In the world of U.S. Commissioner of Narcotics H J Anslinger, the drug addict is an “immoral, vicious, social leper,” who cannot escape responsibility for his actions, who must feel the force of swift, impartial punishment. This world of Anslinger does not belong to him alone. Bequeathed to all of us, it vibrates with the consciousness of twentieth-century America. Anslinger, however, has been its guardian. As America’s first and only Commissioner of Narcotics, he has spent much of hls lifetime insuring that society stamp its retribution in to the soul of the addict.
In his thirty years as Commissioner (Anslinger is now sixty-seven), he has listened to a chorus of steady praise. Admirers have described him as “the greatest living authority on the world narcotics traffic,” a man who “deserves a medal of honor for his advanced thought,” “one of the greatest men that ever lived,” a public servant whose work “will insure his place in history with men such as Jenner, Pasteur, Semmelweiss, Walter Reed, Paul Ehrlich, and the host of other conquerors of scourges that have plagued the human race.” But some discordant notes, especially in recent years, have broken through this chorus. Critics—mostly social workers, doctors, lawyers and judges—have cried, often out of their frustration, that Anslinger is a despot, a terrifier of doctors, a bureaucrat single-handedly preventing medicine from ministering to the sick, aimless addict.
These critical views reflect the philosophy expressed in The Nation in 1956 and 1957 by Alfred R. Lindesmith, Professor of Sociology at Indiana University. "The addict belongs in the hospital, not in the prison," Lindesmith wrote. "If we recognize that punishment cannot cure disease, if we want to take the profit out of the illicit traffic, we need to return the drug user to the care of the medical profession—the only profession equipped to deal with him." ("Traffic in Dope Medical Problem," April 21, 1956). Lindesmith said the country’s stringent narcotic laws stem from “conceptions of justice and penology which can only be adequately described as medieval and sadistic." (“Dope: Congress Encourages the Traffic," March 16, 1957).
Anslinger has replied to such critics with more scorn than argument. Confronted with a recent medical proposal to set up government clinics where doctors would treat addicts and, in some cases, allow them to continue their drug diet, the Commissioner announced: “The plan is so simple that only a simpleton could think it up.” When this plan began earning support from influential men within the American Bar Association, the Commissioner answered their logic by telling a national radio audience. “Certainly the ABA should have hired a lawyer to read the laws and find out what it is all about.” Warming up to the debate in an issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, he added his clinching argument: “Following the line of thinking of the ‘clinic plan’ advocates to a logical conclusion, there would be no objection to the state setting aside a building where on the first floor there would be a bar for alcoholics, on the second floor licensed prostitution, with the third floor set aside for sexual deviates and, crowning them all, on the top floor a drug-dispensing station for addicts."
A Pennsylvania Dutchman, Harry J Anslinger was born in Altoona on May 20, 1892. It was the era of unlimited traffic in narcotics. Cigarette smoking irritated public morals more than did opium eating (to shush their babies, mothers bought 750,000 bottles of opium-laced syrup a year). Drug manufacturers mixed laudanum, heroin and cocaine into their tonics and pain-killers. “The more you drink," one tonic advertised, “the more you want.” The fashionable bought gold hypodermic needles, studded with diamonds.
By 1914, when Anslinger was a student at Pennsylvania State College, the New York Sun estimated that 4.45 percent of the population was addicted to narcotics. “Cocaine and its allied intoxicants…,” the New York World said, “are seemingly cheaper than whiskey, cheaper than beer….” Time and again, reformers lashed out at doctors for dispensing drugs too freely, for eliminating diagnosis as well as pain in the single stab of a needle. The magazines of the period coupled concern for addiction with concern for alcoholism, and the same forces that created Prohibition devised the Harrison Act of 1914, which clamped federal controls on narcotics use and sale for the first time.
