BFTN #2 2018-04-16
April 16, 2018
BFTN #3 2018-04-23
April 23, 2018
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Part TEN of War on Drugs series. And we’re talking about a man who tried to stop the war on drugs way back in 1938 – Dr Henry Smith Williams.  .

Show Notes:

  • We’re still talking about Harry Anslinger.
  • The first American drug czar.
  • As we’ve seen in previous episodes, cocaine, opium and heroin didn’t have much of a user base in the U.S. In 1930.
  • And Harry wants to build a little empire in the Treasury.
  • He sees stories in the tabloids about how cannabis is driving the blacks and the mexicans crazy and how white women who smoke it want to have sex with the black men and mexicans.
  • So he decides to make it his cause celebre.
  • When his attempts to bust jazz musicians fails because they won’t rat on each other.
  • Eventually he’s going to go after a celebrity target – Billie Holiday.
  • But before we get to that.
  • Let’s talk about the current state of marijuana.
  • Today of course, the medical use of cannabis is legal (with a doctor’s recommendation) in 29 US states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico.
  • The recreational use of cannabis is legal in 9 states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) plus the District of Columbia, and decriminalized in another 13 states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Commercial distribution of cannabis is allowed in all jurisdictions where cannabis has been legalized, except Vermont and the District of Columbia.
  • However the Drug Enforcement Administration still considers it a Schedule I drug.
  • As of today, March 2018, it’s still illegal in most of Australia, but is decriminalised for personal use in the Northern Territory, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, and Victoria.
  • Still illegal in the UK and mostly illegal in Canada.
  • However the laws in Australia are considered “lax”.
  • At a national level, there is no overriding law that deals with cannabis-related offences; instead, each state and territory enacts its own legislation.
  • Australia has largely avoided a punitive drug policy.
  • In New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania, possession and use of cannabis is a criminal offence; however, it is unlikely that anyone caught with a small amount will be convicted.
  • Medical marijuana is now legal here, but it’s pretty restricted
  • You have to have MS, epilepsy, cancer, or HIV/AIDS
  • and there’s a push to decriminalise it entirely.
  • But earlier this year Drug Free Australia executive officer Jo Baxter said she hopes the drug will remain illegal in Australia.
  • she said – “It’s actually quite a harmful drug and if we think we make it more available, that’s the way to do it, it is a gateway drug.”
  • As of today, some of the countries with the laxest cannabis laws were Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, India, Israel, Jamaica, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Uruguay, and some U.S. jurisdictions.
  • Some of the countries with the strictest cannabis laws were Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, France, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • These days even the New York Times is in favour of the legalisation of marijuana.
  • It took almost a century for them to go from printing anti-marijuana propaganda to contemptuously rejecting it, along with the ban built on that foundation of lies.
  • Which raises the obvious question: If the Times could be so wrong for so long about marijuana, what other mistakes has it made?
  • Plenty, including exaggerating the hazards of pretty much every drug that has ever been a subject of public concern while conflating the effects of drug use with the effects of prohibition.
  • Okay back to 1930.
  • In the 1930s, as Harry was prosecuting his war on drugs, a doctor called Henry Smith Williams started challenging Harry’s drug narrative.
  • Williams was apparently a pretty well known doctor and a pretty prolific author.
  • He’s written over 100 books,
  • Including being the editor of a book called “The Historians’ History of the World.”
  • Which sounds like the name of our next podcast series.
  • Anyway, his crusade against Harry started in 1931 when Henry’s brother, Edward, also a doctor, was arrested.
  • Edward had helped to build a free clinic for addicts, and he volunteered his own time there.
  • He wrote his prescriptions for whoever needed them.
  • And he waited to see the results.
  • One day a man came into the clinic, obviously suffering badly from heroin withdrawal symptoms, which Edward was a known expert about.
  • “The man is a wreck, at the verge of collapse,” Henry wrote. “He is deathly pale. Sweat pours from his skin. He is all a tremor. His life seems threatened.”
  • So Edward wrote the man a prescription for heroin.
