“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others. It is a drug that causes insanity, criminality, and death – the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”
Harry Anslinger, the first head of US Federal Bureau of Narcotics, was known for hyperbole. He is probably the most influential figure in the worldwide war on drugs. He is the personification of the war.
He was also a liar, a paranoid, and a racist. He used misinformation to classify marijuana as more dangerous. When Victor Licata, a young Italian man hacked his family to death, Anslinger consulted 30 doctors to confirm the young man’s cannabis intake motivated his mass murder. Of those, all bar one said there was no correlation. So Anslinger used that one doctor to purport his indefatigable beliefs.
He thought marijuana would “lead to pacifism and communist brainwashing” and was so racist that a Pennsylvania senator called for Anslinger to be fired after referring to a black person as a “ginger-coloured n***er.” Even by the standard of the 1930s, his racism was too much for some.
The worldwide war on drugs is no longer imbued with the same explicit racism of its original defenders. But like its early incubators, they prioritise fear and neuroticism over evidence. Cannabis proscription is illustrative of this irrationality.
David Nutt, the government’s former head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said the “government is ideologically bound to the war on drugs. It ignores decades of evidence that rational policy reduces harms and will lead to new treatments of many disorders.” He was sacked as ACMD head in 2009 because he said that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol. Scientifically, he was right; but politically, his position was unpalatable.
The government ignores decades of evidence that rational policy reduces harms and will lead to new treatments of many disorders
He agrees with the new Taxpayers’ Alliance report that legalising cannabis would save the British Treasury nearly £900m. The report details the benefits such a policy would entail; the savings to police, court, NHS and prison budgets. There would also be enormous health benefits. The report cites one study from the Journal of Pharmacology that found medical cannabis legalisation caused a 42% decrease in alcohol use among New Englanders suffering from chronic pain.
The report confirms an overwhelming level of evidence within pharmacology that the criminalisation of cannabis is counterproductive. Its illegality has made the quality of cannabis worse: “The prohibition of cannabis leads to an increase in the potency of cannabis available on the street…the evidence does strongly suggest that there is a link between the use of high potency cannabis and serious mental conditions such as psychosis,” says the study. It referenced research from King’s College, London showing that in five counties and regions of the UK, 94 per cent of police seizures were high-potency skunk compared to 85 per cent in 2008 and 51 per cent in 2005.
Why has cannabis not been legalised so that the state can properly regulate the drug and make it available on prescription to treat chronic pain?
Steve Rolles, Senior Policy Analyst at Transform, a drug policy pressure group, believes politicians are scared to fight the tabloid media’s alarmism: “There are a few genuinely ideological prohibitionists in the Government ranks, but for the most part they are running scared of the dreaded Daily Mail backlash. It’s a shame as, I suspect, if they made the case from a non-cannabis using taxpayers perspective they could probably win over the more conservative audiences, and newspapers, they seem so afraid of.”
This fear of the ‘Daily Mail backlash’ drives both Conservative and Labour politicians to toe the status quo. David Nutt wrote about the phenomena last year in an article for the Times Literary Supplement, ‘Why are the British so scared of cannabis?’ He says the paper will shut down the debate by “using case examples of teenagers supposedly damaged by cannabis, in order to frighten their readership whenever a public figure tries to engage in a rational debate about relative harm.”
Our fear of cannabis results from misguided compassion. We hear the Mail’s stories about an A-Level student destined for Balliol College who took too many spliffs one night and turned into a vegetable and our emotional side rushes to condemn the poison spread by gangsters who use words like ‘choom choom’ and ‘reefer’ the way a 14-year-old girl uses the word ‘like’.
The economic case for legalising cannabis is based on strong evidence, likewise the health and moral case.
The debate cannot be hijacked by the minority of users who suffer serious side effects. The drug’s illegal status makes it harmful. Daniel Pryor, Head of Programmes at the Adam Smith Institute elucidates on this: “We’ve handed control of the market over to criminal gangs, criminalised adults for using a low-harm consumer product and punished the minority of users who do need support. Thousands of teenagers are caught up in “county lines” smuggling, violent turf wars are on our streets, cannabis users have little information on potency, and children have easy access to an unregulated drug.”
Legalising something to raise much needed Exchequer dosh is not the best reason to support the idea. But unlike Harry Anslinger’s epithets on marijuana, the economic case for legalising cannabis is based on strong evidence, likewise the health and moral case.
One final statistic; for marijuana use, one US National Institute of Health study found that there was less domestic violence among married marijuana users than married non-marijuana users. Harry Anslinger once said: “You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill the brother.”
Unlike Anslinger, let’s hope the politicians listen to the evidence rather than the embellishment.