Reefer Madness Revisited: A Critical Assessment of the Roots of U.S. Marijuana Prohibition

Michael C. Elsner, William Paterson University

Previous researchers of U.S.marijuana prohibition have relied on either the Anslinger or Mexican Hypotheses to explain the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. The Anslinger Hypothesis posits that Federal Bureau of Narcotics Director Harry Anslinger was personally responsible for the national prohibition of marijuana, and that his sense of moral outrage against marijuana became manifested as a bureaucratic crusade. The Mexican Hypothesis maintains that the FBN did not seek to initiate federal marijuana prohibition, but rather responsed to political pressure that was exerted upon it. Based on 10 years of post-doctorate archival research, the author's new Global Opportunity Theory finds that the impetus for the law, whose origins have been described as a "puzzle," rests not in domestic concerns, but in the realm of U.S. foreign policy. The research centers on the relationships of the FBN, forerunner of today's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) with the U.S. Department of State, the League of Nations, and an influential "think tank" of its day, the Foreign Policy Association. In so doing a distinction is drawn between what Becker (1963) has termed "rule making" and "rule enforcement," a distinction that seems not to be grasped by proponents of the Mexican Hypothesis.

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Updated 05/20/2006