How did Congress come to the conclusion that cannabis should be punished as severely as narcotics? Well, it should come as no surprise that Bureau of Narcotics kingpin Harry Anslinger was behind it. In the 1930s, the famed prohibitionist told outrageous tales about how cannabis drove people crazy and prompted them to rape, kill and pillage everything in sight. The reefer madness tales eventually lost their effect, so Anslinger prompted a shift in propaganda toward the Stepping Stone theory, a precursor to the Gateway Drug theory.
Anslinger testified before Congress in support of the Boggs Act, whose primary focus was a perceived increase in narcotic use between 1948 and 1951. During the hearing, Boggs actually questioned the inclusion of cannabis when Anslinger interrupted him to say the following: “The danger is this: Over 50 percent of those young addicts started on marijuana smoking. They started there and graduated to heroin; they took the needle when the thrill of marijuana was gone.”
Cannabis, in large part, was merely along for the ride, but Anslinger made certain it stayed in the law by introducing the Stepping Stone theory. As he explained it, most cannabis users become heroin addicts, so to curb narcotic abuse, it was necessary to include cannabis, a major cause of heroin addiction.
Anslinger also believed that longer prison terms would indeed help. He testified, “Short sentences do not deter. In districts where we get good sentences the [drug] traffic does not flourish.”