'Marijuana has no therapeutic value, and its use is therefore always an abuse and a vice,' trumpeted Harry Anslinger, the implacable Commissioner of the US Bureau of Narcotics in 1953:
While opium can be a blessing or a curse, depending on its use, marijuana is only and always a scourge which undermines its victims and degrades them mentally, morally and physically . . . In the earliest stages of intoxication, the will power is destroyed and inhibitions and restraints are released; the moral barricades are broken down and often debauchery and sexuality result. Where mental instability is inherent, the behaviour is generally violent. An egotist will enjoy delusions of grandeur, the timid individual will suffer anxiety, and the aggressive one often will resort to acts of violence and crime. Dormant tendencies are released . . . Constant use produces an incapacity for work and a disorientation . . . often leading to insanity after prolonged use.
Anslinger's claims have been endorsed by high officials ever since. 'There is not a shred of scientific evidence that shows that smoked marijuana is useful or needed,' declared the former US drugs czar General Barry McCaffrey in 1996. 'This is not a medicine. This is a cruel hoax.' Our own Home Secretary endorsed this line after his son's arrest for a drug offence in 1997. Ann 'zero-tolerance' Widdecombe is even more opposed to it (except, it seems, when used by Shadow Cabinet colleagues and other supposedly 'educated, articulate people').
LRB 2 November 2000 | PDF Download