As part of his effort to propagandize the so-called evils of cannabis, Narcotics Bureau chief Harry Anslinger collected crime stories that he could tie to cannabis use in his “Gore Files.” The Bureau collected case after grisly case of rape, murder, suicide and molestation that Anslinger & Co. tried to pin on cannabis.
Having files that reportedly showcased the homicidal roots of the drug, Anslinger went on to breathlessly relate tragedy after cannabis-inspired tragedy: the young girl who leaped from a window to her death after smoking, the young gang inspired to commit 38 holdups on “tea,” the janitors who peddled reefers to children. “In Alamosa, Colorado, a degenerate brutally attacked a young girl while under the influence of the drug. In Chicago, two marijuana-smoking boys murdered a policeman… An entire family was murdered by a youthful addict in Florida. When officers arrived at the home, they found the youth staggering about in a human slaughterhouse. With an axe he had killed his father, his mother, two brothers and a sister. He seemed to be in a daze.”
The examples are many. A man attempted to shoot his wife after smoking cannabis, but killed her grandmother instead, and then committed suicide. Another man, eventually sentenced to death, was driven to assault a 10-year-old girl due to the power of the plant. One of the more famous cases involved an axe murderer who butchered his entire family, prompting the Tampa Morning Tribune headline “Stop This Murderous Smoke” in 1933. According to Anslinger, “He had become crazed from smoking marijuana.”
The Bureau chief’s most famous article, though, was the 1937 propaganda piece “Marijuana: Assassin of Youth,” which was eventually made into a feature film. “A young girl lay crushed on the sidewalk,” he wrote, “[and] the killer was… marijuana.” By his description, you’d think a helicopter dropped a massive hash brick on her head. He also wrote, “How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries, and deeds of maniacal insanity [cannabis] causes each year, especially among the young, can be only conjectured. The sweeping march of its addiction has been so insidious that, in numerous communities, it thrives almost unmolested, largely because of official ignorance of its effects.” Anslinger even claimed, “Homer wrote [in the Odyssey] that it made men forget their homes and turned them into swine.”
The self-perceived Greek lit scholar also got into the etymology game suggesting that cannabis is such a violent and aggressive drug that it is responsible for the word “assassin.” Anslinger wrote, “In the year 1090, there was founded in Persia the religious and military order of the Assassins whose history is one of cruelty, barbarity, and murder, and for good reason. The members were confirmed users of hashish, or marijuana, and it is from the Arabic ‘hashshashin’ that we have the English word ‘assassin.’ Even the term ‘running amok’ relates to the drug, for the expression has been used to describe natives of the Malay Peninsula who, under the influence of hashish, engage in violent and bloody deeds."
By those etymological standards, one might suggest the medical term Asperger’s comes from the name Anslinger.
Utilizing his Gore Files and the yellow press, Anslinger helped get the Marihuana Tax Act passed in 1937, and the cannabis-related arrests started the very next day. Interestingly, New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia decided to conduct his own study on cannabis, and the researchers concluded, “Marijuana did not lead to violent, antisocial behavior, or uncontrollable sexual urges. Smoking marijuana did not alter a person’s basic personality structure… [and] does not lead to addiction in the medical sense of the word.”
An outraged Anslinger countered by promoting his own studies, like the 1945 Army medical study with a test group of 34 blacks and one white man. Newsweek quoted the doctors as saying that, after smoking marijuana, “The soldiers felt and acted like enemy aliens toward society.”
Over the years, Anslinger’s warnings that marijuana led to violent crime and sexual deviancy began to lose their impact, so he began to rely more heavily on the “gateway” theory. Originally, when asked before Congress in 1937 if pot smokers progressed into heroin or cocaine, he replied, “No, sir; I have not heard of a case of that kind. I think it is an entirely different class.” But by 1951, he was telling congressional committees, “Over 50 percent of those young [heroin] addicts started on marijuana smoking. They started there and graduated to heroin; they took the needle when the thrill of marijuana was gone."
The Bureau of Narcotics eventually became the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and even though Anslinger left the prohibition business in the early 1960s, the agency continued to fill the Gore Files with outrageous cannabis-related horror stories well in the 1970s.