  • He knew that with a shot of heroin, the man would be able to resume his life.
  • Now Edward felt pretty safe doing this, because, if you recall, the Harrison Tax Act of 1915 didn’t interfere with the rights of a medical professional to prescribe drugs – as long as the patient wasn’t an addict and the drugs were just for maintenance of a habit.
  • But this addict was actually in the employment of Harry Anslinger.
  • He was a genuine addict – but he was one of Harry’s stool pigeons, thrown a few bucks to try to con doctors into treating them.
  • Once the prescription was written, the police burst in to the room, and Edward Williams was busted, alongside some twenty thousand other doctors across the country, in one of the biggest legal assaults on doctors in American history.
  • Most of the people the bureau had picked on up to now—addicts and African Americans—were in no position to fight back.
  • But Henry Smith Williams was one of the most respected medical authorities in the United States.
  • He was said to know more about the chemistry and biology of the blood cells than any other man in America, and he had written a thirty-one-volume history of science and many entries in the Encyclopedia Britannica, all in his spare time left over from treating more than ten thousand patients.
  • So after his brother was arrest, Henry started to dig.
  • The preface to the book was a speech in Congress given in 1938 by a Democrat Congressman from Seattle, John Coffee.
  • He points out that there were no narcotics prisoners in Federal prisons prior to the passage of the Harrison Act.
  • Ten years later, more than one-third of all convicts in Federal prisons were narcotic cases.
  • The total number of such Federal narcotic prisoners during the period since the Harrison Act began to operate as potent maker of criminals is of the order of 75,000, with aggregate prison sentence of upward of 100,000 years.
  • No other statute ever operated to make criminals on any comparable scale.
  • He goes on to point out that there was no federal law that had control over a profession.
  • And that the Supreme Court had backed that up in various cases in the late 1920s.
  • And yet, the Narcotics Bureau had ignored all that by preventing physicians from attempting to cure addicts.
  • Coffee said:
  • It is believed that this is the first instance in all history of the denial of a medical treatment to a class of citizens of whatever status or capacity.
  • He went on to argue that addicts should be treated as people with a medical condition, not as criminals.
  • THIS IS IN 1938.
  • He also says they would be able to rid the courts from drug cases, empty the jails, and free up $3 billion a year they were spending on enforcing drug laws.
  • He also pointed out in his speech that by making the supply of these drugs illegal, gangs had stepped into the breach and it was a billion dollar industry.
  • Coffee is trying to get a bill voted into law which would have changed all of that.
  • Needless to say, he wasn’t successful.
  • Harry made sure of that.
  • By this time he had enough politicians in his pocket that he was able to make sure the bill didn’t get out of committee.
  • But back to Henry.
  • In the introduction to his book, he calls the period of 1915 – 1938 as the “American Inquisition”, “the era of the persecution of sick people in the United States by Government Edict”.
  • And he blames one man in particular – not Harry Anslinger, but his predecessor at the Narcotics division of the Treasury – Colonel Levi G Nutt, or Left Nutt to his friends.
  • I mentioned in the last episode that Nutt was fired for padding his arrest record.
  • He was the Chief of the Narcotics Division within the Prohibition Unit of the United States Department of the Treasury from 1919 to 1930
  • He once said “I’d rather see my children up against a wall and see them shot down before my eyes than to know that any one of them was going to be a drug slave.”
  • Speaking of his children…
  • Nutt’s son Rolland Nutt and son-in-law L. P. Mattingly were attorneys for racketeer Arnold Rothstein, aka “the Brain”, the mobster who allegedly fixed the 1919 World Series and who first realized that Prohibition was a business opportunity, the first successful modern drug dealer.
  • Fans of the Godfather will remember “Hyman Roth”, he was based on Rothstein.
  • But the real Rothstein was whacked in 1928 for refusing to pay a $300,000 poker debt.
  • And Rolland was charged with “borrowing” thousands of dollars from Rothstein while helping him with a little “tax problem”.
  • Another reason Lefty had to resign / get fired.
  • Anyway, back to Lefty.
