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Prohibition ’37: Anslinger’s Testimony

Harry Anslinger
Harry Anslinger

Continued from last week’s AVA —the House Ways and Means Committee Hearing at which the prohibition of marijuana was considered by Congress. Narration by Fred Gardner.

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DOUGHTON: Mr. Anslinger, the committee will be glad to have a statement from you at this time. Will you state your full name and the position you occupy with the Treasury Department?

ANSLINGER: My name is H. J. Anslinger. I am commissioner of narcotics in the Bureau of Narcotics, in the Treasury Department. Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Ways and Means Committee, this traffic in marijuana is increasing to such an extent that it has become the cause for the greatest national concern. This drug is as old as civilization itself. Homer wrote about it as a drug which made men forget their homes and that turned them into swine. In Persia, a thousand years before Christ, there was a religious and military order founded which was called the Assassins, and they derived the name from the drug called hashish, which is now known in this country as marijuana. They were noted for their acts of cruelty and the word “assassin” very aptly describes the drug.

NARRATOR: Historian Tod Mikuriya, MD, had a different explanation: “They'd smoke hashish the night before battle to overcome anxiety and get to sleep.”

ANSLINGER: Marijuana is the same as Indian hemp, hashish. It is sometimes cultivated in backyards. Over here in Maryland some has been found, and last fall we discovered three acres of it in the Southwest... It is sometimes found as a residual weed and sometimes as the result of a dissemination of birdseed. It is known as cannabis Americana, or cannabis Sativa. Marijuana is the Mexican term for cannabis Indica. We seem to have adopted the Mexican terminology, and we call it marihuana, which means “good feeling.” In the underworld it is referred to by such colorful, colloquial names as reefer, muggles, Indian hay, hot hay, and weed. It is known in various counties by a variety of names.

NARRATOR: Some say the Treasury Department chose the term “marijuana” —instead of “Cannabis” or “hemp”— because they figured anti-Mexican prejudice would attach to it. “Marijuana” was spelled with an h instead of a j in the official documents —including the Congressional Register, from which we’re reading— as if the U.S. government was determined to teach those Mexicans how to spell.

LEWIS: In literature it is known as hashish, is it not?

ANSLINGER: Yes, sir. At the Geneva Convention in 1895 the term “cannabis” included only the dried flowering or fruiting top of the pistillate plant as the source of the dangerous resin... But research has shown that this definition is not sufficient, because it has been found by experiment that the leaves of the pistillate plant as well as the leaves of the staminate plant contain the active principle up to 50 percent of the strength prescribed by the U.S. Pharmacopoeia... As a matter of fact, the staminate leaves are about as harmless as a rattlesnake.

NARRATOR: The Commissioner is comparing the leaves of the male cannabis plant to a rattlesnake. The stamen is the male organ that produces pollen. Anslinger says “research has found…” in exactly the way establishment spokesperson use that phrase today —as if the ultimate truth had been determined.

ANSLINGER: In medical schools the physician-to-be is taught that without opium, medicine would be like a one armed-man. That is true, because you cannot get along without opium. But here we have a drug that is not like opium. Opium has all of the good of Dr. Jekyll and all the evil of Mr. Hyde. This drug is entirely the monster Hyde, the harmful effect of which cannot be measured.

NARRATOR: Robert Louis Stevenson didn’t think so.

REED: I want to be certain what this is. Is this the weed that grows wild in some of the Western States which is now called the loco weed?

ANSLINGER: No, sir, that is another family.

DINGELL: That is also a harmful drug-producing weed it not?

ANSLINGER: Not to my knowledge: it is not used by humans.

DOUGHTON: In what particular sections does this weed grow wild?

ANSLINGER: In almost every state in the Union today.

REED: What you are describing is a plant which has a rather large flower?

ANSLINGER: No, sir, a very small flower.

REED: Is it not Indian Hemp?

ANSLINGER: It is Indian Hemp. We have some specimens here.

ANSLINGER passes around some leafy stalks of marijuana.

VINSON: When was this brought to your attention being a menace among our own people?

