that marijuana was never mentioned in any of Licata’s psychiatric reports or considered a factor in the killings.
  • Instead it was established that the young man had been identified as mentally ill and there had been steps to incarcerate him before the murders.
  • Evidence shows that a year before the murders, Tampa police had filed a petition to have Licata institutionalized for mental illness.
  • But it was withdrawn when the family vowed to increase their oversight of his behavior.
  • Mental illness ran in the Licata family, and prison psychiatrists speculated that he had inherited his insanity as his parents were first cousins.
  • One of the brothers he slew was a diagnosed schizophrenic and his paternal granduncle and two paternal cousins had also been institutionalized for mental illness.
  • Nevertheless, the role that marijuana had to play in the murders led it to be cited by proponents of anti-drug laws as evidence of “marijuana-crime-insanity”.
  • Two weeks after the murder of his family, 20-year-old Licata was declared unfit to stand trial for reasons of insanity and committed to the Florida State Hospital for the Insane.
  • He remained there until 1950, when he killed himself by hanging.
  • An October 20, 1933, editorial on page six of the Tampa Morning Tribune was entitled “Stop This Murderous Smoke”.
  • The editorial writer called for the prohibition of marijuana:
  • “[I]t may or may not be wholly true that the pernicious marijuana cigarette is responsible for the murderous mania of a Tampa young man in exterminating all the members of his family within his reach — but whether or not the poisonous mind-wrecking weed is mainly accountable for the tragedy its sale should not be and should never have been permitted here or elsewhere.
  • The case served to inspire media depictions of normal people driven to criminal insanity by the “evil weed” such as the notorious 1936 exploitation film Tell Your Children (a.k.a. Reefer Madness).
  • In 1941, Cornell Woolrich under his pen name William Irish published the dime novel Marihuana: A Drug-Crazed Killer at Large.
  • The story is about a man who goes on a murder spree after being exposed to marijuana for the first time.
  • The book exploits the marijuana-crime-insanity trope popularized by drug prohibitionists who used the Licata case as an example.
  • Harry jumped on the Licata case and milked it for all it was worth.
  • In his highly influential 1937 article “Marijuana, Assassin of Youth” he wrote about Licata and his crimes.
  • Anslinger reused the story during his testimony at the Congress hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937:
  • It was an unprovoked crime some years ago which brought the first realization that the age-old drug had gained a foothold in America. An entire family was murdered by a youthful addict in Florida. When officers arrived at the home they found the youth staggering about in a human slaughterhouse. With an ax he had killed his father, his mother, two brothers, and a sister. He seemed to be in a daze … He had no recollection of having committed the multiple crime. The officers knew him ordinarily as a sane, rather quiet young man; now he was pitifully crazed. They sought the reason. The boy said he had been in the habit of smoking something which youthful friends called “muggles”, a childish name for marijuana … As this is written, a bill to give the federal government control over marijuana has been introduced in Congress … It has the backing of … the United States Treasury Department, including the Bureau of Narcotics, through which Uncle Sam fights the dope evil. It is a revenue bill, modeled after other narcotic laws which make use of the taxing power to bring about regulation and control.
  • Anslinger characterized Licata’s hallucinations as a marijuana-induced dream in notes he took of the case:
  • A twenty-one-year-old boy in FLORIDA killed his parents, two brothers and a sister while under the influence of a Marihuana “dream” which he later described to law enforcement officials.
  • He told rambling stories of being attacked in his bedroom by “his uncle, a strange old woman and two men and two women,” whom he said hacked off his arms and otherwise mutilated him; later in the dream, he saw “real blood” dripping from an axe.
  • Says Harry arrest 791 people in a major drug bust.
  • At this point he’s saying marijuana will “break a man down and cause insanity.”
  • But Harry’s main targets are blacks and Mexicans.
  • He sounds like a pretty huge racist.
  • Of course, everyone spoke about race differently in the 1930s, but the intensity of Harry’s views shocked people even then, and when it was revealed he’d referred to a suspect in an official memo as a “nigger,” Senator Joseph P. Guffey of Anslinger’s home state of Pennsylvania demanded his resignation.
  • Later, when one of his very few black agents, William B. Davis, complained about being called a “nigger” by Harry’s men, Anslinger sacked him.
  • When the American Medical Association issued a report debunking some of his more overheated claims, he announced that any of his agents caught with a copy would be immediately fired.
  • Then, when he found out a sociology professor at Indiana Uni named Alfred Lindesmith was arguing that addicts need to be treated with compassion and care, Harry instructed his men to falsely warn Lindesmith’s university that he was associated with a “criminal organization,” and that he was a drug addict himself.
  • They had him wiretapped, and sent a team to tell him to shut up.
  • So Harry adopted the same model that J. Edgar Hoover, his old boss, was also using – threats and blackmail.
  • I have to wonder if he didn’t learn them from Hoover.
  • Now there’s something else interesting about Harry.
  • Harry apparently hated jazz.
  • He said“It sounded like the jungles in the dead of night.”
  • He said jazzmen“reek of filth.”
  • He’d heard that jazz musicians liked to smoke weed and he decided he wanted to crush jazz by having the musicians arrested.
  • He wrote to his agents: “Please prepare all cases in your jurisdiction involving musicians in violation of the marijuana laws. We will have a great national round-up arrest of all such persons on a single day. I will let you know what day.”
  • His advice on drug raids to his men was always “Shoot first.”
  • He reassured congressmen that his crackdown would affect not “the good musicians, but the jazz type.”
  • But when Harry came for them, the jazz world would have one weapon that saved them: its absolute solidarity.
  • Anslinger’s men could find almost no one among them who was willing to snitch, and whenever one of them was busted, they all chipped in to bail him out.
  • In the end, the Treasury Department told Anslinger he was wasting his time taking on a community that couldn’t be fractured, so he scaled down his focus until it settled like a laser on a single target—perhaps the greatest female jazz vocalist there ever was – Eleanora Fagan.
  • You might know her by her stage name -Billie Holiday.
  • STRANGE FRUIT

Theme music: Holy Deep by The Passion HiFi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *