Donald Trump and Harry J. Anslinger: Two Peas in a Pod

Like the majority of Americans, I have been dismayed and saddened by the current Republican presidential campaign, which seems totally out of touch with reality. We are all accustomed to politicians bending the truth to make themselves look good, but the current group of GOP candidates seems unhinged –paranoid and seeking to appeal to our worst instincts — totally disconnected to the world in which the rest of us live.

Led by the Donald, this early election season has consisted mostly of demagoguery: unabashed fear mongering, xenophobia, racial prejudice, misinformation and pure fabrication, offered as a substitute for a political platform. And it is especially depressing is to learn that roughly one-third of the Republican voters apparently find this message appealing. This bilge is like fast-food to many who are disillusioned or out-of-work or otherwise feel they are losing out to minorities or immigrants or other segments of society. It is not a pretty site.

His supporters seem to believe any absurd claim that Trump can find on some right-wing, conspiratorial website, or other similar unreliable sources, because it is also where many of them get their “news”; and because it reinforces their preconceived beliefs. Beliefs that President Obama was born outside the US and is therefore not eligible to be US President; that blacks in America are responsible for 81% of white homicide victims (the real number is closer to 15%, according to; that Obama is Muslim and the Obama Administration has been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood; that 911 was an inside, CIA job; and on and on. There appear to be no limits on their imaginations.

In the end, I assume the political process will find a way to weed-out these candidates to whom truth has become irrelevant, and who are more than willing to use hatred and bigotry and total lies (remember Trump’s claim about those thousands of Muslims in New Jersey who were cheering the downing of the World Trade Center) to try to advance their campaign, regardless of the damage it does to our society.

And if the Republican voters do not find a way to rid themselves of these crackpots – and cannot coalesce around a more mainstream candidate — the American public will have to finish-off Trump in the general election, which should be a cakewalk. While we surely do have some conspiracy-minded dingbats in this country, fortunately they do not comprise anywhere near a majority of the voters.

But it reminds many of us that sometimes the public debate in this country does go off the tracks, as we learned from the study of how marijuana prohibition came about in the first place. We have heard (or more accurately read), this type of irrational blather from a public figure before, and we paid an incredibly heavy price for it. Listening to Trump is like a flash-back to Harry Anslinger: tell a big lie often enough, and it will be treated (by some) as the truth.

The Absurd Justification for the Criminal Prohibition of Marijuana

The first commissioner of the Bureau of Narcotics was a man named Harry J. Anslinger, a former alcohol prohibition agent who had been appointed to head this new federal anti-drug agency, established in 1030, by his wife’s uncle, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon. To build support in Congress to make marijuana illegal in 1937, Anslinger painted a picture of marijuana as a drug that led to death and insanity, caused white women to become sexual slaves to blacks and Mexican migrant workers, and generally led to depravity and crime. And the media at the time, especially the powerful, right-wing William Randolph Hearst chain of newspapers, were largely uncritical, reporting his most fanciful allegation as fact. It was the beginning of “yellow journalism.”

Few Americans at the time had any familiarity with marijuana, and most marijuana smokers at that time were either Mexican migrant workers or jazz musicians coming out of New Orleans, and it is fair to say that neither group was held in high regard, or had the political power to resist, at the time.

Here are some quotes from Anslinger when Congress, at his request, was considering the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, a bill that passed with only a brief hearing in the House, and none in the Senate. This measure was an attempt by Anslinger to justify a bigger budget for his agency, a pattern that continues even today, when law enforcement agencies continue to support marijuana prohibition, despite its acknowledged failure as a public policy, because it provides jobs for them.

To make the case for the need to criminalize marijuana, Anslinger made the following “reefer madness” claims about the dangers of marijuana smoking:

“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….”

And he frequently cited exploitive news reports of violent crimes allegedly committed by those who had been smoking marijuana, to support his call for prohibition:

“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 crimes. 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.”

Anslinger’s campaign was based on racial prejudice, as demonstrated by the the following:

“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.”

Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act by a voice vote, leading to the arrest of nearly 30 million Americans over the next seven decades, with roughly 90% of those arrests for simple possession for personal use. Anslinger and his reckless campaign of misinformation wrecked havoc on our society, that continues still today in many states.


So as we prepare for the 2016 election cycle, let’s focus our support on candidates who respect our right to decide for ourselves whether or not to smoke marijuana; and let’s reject those demagogues who wish to impose their version of morality on the rest of us, and who seek to demonize entire religions and ban immigrants from entering the country. They are no better than Harry Anslinger was in the 1930s, and we must not go down that path again.

Let’s make sure we elect a president who will continue the Obama policy of allowing the states to adopt marijuana legalization, without federal interference. And let’s get behind those several legalization initiatives that are expected to appear on the ballot in a half-dozen states in November, and add an impressive new list of states that have discovered the advantages of taxing and regulating marijuana, instead of arresting smokers.

Let’s reject demagoguery and racism, and embrace personal freedom and inclusiveness.