ANSLINGER: About ten years ago.

VINSON: Why did you wait until 1937 to bring in a recommendation of this kind?

ANSLINGER: Ten years ago we only heard about it throughout the Southwest. It is only in the last few years that it has become a national menace. It has grown like wildfire, but only become a national menace in the last three years.

NARRATOR: In the early 20th century, in the Southwest, the ranchers and bankers wanted the Mexican fieldhands kept in their place —not functioning as citizens with full rights. The fact that Mexicans smoked marijuana distinguished them from the gringos. Criminalizing marijuana gave law enforcement grounds to bust and control them. By the 1920s the herb was gaining popularity among Black people in New Orleans, where a racist district attorney used it to keep them in their place. And just as jazz came up the river from New Orleans, so did marijuana. By the 1930s it was obtainable in Midwestern and northern industrial cities (where Mexican and Black workers were competing with European-Americans for blue-collar jobs).

ANSLINGER: It is only in the last two years that we had a report of seizures anywhere but in the Southwest. Last year New York State reported 195 tons seized. Before that I do not believe New York could have reported one ton seized. Let me quote from this report to the League of Nations: “The discussion disclosed that, from the medical point of view in some countries, the use of Indian hemp in its various forms is regarded as in no way indispensable and that it is therefore possible that little objection would be raised to drafting limitations upon medical use of derivatives.” That is only last year.

Here is what Dr. J. Bouquet, hospital pharmacist at Tunis, and inspector of pharmacists at Tunis, says. He is the outstanding expert on cannabis in the world. He says, “to sum up, Indian hemp, like many other medicaments, had enjoyed for a time a vogue which is not justified by the results obtained. Therapeutics would not lose much if it were removed from the list of medicaments.” That comes from the greatest authority on cannabis in the world.

NARRATOR: This great authority went on to write, “The basis of the Moslem character is indolence; these people love idleness and daydreaming, and to the majority of them work is the most unpleasant of all necessities. Inordinately vainglorious, thirsting for every pleasure, they are manifestly unable to realize more than a small fraction of their desires: their unrestrained imagination supplies the rest. Hemp, which enhances and stimulates the power of imagination, is the narcotic best adapted to their mentality.”

McCORMACK: What are its first manifestations, a feeling of grandeur and self-exaltation, and things of that sort?

ANSLINGER: It affects different individuals in different ways.

NARRATOR: This is true.

ANSLINGER: Some individuals have a complete loss of a sense of time or a sense of value. They lose the sense of place. They have an increased feeling of physical strength and power. Some people fly into a delirious rage and they are temporarily irresponsible and may commit violent crimes. Other people will laugh uncontrollably. It is impossible to say what the effect will be on any individual. Those research men who have tried it have always been under control. They have always insisted on that.

McCORMACK: Is it used by the criminal class?

ANSLINGER: Yes, it is. It is dangerous to the mind and body, and particularly dangerous to the criminal type, because it releases all of the inhibitions. I have here statements by the foremost expert in the world talking on this subject. “Does Indian hemp —cannabis sativa— in its various forms give rise to drug addiction?” This is from the report by Dr. J. Bouquet, Tunis, to the League of Nations. “The use of cannabis, whether smoked or ingested in its various forms, undoubtedly gives rise to a form of addiction, which has serious social consequences: abandonment of work...

NARRATOR: The boss's least favorite image.

ANSLINGER” “…propensity to theft and crime, disappearance of reproductive power.”

NARRATOR: Not true.

ANSLINGER: I will give you gentlemen just a few outstanding evidences of crimes that have been committed as a result of the use of marijuana. Here is a gang of seven young men, all seven of them, young men under 21 years of age. They terrorized central Ohio for more than two months and they were responsible for 38 stick-ups. They all boast that they did those crimes while under the influence of marijuana.

LEWIS: Does it strengthen the criminal will? Does it operate as whisky might, to provoke recklessness?

