By February 13, 2016 16 Comments Read More →

Why Is Marijuana Banned? The Real Reasons Are Worse Than You Think

Cannabis Marijuana Pot BustJohann Hari, The Influence
Waking Times

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Influence, and is reprinted here with permission.

Across the world, more and more people are asking: Why is marijuana banned? Why are people still sent to prison for using or selling it?

Most of us assume it’s because someone, somewhere sat down with the scientific evidence, and figured out that cannabis is more harmful than other drugs we use all the time—like alcohol and cigarettes.

Somebody worked it all out, in our best interest.

But when I started to go through the official archives—researching my book Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugsto find out why cannabis was banned back in the 1930s, I discovered that’s not what happened.

Not at all.

In 1929, a man called Harry Anslinger was put in charge of the Department of Prohibition in Washington DC. But alcohol prohibition had been a disaster. Gangsters had taken over whole neighborhoods. Alcohol—controlled by criminals—had become even more poisonous.

So alcohol prohibition finally ended–and Harry Anslinger was afraid. He found himself in charge of a huge government department, with nothing for it to do. Up until then, he had said that cannabis was not a problem. It doesn’t harm people, he explained, and “there is no more absurd fallacy” than the idea it makes people violent.

But then—suddenly, when his department needed a new purpose—he announced he had changed his mind.

He explained to the public what would happen if you smoked cannabis.

First, you will fall into “a delirious rage.” Then you will be gripped by “dreams… of an erotic character.” Then you will “lose the power of connected thought.” Finally, you will reach the inevitable end-point: “Insanity.”

Marijuana turns man into a wild beast. If marijuana bumped into Frankenstein’s monster on the stairs, Anslinger warned, the monster would drop dead of fright.

Victor Lacata

Victor Lacata

Harry Anslinger became obsessed with one case in particular. In Florida, a boy called Victor Lacata hacked his family to death with an axe. Anslinger explained to America: This is what will happen when you smoke “the demon weed.” The case became notorious. The parents of the US were terrified.

What evidence did Harry Anslinger have? It turns out at this time he wrote to the 30 leading scientists on this subject, asking if cannabis was dangerous, and if there should be a ban.

Twenty-nine wrote back and said no.

Anslinger picked out the one scientist who said yes, and presented him to the world. The press—obsessed with Victor Lacata’s axe—cheered them on.

In a panic that gripped America, marijuana was banned. The US told other countries they had to do the same. Many countries said it was a dumb idea, and refused to do it. For example, Mexico decided their drug policy should be run by doctors. Their medical advice was that cannabis didn’t cause these problems, and they refused to ban it. The US was furious. Anslinger ordered them to fall into line. The Mexicans held out—until, in the end, the US cut off the supply of all legal painkillers to Mexico. People started to die in agony in their hospitals. So with regret, Mexico sacked the doctor—and launched its own drug war.

But at home, questions were being asked. A leading American doctor called Michael Ball wrote to Harry Anslinger, puzzled. He explained he had used cannabis as a medical student, and it had only made him sleepy. Maybe cannabis does drive a small number of people crazy, he said—but we need to fund some scientific studies to find out.

Anslinger wrote back firmly. “The marihuana evil can no longer be temporized with,” he explained, and he would fund no independent science. Then, or ever.

For years, doctors kept approaching him with evidence he was wrong, and he began to snap, telling them they were “treading on dangerous ground” and should watch their mouths.

Today, most of the world is still living with the ban on cannabis that Harry Anslinger introduced, in the nation-wide panic that followed Victor Lacata’s killing spree.

But here’s the catch. Years later, somebody went and looked at the psychiatric files for Victor Lacata.

It turns out there’s no evidence he ever used cannabis.

He had a lot of mental illness in his family. They had been told a year before he needed to be institutionalized—but they refused. His psychiatrists never even mentioned marijuana in connection to him.

So, does cannabis make people mad?

The former chief advisor on drugs to the British government, David Nutt, explains—if cannabis causes psychosis in a straightforward way, then it would show in a straightforward way.

When cannabis use goes up, psychosis will go up. And when cannabis use goes down psychosis will go down.

So does that happen? We have a lot of data from a lot of countries. And it turns out it doesn’t. For example, in Britain, cannabis use has increased by a factor of about 40 since the 1960s. And rates of psychosis? They have remained steady.

In fact, the scientific evidence suggests cannabis is safer than alcohol. Alcohol kills 40,000 people every year in the US. Cannabis kills nobody—although Willie Nelson says a friend of his did once die when a bale of cannabis fell on his head.

This is why, in 2006, a young man in Colorado called Mason Tvert issued a challenge to the then-mayor of Denver and eventual governor, John Hickenlooper. Hickenlooper owned brew-pubs selling alcohol across the state, and it made him rich. But he said cannabis was harmful and had to be banned. So Mason issued him a challenge—to a duel. You bring a crate of booze. I’ll bring a pack of joints. For every hit of booze you take, I’ll take a hit of cannabis. We’ll see who dies first.

It was the ultimate High Noon.

