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August 12, 2007

Questions Never Asked... (Historical)

In the last entry I proposed using a series of book reports to connect the historical dots between today’s huge pot market and the seldom-mentioned Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. One would assume that when the product a policy is intended to eliminate becomes more valuable than any other harvested crop, the discussion of such an embarrassing development should not be placed off limits.

But one would be wrong. The relevant questions are clearly not being asked by those who should be curious. Not only is the policy still fiercely defended by the drug czar as absolutely necessary; his  insistence that without it, the nation’s drug problems would be far worse does not attract the derision it should from the drug policy “experts” teaching at vaunted institutions offering advanced degrees in Public Policy.

Nor have drug policy academics ever demonstrated  enough residual interest in poor Harry Anslinger to write even one serious biography. He was the bureaucrat for whom the FBN was originally created in 1930 and then ran it until departing abruptly in 1962, He was of pivotal importance in protecting and shaping drug prohibition as policy and also the driving force behind the MTA and the author of the 1961 Single Convention Treaty. Given those circumstances, the absence of a definitive Anslinger biography can only be understood as avoiding embarrassment: his public record is just well enough known that it would be impossible to write about him without casting enormous doubt on the legitimacy of the policy itself; and certainly,  no one wants to do that.

Fortunately, a recent study of the FBN provides us with a fairly detailed look at Anslinger, albeit from an unusual perspective.

The Strength of the Wolf  by Douglas Valentine, doesn’t deliver fully  on its subtitle’s claim to be  “The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs,” however, it is a solidly researched and generally helpful effort. Ironically, it  was clearly Valentine's ignorance of drug policy history that had originally induced him to switch his focus from the CIA to the FBN. It’s also what later keeps him from being taken seriously as a policy analyst. Although upset with the CIA’s arrogance in Viet Nam, Valentine clearly agrees with the missions of our federal police agencies and doesn’t seem to question the wisdom of making certain drugs illegal.

He switched the focus of his book after discovering that anxiety over Anslinger’s departure from the FBN and its obvious need for reorganization had led a sizeable contingent of mid-level agents to leave, often through transfers to other federal agencies, after 1962. Valentine was fortunate enough to gain the trust of a retired high-ranking FBN officer who facilitated interviews with almost fifty of his colleagues. Although generally loyal to Anslinger, and the Bureau, their willingness to share personal recollections, combine with Valentine’s curiosity to produce a more detailed picture of the effect of World War Two on modern drug markets than has previously been possible.

Also,the picture of Anslinger that emerges from his underlings’ recollections is one of an insecure mediocrity who was an effective  bureaucratic infighter and whose primary concern was protecting his Bureau. The emphasis of the FBN was on “making cases” (gaining key convictions) despite its limited budget and manpower, especially during the Depression. After World War Two, when it became clear that the goals of Narcotics enforcement would usually have to play second fiddle to the goals of the CIA, it seems that everyone eventually accepted that need, even as they chafed at having to honor it.

Once one realizes that the primary motivation of our drug prohibition bureaucracy has always been self preservation through lobbying to keep drugs illegal, its behavior should become more understandable. Likewise, once one realizes that the reform movement is beset by the same emotional needs, but is forced to compete for far less money, its behavior also becomes more understandable.

The implications are that because bureaucracies inevitably compete, those with missiions based on politically correct lies have an unfair advantage over those based on more attainable goals...

Doctor Tom


Posted by tjeffo at August 12, 2007 08:40 PM