ANSLINGER: I think it makes them irresponsible. A man does not know what he is doing. (Shuffling papers) Here is one of the worst cases I have seen. The district attorney told me the defendant in this case pleaded that he was under the influence of marijuana when he committed that crime, but that has not been recognized. We have several cases of that kind. There was one town in Ohio where a young man went into a hotel and held up the clerk and killed him, and his defense was that he had been affected by the use of marijuana. As to these young men I was telling you about, one of them said if he had killed somebody on the spot he would not have known it.

In Florida a 21-year old boy under the influence of this drug killed his parents and his brothers and sister. The evidence showed that he had smoked marijuana. In Chicago recently two boys murdered a policeman while under the influence of marijuana…

NARRATOR (emphatically): This is not a ludicrous movie in which actors smoke marijuana and pretend to go berserk. This is sworn testimony that the United States Congress is going to act on. This is the basis for the federal prohibition that continues to this day.

ANSLINGER: Not long ago we found a 15-year-old boy going insane because, the doctor told the enforcement officers, he thought the boy was smoking marijuana cigarettes... Colorado seems to have had a lot of cases of violence recently. In Alamosa county and in Huerfano county the sheriff was killed as the result of the action of a man under the influence of marijuana. Recently in Baltimore a young man was sent to the electric chair for having raped a girl while under the influence of marijuana.

McCORMACK: Are you acquainted with the report of the public prosecutor at New Orleans in 1931?

ANSLINGER: Yes, sir. I am going to introduce it into the record.

McCORMACK: That was a case where 125 out of 450 prisoners were found to be marijuana addicts, and slightly less than one half of the murderers were marijuana addicts, and about 20 percent of them were charged with being addicts of what they called “merry wonder.”

ANSLINGER That is the same thing.

McCORMACK: You are acquainted with that?

ANSLINGER: Yes, sir. That is one of the finest reports that has been written on marijuana... by the district attorney, Eugene Stanley. (He reads from it) “The United States government, unquestionably, will be compelled to adopt a consistent attitude towards this drug, and... to give Federal aid to the states in their effort to suppress a traffic as deadly and destructive to society as the traffic in the other forms of narcotics now prohibited by the Harrison Act.”

NARRATOR: Eugene Stanley was the district attorney of New Orleans, Louisiana —an ambitious prosecutor trying to find a scapegoat for an extended wave of robberies that were actually a result of the alcohol prohibition. The marijuana users he charged were disproportionately Black. In the 1920s this same crusader had closed the clinics at which doctors had been treating opium addicts effectively by giving them maintenance doses.

DOUGHTON: How many states have laws in reference to marijuana?

ANSLINGER: Every state except the District of Columbia. Last year there were 15 dealers arrested here for peddling marijuana and they had to be prosecuted for pharmacy without a license. (DR. WOODWARD reacts, writes himself a note on a legal pad.)

DOUGHTON: The states now all do cooperate?

ANSLINGER: Every one of them, yes sir. But they do not all have central enforcement agencies.

DOUGHTON: With this uniform state legislation, why can they not stamp this out? What progress are they making?

ANSLINGER: They are making some progress, as indicated by the 338 seizures made last year. The state of Pennsylvania destroyed 200,000 pounds.

JENKINS: If each state has a law on this subject, I wonder why that does not reach it.

ANSLINGER: It does reach it. But we get requests from public officials from different states, and I will name particularly the states of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Louisiana and Oklahoma that have urged federal legislation for the purpose of enabling us to cooperate with the several states.

McCORMACK: This is a tax measure, and we might as well get the revenue out of it that enables the federal government to cooperate with the states in connection with the state activities.

NARRATOR: “We might as well get the revenue out of it.” How forthright!

ANSLINGER: And you get a certain uniformity. You also get to help the local police, and they always want it. You also get to help the state police, and they always ask for this help. Whenever they find marijuana, the first place on which they call for help is the federal narcotic office, so that they can take a man along who is a specialist on narcotic matters. We have federal legislation dealing with opium and coca leaves. With this legislation we will make a drive on this traffic and make every effort to stamp it out, and it will not cost very much.

NARRATOR: Just, like, a trillion dollars over the years.

