Alex Berenson's book on the dangers of marijuana legalization is intended as a counter-blast to the Reefer Madness narrative. Not the narrative of the 1936 exploitation film Reefer Madness, but the 1970s counter-narrative (the movie being shown to '70s college kids) that only crazed, uptight people could see any danger in this harmless herb. What caused this anti-marijuana bigotry? White males in the Federal Government, specifically a man named Harry Anslinger:
The great villain in the story [marijuana] legalizers tell about prohibition is Harry Anslinger. Anslinger served as the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics—the predecessor of the modern Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)—from 1930 to 1962. Anslinger once wrote that:
“Addicts may often develop delirious rage during which they are temporarily and violently insane . . . this insanity may take the form of a desire for self-destruction or a persecution complex to be satisfied only by the commission of some heinous crime.” [Marijuana, Assassin of Youth, The American Magazine, July 1937, citation added.]
The marijuana lobby views Anslinger as a racist anticannabis fanatic who exaggerated the drug’s dangers to convince Congress to prohibit it.
They’re partly right.
Anslinger was openly racist, and marijuana’s association with immigrants from Mexico undoubtedly fueled the drive for prohibition.
Yet Mexico itself criminalized marijuana seventeen years before the United States, in 1920, after Mexican lawmakers became convinced the drug caused mental illness and violence. Were those lawmakers motivated by anti-Hispanic prejudice too? Advocates for legalization have been too busy mocking Anslinger to wonder if he might be right.
Because the “delirious rage” he describes sounds a lot like psychosis. And the “heinous crime” he mentions is happening far more often than anyone understands.
Later Berenson writes:
[Psychiatrist Valerie Moulin] believes marijuana’s tendency to cause violence probably occurs not only in patients with preexisting psychosis but in otherwise healthy people. “The trend is towards a major effect of cannabis use,” she wrote.
Harry Anslinger might have been a racist jerk, but eighty-five years ago, he was right about marijuana.
Query: what else was he right about?