  • Well according to Henry, in the 20s Nutt wrote a pamphlet that was distributed nation-wide to physicians, telling them they were to stop giving drug addicts prescriptions for drugs.
  • Which had NOTHING to do with the law.
  • The Harrison Tax Act expressly did NOT forbid physicians from doing exactly that.
  • BUT
  • The actual clause applying to doctors allowed distribution “in the course of his professional practice only.”
  • Which is pretty vague.
  • Nutty interpreted the clause to mean that a doctor could not prescribe opiates to an addict, since addiction was not considered a disease.
  • In a Supreme Court cast Webb v. United States (1919) it was determined that physicians could not prescribe narcotics solely for maintenance
  • So Nutty issued what Henry calls “the Code”.
  • Or the Edict of Nutt.
  • A brochure issued in 1925 by the Los Angeles County Medical Association, stated the matter concisely and accurately in these words: “It is here stated definitely, and after consideration, that any physician who attempts to devote his time to the treatment of narcotic addiction disease at the present time, no matter how conservative he may be, or conscientious, or careful, or no matter how humanitarian his purpose, will invariably come into conflict with the laws.”
  • The “laws” referred to, it was clearly stated, were not actual laws, but the “regulations” or Code, about which we are speaking.
  • At about the same period, there were editorials in various medical journals of similar tenor.
  • But then in 1925 there came the Supreme Court decision in a case called Linder v. United States, where the Supreme Court declared that The Harrison Law had no jurisdiction over medical practice, and was never designed to have (and would be unconstitutional if it did make such an attempt).
  • Dr. Nick Linder prescribed the drugs to addicts in Moore, Oklahoma, which the federal government said was not a legitimate medical practice.
  • He was prosecuted and convicted.
  • Linder appealed, and the Supreme Court unanimously overturned his conviction, holding that the federal government overstepped its power to regulate medicine.
  • So the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal gov could NOT tell doctors what they could and couldn’t prescribe.
  • But that didn’t stop Lefty or his successor, Harry.
  • Between 1914 and 1938, some 25,000 doctors were arrested for supplying opiates, and some 40 heroin-maintenance clinics were closed.
  • Most were charged massive fines, but some faced five years in prison for each and every prescription written.
  • The social and economic position of the registered physician was so sensitive, trials so time-consuming, and appeals so long and costly, that hostile agents could make cases against physicians with impunity and nearly ruin them whether charges were warranted or not.
  • So the legitimate supply to narcotics to addicts was crushed – illegally – but the Government.
  • And who stepped in to fill the gap?
  • The Mob.
  • And of course the price went up.
  • WAY UP.
  • In the pharmacies, morphine had cost two or three cents a grain; the criminal gangs charged a dollar.
  • The world we recognize now—where addicts are often forced to become criminals, in a desperate scramble to feed their habit from gangsters—was being created, for the first time.
  • The Williams brothers had watched as Nutt and Anslinger created two crime waves.
  • First, they created the opportunity for an army of gangsters to smuggle drugs into the country and sell them to addicts.
  • In other words: while Harry Anslinger claimed to be fighting the Mafia, he was in fact transferring a massive and highly profitable industry into their exclusive control.
  • Second, by driving up the cost of drugs by more than a thousand percent, the new policies meant addicts were forced to commit crime to get their next fix.
  • Henry Smith Williams asked “How was the average addict—revealed by the official census as an average person—to secure ten or fifteen dollars a day to pay for the drug he imperatively needed? Can you guess the answer? The addict could not get such a sum by ordinary means. Then he must get it by dubious means—he must beg, borrow, forge, steal.”
  • The men usually became thieves; the women often became prostitutes.
  • Henry: “The United States government, as represented by its [anti-drug] officers, has just become the greatest and most potent maker of criminals in any recent century.”
  • “The American Inquisition thus inaugurated will stand out for all time among the great epochs of persecution. Speaking as an historian, I venture to predict that, even within the present century, it will be regarded as an event of far greater significance for America, and entitled to a larger place in historical annals, than the event that we now speak of as the World War.”

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