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January 12, 2011

Questions seldom asked about “Reefer Madness”

In 1937, the possession and use of cannabis were so effectively discouraged by the wording of the Marijuana Tax Act (MTA) that, for all practical purposes, it soon became effective prohibition of any amount whatsoever. Beyond a disproportionately high fine for failure to pay a small tax (for which the required stamps were never even printed) the Act also called for such tedious and intrusive record keeping as to discourage medical prescription of what had become a rarely ordered oral medicine, one already falling out of favor with Pharmaceutical companies; primarily because of their difficulty in standardizing its dosage.

The MTA was the brain-child of Harry Anslinger, the self-promoting Director of the FBN who, since his appointment in 1930, had combined his considerable bureaucratic skills with an antipathy to "addiction" to assert near-total control over a punitive American drug policy despite his obvious lack of medical expertise. From 1937 on, while Anslinger remained in charge of the FBN, "marijuana" arrests were rare. Essentially all prosecutions were at the state level during the Forties and Fifties, but thanks to his influence, the law was rigorously enforced and harsh penalties routinely imposed, especially in “Bible Belt” states.

In the Sixties, that situation began changing almost as soon as Anslinger retired (1962). Young people born during World War Two and its subsequent “Baby Boom” began entering high schools and colleges where they soon became noticed; not only for their sheer numbers, but also for their rejection of traditional norms, support for liberal causes, and experimentation with then-unfamiliar drugs. Somehow, they had even discovered the "reefer" damned by Anslinger in 1937 and were using it enthusiastically; along with some other even less familiar psychedelic agents: LSD, Psilocybin, and Peyote. That Boomer drug curiosity was triggered by a small, contentious Fifties literary movement that had became notorious for both its put-down of American consumer culture and its members' own enthusiastic drug use is obvious in retrospect, however the connection was described by only by few more perceptive observers like David Halberstam, and Tom Wolfe. That the Beat-Boomer connection has remained so unrecognized by "mainstream" media thus becomes one of several long-avoided questions about both America's drug use and its drug policy that should have been addressed long before a "drug war" could have been declared by Richard Nixon, let alone matured into a dutifully enforced UN policy failure.

1) How did such an intrinsically stupid policy ever get started?

2) How has it survived the failure of Prohibition in 1933?

3) What made inhaled cannabis ("reefer") so attractive to Baby Boomers in the Sixties?

4) Why is a "war" on drugs still global policy?

There are several other pertinent questions, but the ones listed here seem to be the ones most demanding of thoughtful answers.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at January 12, 2011 12:32 AM