The Roots of Marijuana Prohibition – Harry Anslinger and the Marihuana Tax Act


Marijuana is a slang name for Cannabis, a family of plants that includes Hemp.  Prior to 1937, Cannabis was used in numerous medications and was prescribed by Doctors.   With the exception of a few jurisdictions which had enacted legislation prohibiting the smoking of cannabis, it was legal throughout the United States.

Then in 1937, and largely through the efforts of Harry J. Anslinger, the Marihuana Tax Act was passed and cannabis became illegal, including Hemp, a plant that had been a staple agricultural crop since Colonial America.  The American Medical Association protested against this Act, but it was too late, because the proper name Cannabis was replaced by the use of the term “Marihuana”.

To verify that that the foundation of cannabis prohibition was racial bias and bigotry, one need only to look at societal norms of that era and the statements of Harry J. Anslinger during his campaign against marijuana.

In that era, there were still many injustices inflicted on blacks and other races considered “inferior” to the white man.  This was long before the Civil Rights Movement., long before Dr.  Martin Luther King’s fight for equality.  There were laws in effect against blacks stepping on a white man’s shadow.  Separate bathrooms and water fountains were required for blacks, and no riding in the front of the bus.

Harry J. Anslinger was the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).  He had also been a Deputy Director of the Bureau of Prohibition, which was made unnecessary upon the repeal of Alcohol Prohibition in 1933. Did he use racism to lobby a new Federal Government job for himself?

It is rumored that in the early days of the FBN Anslinger was asked about cannabis and he stated “The stuff grows like dandelions.  We could never eradicate it.”  Whether he made that statement or not, by 1937 he was advocating “marihuana” prohibition.

In his campaign to do so he made statements, which are well documented, that I quote below:

“Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, jazz musicians, and entertainers. Their satanic music is driven by marijuana, and marijuana smoking by white women makes them want to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and others. It is a drug that causes insanity, criminality, and death — the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”.

“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men”.

“Colored students at the University of Minnesota partying with (white) female students, smoking [marijuana] and getting their sympathy with stories of racial persecution. Result: pregnancy”.

“Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice”.

“The primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races”.

Since you are curious, rational, thinking human beings, capable of using Google, please do the same research I did to verify these quotes.  I’ll leave that to you, but I think that in the current considerations of the decriminalization of marijuana, everyone should consider all of this, especially when you consider that a marijuana arrest in Georgia is 4 times more likely to occur to a black male than a white male.