Mason went on to lead the campaign to legalize cannabis in his state. His fellow citizens voted to do it—by 55 %. Now adults can buy cannabis legally, in licensed stores, where they are taxed—and the money is used to build schools. After a year and a half of seeing this system in practice, support for legalization has risen to 69 %. And even Governor Hickenlooper has started calling it “common sense.”

Oh—and Colorado hasn’t been filled with people hacking their families to death yet.

Isn’t it time we listened to the science—and finally put away Victor Lacata’s axe?

About the Author

Johann Hari is a British journalist and author. This article is adapted from his New York Times best-sellling book Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. To find out why Glenn Greenwald, Noam Chomsky, Bill Maher, Naomi Klein and Elton John have all praised it, click here.

Correction: This post has been updated to clarify that John Hickenlooper was the mayor of Denver in 2006. He became governor of Colorado in 2011.

**This article is re-printed here with permission from The Influence, a site covering the full spectrum of human relationships with drugs. Follow them on Facebook and on Twitter.**

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  • zanzara

    And do not forget that DuPont, who made nylon, did not like the many uses of the canabis plant as basis for fibre, cheaper, natural and easier to produce. This trio, Hearst, DuPont and Anslinger, lobbied hard and made canabis the present problem.!

  • Ty Caulfield

    Sorry but you left out the entire link between hearst and his newspapers which if they used hemp instead of wood, would hurt his pulp business. The whole thing is ugly and rooted in, guess what? US corporate greed.

  • Kimberly

    There’s a pharmaceutical company that’s been trying to make a drug that mimics marijuana. That should tell you what they really think about it. Irony is their drug has killed people. Hence the state of medicine today.

  • L Garou

    Victor’s mug shot looks like he’s taking legal SSRI psychotropic drugs.

  • Badger Badgerism


  • Rick

    Anslinger used the race card depicting 100,000 pot heads comprised mostly from the “degenerate” races,such as the Negroes,Mexicans,and Chinese(Blacks,Hispanic and Asian). And the 1937 all white Congressional panel agreed to ban it.

  • Nofearorfavor

    The heist and betrayal of humankind by the few controlling us all … then coffee is poison and again a year later toted as harmless and even good to enjoy! Global market manipulation based on falsehoods — bankrupting small enterprise, the backbone of all nations’ economies — through what is nothing but hostile takeovers by global Big Corps, all based on greed and profits dripping blood. Cannabis has been used in Africa and in the East for multi millennia, both for its unique and highly valued medicinal properties and purposes of recreation.

  • Nick Smegg

    How do we know that Johann Hari didn’t just make this up?

    • woodyhaze

      Its called Google , try it sometime.

      • Nick Smegg

        If you use that search engine you will find that Hari was disgraced in 2011 when it was revealed that he had made up the content of many o fhis articles (written for the Independent).

        • Without going into particular detail here, I see that when anyone steps out of line with regard to a manipulative and deceitful agenda of those in positions of power and trust – they meet various strategies to shut them up, buy them off or discredit and invalidate them. If you are aware of this you grow a sense of never allowing any surface appearances to make your mind up for you – and leaving it open while you discover and discern the truth insofar as it is your desire and integrity to do so.

          The lure of judging others is the appeal to join in hate – and a sense of self-righteous superiority and self-specialness – as if we now have ammunition and the power to fire it off or an immunity and a power to block incoming information. Like a well trained dog.

    • straight shooter

      See my post above–the article is quite correct.

  • Robin Raven

    Very enlightening! Thank you.

  • Anonymousee

    I read many years ago that Wm Randolph Hearst was the force behind the removal & prohibition of all hemp in the US. This was due to his newspapers need for print stock, and the use of wood pulp as opposed to the much more widely available hemp. I think up until that time, hemp was very widely used everywhere, including the US Navy for ropes & such. Only through prohibition could he achieve his desired results.

    • Paschn

      Before the Wall Street boys had their Judas Class in D.C. begin prohibition, farmers used to create alcohol to run their machinery. As autos caught on they began selling to motorists as well. Prohibition ended all that and so began the rush to gas stations to buy petroleum from tribal owned oil companies. You know, the “fossil fuel” that isn’t a fossil fuel? Henry Ford not only built an automobile from Hemp, he produced the fuel to run it from hemp. Guess what sewer nation’s government holds the patent on medical cannabis? If you said Israel’s western most colony you’d be correct! Now, their biggest export is terrorism and Central Banks. You seriously didn’t think 800 combat ready military bases in +/- 130 smaller/weaker nations was due to the McCains, Bidens, wall streets DEEP love for their fellow man did you? Ahh yes, the exceptional/honorable U.S.

  • Barking Shark

    Typical trend in the world, you want to earn money? demonize something and then hunt it down yourself with a “cure” or “solution” you have created yourself, if you can make people fear the subject then the people will help you with the job, thinking they are doing a good job and working for a good and righteous cause while you collect all the cash and fame or whatever you can gain from the whole ordeal.

    Gets even worse when stuff like this goes on into future generations, adults telling their children that the stuff is bad because they themselves where told its bad, create a problem, create a solution to the problem and put a price tag on the solution and the money will roll in, atleast until people start questioning and start doing research themselves on the whole thing, you could threaten and perhaps eliminate a couple of the snooping people, but a lie is a lie and eventually the truth will come out whether you like it or not.

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