That A-Hole on the Stamp: Harry Anslinger


June 19, 2017

Harry Anslinger sticker from Veedverks starter kit packaging

If you've purchased a Veedverks starter kit, you probably noticed this guy on the stamp holding the box closed. Few people recognize him by name, but even fewer can identify him by his portrait. His name is Harry J. Anslinger, and he is the face of marijuana prohibition in the United States and much of the world.

Harry Anslinger prohibition picturePrior to 1930, Anslinger rose to prominence in law enforcement agencies, particularly combating international drug trafficking. His career led him to position of assistant commissioner of the US Treasury's Bureau of Prohibition in 1929, towards the end of the prohibition era in the United States. The following year, his wife's uncle appointed him to the founding commissioner of the Treasury's Federal Bureau of Narcotics.  

Prior to the end of alcohol prohibition, Anslinger had claimed that cannabis was not a problem, did not harm people, and “there is no more absurd fallacy” than the idea it makes people violent. As the first drug czar, he changed his position, not due to objective evidence, but due to the obsolescence of the Department of Prohibition he headed when alcohol prohibition ceased. He needed something new to prohibit.

Marihuana Assassin of Youth posterIn 1935, Anslinger launched a nationwide media campaign declaring that marijuana causes temporary insanity. The advertisements featured young people smoking marijuana and then behaving recklessly, committing crimes, killing themselves and others, or dying from marijuana use. The infamous Reefer Madness was produced by a French director in 1936.

Anslinger’s propaganda campaign was a huge success, resulting in Congress passing the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. The statute effectively criminalized cannabis, and it set the precedence for the US drug policy for decades to come.  

Anslinger served out the rest of his career as a government hack, retiring from the Kennedy Administration in 1962.

Some Anslinger zingers:

  • "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 usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others."
  • "Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men's shadows and look at a white woman twice."
  • "Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men."
  • "The primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races."
  • "Marihuana is the most violent drug in the history of mankind."
  • "You smoke a joint and you're likely to kill your brother."

Oh, Harry...