The Father Of Reefer Madness: Harry J. Anslinger

As seen in Issue #11

The Life and Times of Harry J. Anslinger

Harry Jacob Anslinger (May 20, 1892 – November 14, 1975) was appointed the first Commissioner of the Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) on August 12, 1930. He held the office an unprecedented 32 years as the head of the department holding office until 1962. The responsibilities once held by Harry J. Anslinger are now largely under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy.

During Anslinger’s lengthy tenure as head of the newly formed federal narcotics division, he is most known for his complete and total assault on cannabis or “marijuana” a term coined by him and his faithful cohort at the time, print magnate William Randolph Hearst. Being that the FBN was housed under the auspices of the Treasury Department they were of course armed with a full arsenal of men and funds to go after the scourge of drugs. In truth alcohol and drugs at the time were considered a waste to the system by the federal government because they couldn’t be taxed.

l”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.”

Harry J. Anslinger, Testimony to Congress, 1937

Anslinger bio narrated by Woody Harrelson

Apart from a slew of interviews, press conferences and speeches which betray Anslinger’s crude demeanor and intensely bigoted perspective his most heinous habit was spinning absurdly sordid stories about “marijuana’. Anslinger and his media cronies worked over-time weaving complex lies about the dangers of cannabis or marijuana. One of the first and most widely spread untruths was the story about a young man named Victor Licata who had murdered his entire family with an axe. Licata, Anslinger explained to the press, committed these crimes because “he had been addicted to smoking marijuana cigarettes for more than six months”. However, official psychiatric examination of Licata concluded that Licata was like insane and his insanity was probably hereditary. His parents were first cousins and two near relatives had been committed to insane asylums and Licata’s younger brother – one of his victims – had been diagnosed with dementia. Marijuana is never mentioned in the hospital reports yet Anslinger continued to use and misrepresent this case for over 15 years. The Licata file was only one of hundreds of such cases Anslinger twisted and used to terrify and mislead the public for decades.



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