'Harold James Anslinger'
= Healing major slanders.
After National marijuana prohibition became law in America, Commissioner Anslinger found out that a certain group of people - all of whom were identifiable by their shared occupation - were flagrantly violating the law by continuing to smoke pot. What the transgressors had in common was that they had rhythm. In fact, they included all the key geniuses of Jazz: Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Count Basie, Jimmy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton and Cab Calloway, to name a choice selection.
From the early 1930s, the Commissioner compiled a dossier that would later be known as the 'Marijuana and Musicians' file, noting each and every marijuana case involving a member of the musical fraternity. Documents from the Anslinger papers and the DEA Library in Washington DC reveal that, from 1943 to 1948, Anslinger plotted a pogrom of jazz and swing musicians, ordering all his agents throughout the USA to watch and keep criminal files on all the musicians in their areas so that they could all be rounded-up in one fell swoop.
Professor Charles Whitebread, co-author with Professor Richard Bonnie of a Legal History of marihuana in the United States, The Forbidden Fruit and the Tree of Knowledge, related the strange but true tale of Commissioner Anslinger's campaign to persecute jazz musicians in a Speech to the California Judges Association 1995 annual conference:
"On October 24, 1947, Anslinger wrote to all his agents, ordering them to 'Please prepare all cases in your jurisdiction involving musicians in violation of the marijuana laws. We will have a great National round-up arrest of all such persons on a single day. I will let you know what day.'
"The responses by the resident agents were all in the file. My
favorite - at the bottom line, there wasn't a single resident
agent who didn't have reservations about this idea - came from
the Hollywood agent. This is the exact letter of the FBN agent in
charge in Hollywood:
"Dear Commissioner Anslinger,
I have your letter of October 24. Please be advised that the
musical community here in Hollywood are unionized and very tight
we have been unable to get an informant inside it. So, at the
present time, we have no cases involving musicians in violation
of the marihuana laws."
For the next year and a half, Commissioner Anslinger got those
kinds of letters. He never acknowledged any of the problems that
the agents said they were having with this idea and always wrote
them back the same letter:
"Dear Agent so-and-so,
Glad to hear you are working hard to give effect to my
directive of October 24, 1947. We will (and he always underlined
the word 'will') have a great national round-up arrest of
musicians in violation of the marijuana laws all on a single day.
Don't worry, I will let you know what day."
This went on -- and, of course, you know that some jazz
musicians were, in fact, arrested in the late 40's -- this all
went on until it ended just the way it began -- with something
that Anslinger said. I don't see anybody in here really old
enough to appreciate this point, but Commissioner Anslinger was
testifying before a Senate Committee in 1948. He was saying,
"I need more agents." And, of course, the Senators
asked him why.
"Because there are people out there violating the
Well, you know what the Senators asked -- "Who?"
And in a moment that every Government employee should avoid
like the plague, Anslinger first said, "Musicians." But
then he looked up at that Senate committee and he gave them a
little piece of his heart and said the single line which provoked
the most response in this country's history about the non-medical
use of drugs. Anslinger gratuitously added:
"And I don't mean good
musicians; I mean jazz musicians."
Friends, there is no way to tell you what a torrent ensued.
Within 24 hours, 76 newspaper editorials slammed him, including
special editions the then booming trade press of the jazz music
industry. With three days, the Department of the Treasury had
received fifteen thousand letters. bunches of them were still in
bags when I got there -- never been opened at all. I opened a
few. Here was a typical one, and it was darling:
"Dear Commissioner Anslinger,
I applaud your efforts to rid America of the scourge of
narcotics addiction. If you are as ill-informed about that as you
are about music, however, you will never succeed."
One of the things that we had access to that really was fun
was the Commissioner's own appointment book for all of his years.
And, five days after he says "I don't mean good musicians, I
mean jazz musicians." there is a notation: 10 AM --
appointment with the Secretary of the Treasury." Well, I
don't know what happened at that appointment, but from that
appointment on, no mention is ever made again of the great
national round-up arrest of musicians in violation of the
marijuana laws all on a single day, much to the delight of the
agents who never had any heart for it in the first place."
"The worst group we had there were the jazz musicians. And I wouldn't tell you what proportion of them were marijuana users, but it was more than half. In those days."
Anslinger's closest departmental associate and probably his best friend was Dr. James Munch, a Professor of Pharmacology from Princeton whom Anslinger co-opted and promoted as the no. 1 expert on the effects of marijuana throughout the 1930s and 40s. Munch was interviewed over the 'phone in 1978 by Larry 'Ratso' Sloman, who recorded their conversation in his definitive history of marijuana in the US, Reefer Madness:
Sloman still had the talkative Dr. Munch on the phone and he was determined to get Munch's views on Anslinger's jazz musician crusade. The reporter knew that Munch was aware of the jazz scene; after all, he hung around race tracks and blew some weed himself.
"Yeah, but why would he want to go after them?" Sloman wondered.
Dr. Munch: "Because the chief effect as far as they (Anslinger, FBN) were concerned was that it lengthens the sense of time, and therefore they could get more grace beats into their music than they could if they simply followed the written copy"
Munch has completely lost Sloman, right out of the gate.
"In other words, if you're a musician, you're going to play the thing the way it's printed on a sheet. But if you're using marijuana, you're going to work in about twice as much music between the first note and the second note. That's what made jazz musicians. The idea that they could jazz things up, liven them up, you see."
Sloman felt his head spinning. He felt that he had been at the bottom of an ink
well for 200 years. With a Herculean effort he managed the next question: "So what's wrong with that? I mean, I don't see why Anslinger went after these people.?"
"They were spreading it around at sources, because they were looked up to by a good many of the teenagers as being idols."
"Oh, I see," Sloman lied.
"In other words, their example must be all right, or the jazz musicians wouldn't do it. Teen-agers, who were no different then than they are today, though that if they did it, then it was all right for us to do it. What we're trying to do is not so much to grab individual teen-agers as to go after the source from which it has been obtained. I told you that before."
"Were the musicians actively promoting the use of marijuana?"
"Not directly," Munch admitted. "At least most of them didn't. but the fact was that youngsters found out they were using, so therefore they decided that they were going to use."
"They wanted to try it, like imitation, huh?"
"Yeah. Teen-agers. Peer stuff." Munch dismissed the subject.
I've talked to some of the counsels from the old Bureau, and they thought that the marijuana thing was used as a political thing by Anslinger. In other words, to get more appropriations..."
"No," Munch protested. "He was genuinely interested in the welfare of the people. He was the same way on cocaine, he was the same way on heroin..."
"I bet he was," Sloman interrupted. "I bet he was."