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December 07, 2012

Sic Transit Gloria: Our Debt to Harry Anslinger

As “Medical Marijuana” slowly morphs into “Recreational Marijuana” before our very eyes- (apparently against the wishes of a President who was once a head himself, but now seems bent on enforcing an increasingly unpopular anti-pot law) it may be appropriate to remember our debt to another clueless federal official. I’m speaking of “The Honorable” Harry J. Anslinger, as he enjoyed being addressed in his heyday.

Harry was the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a government agency created expressly for him by his uncle Andrew (Mellon) the richest man in the whole country, and Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury.

Although it was a position well beyond Harry’s intellectual capabilities, he soon fancied himself an authority on drugs, but, as a wannabe cop, he was unfortunately fixated on punishing their use rather than understanding it. For reasons that have never been definitively clarified, his major legislative gambit was introduction of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. The MTA was a clumsy imitation of the same formula that had empowered Harry's federal career: the Harrison Act of 1914. Unfortunately for Harry’s reputation, he didn’t realize that two critical differences between them would adversely affect the judgment of history. Most importantly, the plant he chose to outlaw is actually a cornucopia of multiple complex and still-unrecognized therapeutic effects which the MTA declared completely illegal. Secondly; although the it would be endorsed by state and federal law enforcement establishments from 1937 until the mid Sixties, the sudden discovery of "reefer" by a new generation of “Baby Boomers” would quickly lead to the MTA’s nullification by the Supreme Court in 1969.

Worse yet, the MTA’s replacement by an far more malevolent law contrived by John Mitchell and Richard Nixon in 1969 would both magnify and compound the damage done by Harry’s MTA. In any case, it would not lead him to be well remembered by History; in fact, quite the opposite.

Because I often ask pot applicants if they’ve ever heard of him, I can report that as of 2012, most of the older ones have a decidedly negative image, but- somewhat surprisingly- many of the the younger ones have never even heard of him. My judgment is understandably different: I am forced to ask myself how we would ever have discovered pot’s many benefits without Harry's clueless MTA. One of the more consistent lessons of history is that- at least so far- our species has been incredibly lucky to survive its biggest cognitive errors. Hopefully, that luck will continue to hold for a while longer...

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at December 7, 2012 07:53 PM