"HARRY ANSLINGER MIGHT have been a racist jerk," Alex Berenson writes in his anti-pot polemic Tell Your Children, but "he was right about marijuana." It's a bold thesis given some of the things Anslinger said about marijuana while he was running the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
In a 1934 report to a League of Nations committee, Anslinger wrote that "fifty percent of the violent crimes committed in districts occupied by Mexicans, Turks, Filipinos, Greeks, Spaniards, Latin-Americans and Negroes may be traced to the abuse of marihuana." He quoted a California police official who said the weed "gives men the lust to kill, unreasonably, without motive--for the sheer sake of murder itself."
In a 1937, Anslinger warned in The American Magazine that marijuana users "may often develop a delirious rage during which they are temporarily and violently insane," resulting in "a desire for self-destruction or a persecution complex to be satisfied only by the commission of some heinous crime." He blamed marijuana for armed robberies, "degenerate sex attacks," the random killing of an elderly bootblack, cold-blooded murders of police officers, and a rampage in which a young man hacked his entire family to death with an ax.
"How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries, and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year," Anslinger wrote, "can be only conjectured." But it was clear, he said, that "there must be constant enforcement and equally constant education against this enemy, which has a record of murder and terror running through the centuries."
That same year, as Congress was considering a marijuana ban in the guise of a tax bill, Anslinger's agency told legislators the drug "frequently leads to insanity," resulting in "revolting crimes." Anslinger testified that "in some cases one [marijuana] cigarette might develop a homicidal mania" and "all the experts agree that continued use leads to insanity."
Berenson, a novelist and former New York Times reporter, agrees with Anslinger about pretty much all of that, although he is less inclined to emphasize the ethnicity of reefer-crazed rapists and murderers. In a January Times piece, he complained that he has been "mocked as a modern-day believer in 'Reefer Madness,' the notorious 1936 movie that portrays young people descending into insanity and violence after smoking marijuana." Berenson may protest the association of his name with that piece of propaganda, but he...