About as Harmless as a Rattlesnake

Posted by Kim
Feb 07 2015

Harry J. Anslinger’s Reptilian Rant on Marijuana

Bright Green Marijuana

Given its benign history, how did cannabis aka pot become illegal?

It seems to have started with a  Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) agent named Harry J. Anslinger in 1930. Harry put much effort into making marijuana illegal in all states. In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act put cannabis under the regulation of the Drug Enforcement Agency, criminalizing possession of the plant throughout the country.

So, what happened to Harry? Why did he decide that mellow cannabis should be so maligned? This excerpt from  a transcript of Harry’s statement as Commissioner of Narcotics, Department of the Treasury, to the Ways and Means Committee shows that Harry knew a thing or two about  plant biology.

But maybe his mother wouldn’t let him go out and play until he finished his garden weeding chores and he’s resented it ever since? “The stuff grows like dandelions,” he was once known to bitterly say. Which is really such a shame because had Harry known what great digestive bitters dandelions made, perhaps he wouldn’t have been so bilious about a puff of weed.

Mr. ANSLINGER: “Mr. Chairman, 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 marihuana is increasing to such an extent that it has come to the be cause for the greatest national concern.

This drug is as old as civilization itself. Homer wrote about, as a drug that made me 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 their name from the drug called hashish which is now known in this country as marihuana. They were noted for their acts of cruelty, and the word “assassin” very aptly describes the drug.

The plant from which the drugs comes is a hardy annual, growing from 3 to 16 feet in height. Marihuana is the same as Indian hemp, hashish. It is sometimes cultivated in backyards. Over here in Maryland some of it has been found, and last fall we discovered three acres of it in the Southwest.

As I say, marihuana is the same as Indian hemp, and is sometimes found as a residual weed, and sometimes as the result of a dissemination of birdseed. It is known as cannabin, cannabis Americana, or Cannabis Sativa. Marihuana 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 countries by a variety of names.”

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

Mr. ANSLINGER: Yes, sir. There is a great deal of use of it in Egypt, particularly. It was found years ago in Egypt. The traffic has grown so that something like 14 percent of the population are addicts. In India it is sold over the counter to the addicts, direct, and there it is known as bhang and ganja.

At the Geneva Convention is 1895 the term “cannabis” included only the dried flowering or fruiting top of the pistillate plant as the plant source of the dangerous resin, from which the resin had not been extracted. That designation was used in the uniform State act. But research that has been made during the past few months 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 United States Pharmacopoeia.

So we have urged the States to revise their definition so as to include all parts of the plant, as it now seems that the seeds and portions other than the dried flowering tops contain positively dangerous substances.

We were anticipating a challenge in one of the States of that old definition. There was a case in Florida recently in which a defendant appealed to a higher court on the ground that the prosecution had not proven that this was the dried flowered top of the pistillate plant.

The higher court said:

“We are of the opinion, therefore, that the information was insufficient to clearly apprise accused of the nature and cause of the accusation against him because of the sale of cigarettes containing cannabis, from which the resin had not been extracted may relate to the resin of the staminate plant, the resin of which appears to be harmless.”

As a matter of fact the staminate leaves are about as harmless as a rattlesnake. So in this act it was necessary to make the definition all inclusive.

In medical schools, the physician-to-be is taught that without opium he would be like a one-armed man. That is true, because you cannot get along without opium.

But here we have 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.”

You can read the whole tale, from “delirious rages” to murderers high on the “merry wonder” to the ‘finger of scorn’ Harry pointed at China, in the full transcript.

Meanwhile, poor little cannabis only knows his true name and purpose, to grow like a happy little weed, smiling in the sun.

Trackback URL for this entry