During these years and the decade that followed, Anslinger’s activities hardly touched the narcotics problem. At the start of World War I, he joined the Efficiency Board of the War Department’s Ordnance Division and, by the close of the war, had advanced to the post of attaché in the American Legion at The Hague, Netherlands. He continued in foreign service until 1926, serving in consular posts at Hamburg, Germany; La Guaira, Venezuela; and Nassau, Bahamas.
As Consul in Nassau, he negotiated an agreement with Britain to halt a fleet of rum-running schooners heading for the high seas. The agreement plugged one hole in the defense against Prohibition smuggling, and the federal government soon promoted Anslinger to Washington’s chief of the Division of Foreign Control in the Prohibition Bureau of the Treasury Department. Three years later, in 1923, he rose to Assistant Commissioner of Prohibition. Three months later, in early 1930, a scandal rocked his bureau.
In New York, a federal grand jury investigating narcotics, which then came under the jurisdiction of the Prohibition Bureau, accused narcotics agents of falsifying their reports on orders from superiors in Washington. The agents had padded their records by copying the New York police files. The padding, which amounted to 354 extra cases in 1929, had been done on orders from William C. Blanchard, Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Prohibition in Charge of Narcotics, who claimed he had acted on orders from his superior, Col. L. G. Nutt, the Deputy Commissioner. The grand jury said it found strong indications of collusion between federal narcotics officials and illegal sellers. The padding obviously had been intended to hide the bureau’s poor record of arrests.
The Prohibition Bureau quickly reorganized itself. Nutt was demoted to field supervisor. Assistant Commissioner Anslinger, unassociated with narcotics and free of scandal, assumed Nutt’s duties temporarily. Congress, however, decided that more than reorganization was needed and passed a bill transferring narcotics control from the Prohibition Bureau to a new Bureau of Narcotics in the Treasury Department. President Hoover signed the bill on June 14, 1930, and appointed Anslinger to the new position of Commissioner of Narcotics on August 12.
By then, federal policy in narcotics had been set. The courts had approved the Constitutionality of the Harrison Act, and bureaucrats, fired by Prohibition zeal, had plucked from the medical profession any responsibility for treatment of the addicts who had lost their legal source of supply. Narcotics had become a police problem, not a medical one, and Anslinger accepted the task of making sure it stayed that way. Working tirelessly under four Presidents, never wavering from his early mission, he has succeeded. In the United States, unlike almost every other Western nation narcotics remains a police problem.
Throughout his tenure, Anslinger has proclaimed that “strong laws, good enforcement, stiff sentences and a proper hospitalization program” are the weapons needed to destroy narcotics addiction. On its surface, this program seems intelligent and compassionate; it implies that sick men must be treated and that evil men, who prey on the sick by selling them drugs, must be punished.
But the Commissioner has a different concept in mind. He is less concerned with treating the addict than with removing the “leper” from society. In a recent article, he wrote: "It is essential…to remove the addict from circulation, either by a compulsory-treatment law or a law similar to that now in effect in the State of New Jersey.” He then described the New Jersey law, under which “any person who uses a narcotic drug for any purpose other than treatment of sickness or injury…is an addict and may be sentenced to a year in jai1.” In The Traffic in Narcotics (1953), a book he wrote with former U.S. Attorney William F. Tompkins of New Jersey, Anslinger cites with approval a recommendation that any addict committed to an institution three times under a compulsory-hospitalization plan should be incarcerated there for life. This proposal has received the Commissioner’s approval despite psychological evidence that a final cure for addiction is rarely obtained without several relapses.
It is also clear that under Anslinger’s hospitalization program, treatment centers would be open only to addicts who had broken no laws other than those forbidding the use of drugs. The impoverished addict, who jimmied open cars and shops to steal enough to pay the fantastic prices for illegal drugs, would head for jail and the cruel, cold-turkey treatment. So would the miserable, addicted pusher, who sold capsules to other victims to support his own habit.
Although many critics deplore Anslinger’s attitude toward the addict, few disparage his zealous efforts to wipe out the illegal traffic. One has described him as an honest, hard-working cop. In Who Live in Shadow (1959), a book written with Sara Harris, Chief Magistrate John M. Murtagh of New York takes time out from his attack on Anslinger to salute the Federal Bureau’s "vigorous fight against smugglers.” No matter how much they agitate for a change in government policy, critics do not want to return to the days when narcotics could be bought freely at the corner drugstore.
Yet Anslinger’s police methods have disturbed some observers. Judge Dawd Bazelon of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, for example, has attacked the Federal Bureau’s dependence on informers. “It is notorious,” he says in last year’s Anderson Jones decision, “that the narcotics informer is often himself involved in the narcotics traffic and is often paid for his information in cash, narcotics, immunity from prosecution, or lenient punishment…. Under such stimulation it is to be expected that the informer will not infrequently reach for shadowy leads, or even seek to incriminate the innocent.” In New York last March, U.S. District Judge Edward Weinfeld acquitted a defendant who had been enticed into addiction by an informer for the Bureau of Narcotics. The judge said the defendant’s participation in the crime “was a creation of the productivity of law-enforcement officers."
Although the bureau has been untainted by any significant scandal in its thirty-year history, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Wadden, Jr., discovered in 1952 that a janitor had been stealing cocaine and marijuana from the Treasury Department’s narcotics stocks and supplying them to peddlers in Washington. Anslinger reacted, according to Wadden, by obstructing the investigation. “While we were preparing our indictments," Wadden wrote in a Saturday Evening Post article, “Commissioner Anslinger made pub1ic statements which tended to disparage our claims... The bureau could see no reason for all the fuss.” Wadden attempted to link the janitor with some of the big traffickers in the capital, but, according to the prosecutor, Anslinger, accompanied by the press, personally led a siren screeching raid that netted a host of small operators and upset Wadden’s plans. The former Assistant U.S. Attorney wrote that he then dismissed pending indictments against three important operators, and an angry grand jury issued a report accusing the Bureau of Narcotics of negligence in the case.
Nevertheless, Anslinger’s record as a law-enforcement officer may be far from a poor one. He has carried out the federal narcotics laws as honestly and effectively as possible, with no more scandal or disregard for rights than some of the country’s best police forces have shown. But he has not been content with being an honest, hard-working cop. He has assumed the responsibility for influencing laws and policies as well as enforcing them. And, in this area, his methods have evoked severe and sometimes bitter criticism.
To prove that stiff laws hold down addiction, the Commissioner has grown fond of displaying charts and statistics. His most frequently quoted statistic puts the total number of addicts in the United States at 60,000, perhaps 50,000. He bases this figure on the specific number of addicts reported to the bureau by police agencies throughout the country. As of Dec 31, 1958, they had reported 46,266 addicts. He brushes aside any contention that many addicts have evaded the police. “Within two years, “he said on NBC’s Monitor radio show last July, “every addict, rich or poor, comes to our attention.” Yet in 1954, a Citizen’s Advisory Committee reported to the California General Attorney that there were 20,000 illegal addicts in California alone. At that time, the bureau had enumerated 893 addicts in California; its latest tabulation for the state stands at 6,214.
Anslinger’s pet statistics involve the situation in Ohio. In his annual report for 1958, he prepared a chart entitled, “Results of Effective Legislation on Drug Addiction in Ohio.” The chart, noting that the state had adopted its stiff narcotics law in September, 1955, employs graphic bars to show that although Ohio reported more than 300 new addicts in both 1954 and 1955, it reported fewer than one hundred in each of the three following years. In 1958, only thirty-eight were reported. “Continued enforcement of the twenty-three year minimum penalty for unlawful sale of narcotics provided in the narcotics law adopted by the Legislature of Ohio in 1955 has virtually eliminated the illicit narcotics traffic in that state,” his report notes.
But another factor may have contributed to the dramatic drop in reported addiction heavy penalties often discourage juries from convicting defendants. A survey of Missouri’s experience sheds some light on the meaning of Ohio’s statistics.
