Part II The dog guy turns into a bat
The xenophobia, racism, and paranoia at the heart of drug prohibition became federal law in 1914. The Harrison Act criminalized non-medical drug use and forever changed the public’s view of addiction. What had been a middle class medical problem became a crime. Addiction’s new criminal status quickly drew the public’s moral disapproval.
With lawful sources banned, addicts had to resort to crime to pay black market prices for drugs. Drug crimes were law induced. As more addicts committed crimes, people became convinced that dope caused crime. No one made the connection that when drugs were legal, drug addicts were no more inclined to commit crimes than anyone else.
More than any other single factor, the creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930 brought about the later severe bias in drug policy toward prosecution and punishment. It was a large part of the mission of the FBN to foster the image of drug users as the THEM against whom we would wage war.
In 1937, largely through the efforts of the FBN’s lifelong director, Harry Anslinger, the national Marijuana Tax Act became law. The brief hearings before a Congressional Committee considering the 1937 law were a model of legislative negligence. In his testimony as head of the FBN, Anslinger told the Congressmen, in words that would come back to haunt him later, “Marihuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.” That and a few quotes from sensationalist newspaper reports informed the committee on the effects of marijuana.
A second area of testimony concerned hemp as a commercial crop. Hemp was used to make rope, paint, varnish, and bird feed. The rope and paint guys said they could get hemp from overseas. The birdseed guys said they couldn’t do without the seeds so they got a permanent exemption.
The third area of testimony was medical. A Temple University pharmacologist testified that he had injected the active ingredient of marijuana into the brains of 300 dogs and 2 of them had died. When asked if he had chosen dogs because of the similar reactions to that of humans he replied, “I wouldn’t know, I’m not a dog psychologist.”
The active agent in marijuana was first synthesized in a lab after WWII. There is no way to know what he injected into the dogs, but it probably wasn’t the active agent in marijuana.
The last medical testimony was given by a Dr. Woodward, who was a lawyer, a doctor and Chief Counsel to the AMA. He told the Members of Congress, “The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marihuana is a dangerous drug.”
What is amazing about that remark is not whether it’s true, but what the first response from a committee member was. He said, “Doctor, if you can’t say something good about what we are trying to do, why don’t you go home?” That’s a quote. The next Congressman added, “Doctor, if you haven’t got something better to say than that, we are sick of hearing you.”
Since Roosevelt’s election in 1932, the AMA actively opposed every single piece of New Deal legislation. The committee consisted almost entirely of New Deal Democrats who had slight regard for the AMA or anything their General Counsel might have to say.
The debate on the floor of congress lasted less than two minutes. The only Republican who asked about it was told the bill had the 100% backing of the AMA. The bill passed on an unrecorded vote.
Mr. Anslinger decided to have a big national conference on marijuana right after the bill passed. He invited 42 people, 39 of whom showed up and said they didn’t know anything about marijuana. Of the remaining three, two were from the AMA. You know their opinion. The last was the dog guy from Temple University. After the conference Anslinger hired the dog guy. He became the Official Expert for the FBN. He held the job until 1962, the last year Mr. Anslinger served as the department’s leader.
Mr. Anslinger’s testimony that marijuana caused “insanity, criminality and death” became important in a few dramatic murder trials where attorneys put up insanity defenses for their pot smoking clients. It was these trials that fixed marijuana in the minds of Americans as a deadly menace to society.
To plead insanity to murder you need to have an expert witness. The only marijuana expert at the time was the FBN’s dog guy. In his testimony he told the court that in his research he had used the drug himself. This was an admission that gave his testimony value beyond any measure. So naturally he was asked, “What happened?”
In front of the judge, the jury, and the press he replied, “After two puffs on a marijuana cigarette, I was turned into a bat.” He further testified that he flew around the room for a while and became trapped at the bottom of a two-hundred foot tall inkwell. Allowing that he may have smoked some exceptionally good, Government-grown stuff, it still made for memorable headlines.
Naturally, when the defendants testified that marijuana made them crazy, juries believed them. The defense was successful. In fact, all the marijuana insanity murder defenses were successful.
Commissioner Anslinger finally told the dog guy to stop testifying at murder trials. With no other experts the pot smoking insanity defense faded away, but marijuana’s reputation as the “killer weed” was made.
In 1947 the Commissioner got word that marijuana use was rampant among musicians. He planned to stage a big nationwide bust as soon as he had the goods on them.
However, his efforts to penetrate the Hollywood musicians union were unsuccessful. Anslinger went before Congress to plead for more agents. His own testimony ended the witch-hunt with a remark that provoked a greater response to the drug laws than any in the history of prohibition.
When he was asked who the people were who were breaking the marijuana laws he replied, “Musicians.” But plainly feeling the need to excuse a group highly esteemed by Americans he added, “And I don’t mean good musicians, I mean jazz musicians.”
Within days a tidal wave of newspaper editorials and letters to the Treasury Department hammered Mr. Anslinger’s idea of a national round up of jazz musicians into history. But the Commissioner was as determined a drug crusader as ever. He would have great success in the 50’s scaring the wits out of Americans about drugs and promoting ever more severe penalties against drug use.
The Boggs Act in 1951 and the Daniel Act in 1956 together increased penalties twelve fold for every category of drug offense. It was in testimony before Congress for the first bill that Mr. Anslinger abandoned his “criminality, insanity and death” argument against marijuana and switched smoothly to the “stepping-stone to other drugs” argument. This argument has prevailed against pot to this day. Using the same logic, we could ban anything, milk, for instance. Heroin addicts all drank milk as children therefore drinking milk is the first step to heroin addiction. Just fill in the blank for whatever you want to ban.
The states followed with little Boggs and Daniel acts, cranking up penalties for drug offenses until in many states possession of marijuana was more heavily punished than rape or murder.
Mr. Anslinger’s tenure ended at the FBN in 1962. The dog guy left that year too. By 1969 the laws were overhauled to include the tremendous increase in the variety of drugs that had come into recreational use and to reduce the penalties for marijuana possession for the first time.
Next time… the first shots in the War on Drugs, the war becomes a profitable business and the business grows and prospers.