ANSLINGER: We have men throughout the country at the present time who are dealing with the narcotic problem. But the use of marijuana is increasing.

NARRATOR: Even back then they were escalating their enforcement efforts to no avail.

THOMPSON: I would like to know whether or not these marijuana cigarettes move through legitimate channels. Are there manufacturing concerns that make them, or are they rolled in the kitchens and cellars like illicit liquor used to be?

ANSLINGER: It is 100 percent illicit.

THOMPSON: What is the price of marijuana?

ANSLINGER: The addict pays anywhere from 10 to 25 cents per cigarette. It will be sold by the cigarette. In illicit traffic the bulk price would be around $20 a pound. Legitimately, the bulk is around $2 a pound.

THOMPSON: How does that compare with the price of opium or morphine? Do the class of people who use this drug use it because it is cheaper than the other kinds?

ANSLINGER: That is one reason, yes, sir. To be a morphine or heroin addict it would cost you from $5 to $8 a day to maintain your supply. But if you want to smoke a cigarette you pay 10 cents.

BOEHNE: Just one of them can knock the socks off of you?

ANSLINGER: One of them can do it.

McCORMACK: Some of those cigarettes are sold much cheaper than 10 cents, are they not? In other words it is a low-priced cigarette, and that is one of the reasons for the tremendous increase in its use?

NARRATOR: Marijuana was a poor person's drug. And still would be if it weren't for prohibition.

ANSLINGER: Yes. It is low enough in price for school children to buy it.

McCORMACK: And they have parties in different parts of the country that they call “Reefer parties?”

ANSLINGER: Yes, sir, we have heard of them, and know of them.

NARRATOR: But we have never been invited… This could be called “The Revenge of the Hall Monitors.”

FULLER: Another thing is that they will not be able to get other kinds of dope, but they do have an opportunity to get this marijuana, which causes it to be so much sought after and used in the community.

ANSLINGER: That is true, and the effect is just passed by word of mouth, and everybody wants to try it.

WOODRUFF: Have you put into the record a statement showing the names of the different states in which this drug plant is grown?

ANSLINGER: It is grown in practically all states... I have a statement showing the seizures of marijuana during the calendar year 1936 in the various states. (The PAGE brings it around.)

NARRATOR: This table showed that more than half the marijuana seized by law enforcement was in Mississippi and Louisiana. The quantities were very small, given how widespread cultivation is today. California ranked third in amount of marijuana seized —and the total was only 623 pounds. If the goal of Prohibition was to reduce marijuana production in the United States, it has been a colossal failure.

ANSLINGER: I would also like to put into the record the statement of the district attorney that I referred to... And I want to introduce correspondence from the editor of a Colorado newspaper who was asked by civic leaders and law officers to contact the Treasury Department.

Quote: Two weeks a go a sex-mad degenerate named Leo Fernandez brutally attacked a young Alamosa girl. He was convicted of assault with intent to rape and sentenced to 10 to 14 years in the state penitentiary. I wish I could show you what a small marijuana cigarette can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents. That's why our problem is so great; the greatest percentage of our population is composed of Spanish-speaking persons, most of whom are low mentally, because of social and racial conditions. End quote.

DOUGHTON: Mr. Anslinger, at this time the committee would like to thank you for your time and call another witness before our adjournment today. I will, however, ask for you to be available to this committee for any further testimony during the remainder of hearings on this matter.

One Comment

  1. Steven Gill May 5, 2013

    Ha ha ha ha! Cannabis indica from Mexico? Marijuana translates as “good feeling? This history would be hysterically funny…..if it didn’t lead to tens of thousands of prison sentences lasting from years to decades for many otherwise innocent people……they called it the “drug war” – OK, I think it’s time for some good old fashioned Nuremberg – style war crimes trials. Start with the legislators that created the draconian sentencing tables and work your way down through egregious federal, state and local prosecutors….throw in a few hanging judges for good measure. That way, when the insane drug laws are repealed, the prison-industrial complex won’t wither away – indeed it will thrive with it’s new war criminal charges.

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