In recent years, Anslinger has been offering Missouri’s statistics as further proof that long jail sentences do the job. In his 1958 report, he cites the “salutary effects” of heavy penalties and strict enforcement in that state. The House Appropriations Committee received a pictorial chart from him last year showing a giant human figure depicting the state’s new addicts in 1956 and a dwarfish one depicting new addicts in 1958. Missouri itself, however, was not impressed. The legislature changed the state law a few months after Anslinger had handed the chart to the committee. The new law reduced the penalties for first conviction of possession of narcotics from a minimum two-year term with no probation to a maximum one-year term with probation permitted. “We found that juries simply would not send a man up for two years on the strength of a marijuana cigarette found in his possession,” Circuit Attorney Thomas F. Eagleton of St. Louis explained. "It was also felt that a minor narcotics offender, convicted for the first time, was as much entitled to ask for probation as a first-time burglar.”
After this scrambling of his neat statistics, Anslinger retaliated by cutting his force in Missouri from seven to three men. “Apparently they feel they haven’t got a problem,” Anslinger’s assistant, Henry Giordano, said of the legislators. “We do have problems elsewhere and need men, so we’re moving them.”
The Missouri incident marked the rare occasion when an agency of any government has questioned the authority or wisdom of Anslinger. Congress rarely questions either. While testifying on Capitol Hill, as he often does, the Commissioner has a persuasive manner. A stocky, completely bald man with a kind and gentle face, he speaks smoothly and reasonably. In 1956, the reports of the House Subcommittee on Narcotics and the Senate Judiciary Committee leaned heavily on his philosophy. So did the report of the President’s Interdepartmental Committee on Narcotics that year. The results were new federal laws do stringent that they set a two-to-ten-year sentence for persons convicted of possessing narcotics for the first time, refused to allow suspended sentences and probation in many cases, and permitted the death penalty for any adult, addicted or not, who sold narcotics to anyone under eighteen.
While guiding Congress to one point of view, Anslinger also has helped generate an atmosphere which inhibits objective thinking on the subject. In 1958, the Joint Committee of the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association on Narcotic Drugs, impressed with how little is known about the addict and how little is done to cure him, issued a report that called for more research. In its most controversial section, the report suggested “that the possibilities of trying some such out-patient facility [where doctors would treat addicts and, in some cases, administer drugs to them] on a controlled experimental basis, should be explored.” The committee hoped such a clinic would cut down crime by providing a legal source of drugs to addicts under treatment. Anslinger quickly organized his own Advisory Committee, which issued a 186-page report on the ABA-AMA report.
A remarkable document, cluttered with capital letters, boldface type, italics and exclamation marks, the Advisory Committee report uses every argument conceivable, even when they are contradictory, to belittle the ABA-AMA report. It is filled with repetitions, misquotations and scorn, and resembles a screech more than an argument. On several issues, Anslinger’s group makes intelligent, critical points, but these are made so loudly they are hard to hear. The whole tenor of the document indicates Anslinger does not want to win the discussion as much as he wants to eliminate it.
This atmosphere apparently has persuaded the ABA-AMA committee to mark time and wait for Anslinger’s retirement before trying to have its recommendations accepted either by their parent organization or by the federal government. Other critics of federal policy also believe that the retirement of Anslinger will herald a new era in government attitude toward addicts. "There is only one way to start reform, "Chief Magistrate Murtagh writes, "—retire Commissioner Anslinger and replace him with a distinguished public-health administrator of vision and perception and, above all, heart." Will his retirement mean a new era?
Anslinger has not been a single force legislating and enforcing narcotics laws all by himself. He has reflected an imbedded American distaste toward people who have grown ill because of a seeming lack of will, and he has struck a responsive chord within both Congress and the public. Although persuasive and hard-working, he could never have pushed through his policies if they had not conformed with the public disposition. When he retires, it may be that a man of different attitudes and philosophy will take his place. But his successor also may be another Anslinger. After thirty years in office, there is enough public reverence for Anslinger to carry his philosophy, and all it represents, beyond his retirement.