The War on Drugs has raged in America since the 70’s and the charge has been led by a brigade of public figures, but few have made such a dramatic and devastating impact on the cannabis community as Henry Anslinger. As support for legalization grows across the country more and more people are learning the real history behind the prohibition, what contributed to one of the most popular plants in the world being classified as a schedule one substance, and who played central roles in this downward spiral to prohibition.
Born on May 20, 1892, Henry Jacob Anslinger was the child of European immigrants and began his early adult life as a simple man working for the Pennsylvania Railroads while attending college for business and engineering. But his career would grow beyond what many of early colleagues would presume. After becoming captain of the railroad police, Anslinger's career grew outside of the railroad company and he began his path toward toward working with the military and ultimately the United States government.
Anslinger was appointed head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, formed by former president Franklin D Roosevelt, What is often understated is that before becoming head of the new FBN (which would later go on to become the modern Drug Enforcement Agency or “DEA”) Anslinger had been placed as the head of the Department of Prohibition, which was due to be dissolved after the end of the Liquor Prohibition. Prior to this series of events, Anslinger never opposed cannabis consumption or cultivation prior to the alcohol prohibition and even publicly stated that the notion that cannabis increases violence or violent behaviors was an “absurd fallacy”.
His public stance changed abruptly however, as his position and department were made obsolete with no ongoing prohibition. In frenzy Anslinger began collecting “reports” of crimes that were supposedly caused by cannabis consumption and compiled a series of reports which filtered out the opinions and findings of various law enforcement and medical sources. This pet project helped Anslinger to clinch the position of head of the new FBN, and continue on to create on of the most fabricated, smear campaigns against cannabis that has ever existed. The project ultimately resulted in the “Gore Files”, a series of over 200 “violent crimes” across America that occurred as a “result” of cannabis consumption. Most of the stories we today know were either falsified, fabricated, or were actually the results of other factors (such as severe mental illness).
As studies and reports were released to contradict the nonsense of Anslinger’s Gore Files, his professional reputation began to decline. His combined revealed falsifications and an attempt to halt AMA’s Joint Report on Narcotic Addiction from being released were the final declines. This conflict with the American Medical Association is often credited with having ended the commissioner’s career, and in 1962 at the age of 70 Anslinger resigned from office. He died of a heart attack in November of 1975. Sadly Anslinger suffered vision and prostate complications prior to his death, and ironically the pain of both conditions could have been eased by cannabis.