Harry J. Anslinger
The campaign against marijuana 1930–1937
Restrictions for cannabis as a drug, often called Indian Hemp in documents before the 1940s, started in local laws in New York already in 1860 and was followed by local laws in many other states and by state laws in the 1910s and 1920s. The early laws against the cannabis drugs were often passed with little public attention. Concern about marijuana was related primarily to the fear that hashish or marijuana use would spread as a substitute for the opiates. In 1925 United States supported regulation of Indian hemp, Cannabis for use as a drug, in the International Opium Convention. Recommendations from the International Opium Convention inspired the work with the Uniform State Narcotic Act between 1925 and 1932. Harry J. Anslinger became an active person in this process from about 1930.
Harry J. Anslinger in Washington, 1934
Anslinger received, as head of The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) (from his point of view), an alarming increase of reports about smoking of marijuana in 1936 that continued to spread at an accelerated pace in 1937. Before, smoking of marijuana had been relatively slight and confined to the Southwest, particularly along the Mexican border. The Bureau launched two important steps. First, the Bureau prepared a legislative plan to seek from Congress a new law that would place marijuana and its distribution directly under federal control. Second, Anslinger ran a campaign against marijuana on radio and at major forums.
Some of his critics allege that Anslinger and the campaign against marijuana had a hidden agenda, DuPont petrochemical interests and William Randolph Hearst together created the highly sensational anti-marijuana campaign to eliminate hemp as an industrial competitor.
Indeed, Anslinger did not himself consider marijuana a serious threat to American society until in the fourth year of his tenure (1934), at which point an anti-marijuana campaign, aimed at alarming the public, became his primary focus as part of the government's broader push to outlaw all drugs. Members of the League of Nations had already implemented restrictions for marijuana in the beginning of the 1930s and restrictions started in many states in U.S years before Anslinger was appointed. Both president Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Attorney General publicly supported this development in 1935.
Around 1931 advertising started for hemp as the new billion dollar crop because of a decorticator working miracles on the hemp crop and taking the amount of time to harvest an acre of hemp down to 1–1.5 hours when 2 hours was the best time they could get harvesting cotton. But this could not change the fact that is it is only the outer part of a hemp stem, about 25% of the stem, that contains long usable fibers. New technology has not created growing billion dollar industries in countries where it is legal to harvest hemp. See also Hemp#Paper.
By using the mass media as his forum (receiving much support from William Randolph Hearst), Anslinger propelled the anti-marijuana sentiment from the state level to a national movement. Writing for The American Magazine, the best examples were contained in his "Gore File", a collection of quotes from police reports, by later opponents described as police-blotter-type narratives of heinous cases, most with no substantiation, linking graphically depicted offenses with the drug. Anslinger sometimes used the very brief and concise language in many police reports when he wrote about drug crimes:
"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 axe he had killed his father, 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 that he had been in the habit of smoking something which youthful friends called “muggles,” a childish name for marijuana."
“By the tons it is coming into this country — the deadly, dreadful poison that racks and tears not only the body, but the very heart and soul of every human being who once becomes a slave to it in any of its cruel and devastating forms…. Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters. Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him….”
Anslinger has been accused to be responsible for racial themes in articles against marijuana in the 1930s.
"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."
"Colored students at the Univ. of Minn. partying with (white) female students, smoking [marijuana] and getting their sympathy with stories of racial persecution. Result: pregnancy"
"Two Negros took a girl fourteen years old and kept her for two days under the influence of hemp. Upon recovery she was found to be suffering from syphilis."
"The first Federal law-enforcement administrator to recognize the signs of a national criminal syndication and sound the alarm was Harry J. Anslinger, Commissioner of the Bureau of Narcotics in the Treasury" (Ronald Reagan 1986)
When Anslinger was interviewed in 1954 about drug abuse (see below), he did not mention anything about race or sex. In his book The Protectors (1964) Anslinger has a chapter called "Jazz and Junk Don't Mix" about the black jazz musicians Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, who both died after years of heavy drug abuse:
"Jazz entertainers are neither fish nor fowl. They do not get the million-dollar protection Hollywood and Broadway can afford for their stars who have become addicted – and there are many more than will ever be revealed. Perhaps this is because jazz, once considered a decadent kind of music, has only token respectability. Jazz grew up next door to crime, so to speak. Clubs of dubious reputation were, for a long time, the only places where it could be heard. But the times bring changes, and as Billy Holiday was a victim of time and change, so too was Charlie Parker, a man whose music, like Billie's, is still widely imitated. Most musicians credit Parker among others as spearheading what is called modern jazz." (p. 157)
Anslinger hoped to orchestrate a nationwide dragnet of jazz musicians and kept a file called 'Marijuana and Musicians'