War on Drugs

What Is The Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs?

First, let's get some basics out of the way...

Who is Harry J. Anslinger?

Harry Jacob Anslinger was born on May 20, 1892, in Altoona, PA.  He attended Pennsylvania State College from 1913 to 1915 and received his LL. B. degree from the American University in the year 1930.  Anslinger served in the U.S. Government from 1918 to 1963 under nine different Presidents.

In his career, he held consular posts in the countries of Netherlands, Germany, Venezuela, and the Bahamas between 1918 and 1926; Treasury Department and Chief of Division of Foreign Control between 1926 and 1929; Assistant Commissioner of Prohibition between the years 1929 and 1930; and Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs between the years 1930 and 1963.

Henry J. Anslinger

He was the U.S. representative at the League of Nations conferences held on narcotics, and also served on the United Nations Narcotic Drugs Commission.

Federal Bureau Of Narcotics History

Harry J. Anslinger has been justifiably criticized for being an aggressive propagandist with a flair for generalizing and demonizing the immigrants and racial groups in America.

Anslinger is perhaps best known for his zealous pursuit of imposing harsh drug penalties on his fellow Americans, as well as his particularly strident antipathy for marijuana users with brown skin.

Following the Czar’s new commission, he continued to make the case for increased funding for the FBNDD, and it was Anslinger’s idea to push propaganda demonizing cannabis calling it “evil weed” and “reefer madness”.

He was responsible for introducing the term “marijuana” to the American public which was a term then used by Mexican migrant farmworkers who including African Americans were accused as responsible for the scourge.


Federal Bureau Of Narcotics: Anslinger

The prohibitionist nature of Anslinger’s drug policy has led to the carceral state that we have become today, and as the hundred year Drug War‘ continues to grow there has never been a better time to share and evaluate Henry Anslinger’s political, social, and cultural legacy.  Both recreational and medical uses of drugs including cannabis, opium, and cocaine were fairly popular in the 19th century and prior to Anslinger’s reign.

The Federal Government was not involved in regulating or restricting their use and distribution.

This was a time when there were no ‘agencies‘ under our ever-expanding Federal Government that wanted to control the pharmaceutical and medical practices through regulation.

Who is Harry Anslinger

Doctors would independently prescribe morphine and cocaine as a treatment for pain.  Although attempts were made to establish Federal control over drugs they were met with a strong opposition from the patent medicine firms and the state officials who knew the power play that the Feds were up to and defended what they agreed to be their constituents’ constitutional rights.

What does the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act have to do with any of it?

In order to get around our early libertarians’ efforts, the Federal government’s desire to control the use of drugs began to take a more definitive form by the early 20th century through the fine art of taxation.  Among other things, the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 made it mandatory for manufacturers, importers, and the distributors of cocaine and opium to be registered with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, pay a special tax on these drugs and also keep records for each transaction.


The Harrison Act authorized the practitioners to prescribe cocaine and opiates; however, the law was somehow subject to interpretation by the enforcing authorities.

The U.S. Department of Treasury viewed patient drug maintenance with the aid of these substances as being beyond medical scope, and this resulted in many physicians being arrested, jailed, and prosecuted.

Under the authority of the Harrison Act, the Internal Revenue Bureau’s Narcotic Division closed down city and state narcotic clinics and also sent the drug violators to federal penitentiaries.

And logically, this resulted in the physicians stopping their prescription of drugs that were covered under the Harrison Act, ultimately sending the users to the black market to seek out these substances.

Ironically, the enforcement agents were referred to as “narcs”, arguably first use of the current and familiar colloquialism.

And then came the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937

During the 1920s, narcotic enforcement was closely tied to alcohol prohibition enforcement.  In 1930, Prohibition enforcement was transferred to the Department of Justice whereas a standalone federal agency, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, was established within the Treasury to handle narcotic enforcement.

Enter Henry J. Anslinger, appointed as the first chief of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, continued to serve at this level until the year 1963 when he retired.   He enjoyed tremendous clout and was instrumental in shaping America’s drug policy which also influenced other countries – especially some of the developing countries, who were framing their own drug policies and seeking their own revenue streams from legally created rackets.


During alcohol prohibition, a long-used recreational drug called marijuana by Mexicans (or Indian Hemp as it was called by the gringos) suddenly became unpopular with law enforcement, especially in the southwestern United States.

Henry Anslinger was the first public figure to demonize cannabis and became a vehement opponent of the drug.  He was instrumental in having it banned and directed strict enforcement policies laid against its production, sale, and consumption.

Enforcement Changes

The enforcement of drug laws was mainly the responsibility of the local police and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics under Henry Anslinger.  Taking queues from J. Edgar Hoover and Elliott Ness’ publicity tactics, he would occasionally assist with the enforcement effort by busting impoverished migrant farmworkers and African-American musicians.

Nevertheless, ever increasing publicity campaigns and warnings of the dangers of consuming narcotics (marijuana in particular) became primary methods of drug control for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

Seeking Federal control of uniform narcotic laws, Commissioner Henry J. Anslinger made impassioned personal appeals to civic groups and eager legislators.  He then pushed for, and subsequently received, editorial support from the Press.  Many newspapers of the era maintained a steady stream of propaganda against marijuana which continued throughout the 1930’s.



From the 1930’s to the 1970’s, Harry J. Anslinger was the key individual designing policy related to selected narcotics.  Influential in the creation of the War On Drugs, he headed the Federal Bureau of Narcotics for most this period, represented the United States on the international narcotics committees, and was the primary advisor to the President, the Congress, and the individual States on narcotics policy.

Henry Anslinger’s tribe at the time described him as an example of a “moral entrepreneur”.

He believed that production, trade, and consumption of narcotics could be eliminated, and a viable deterrent could be achieved by employing strict enforcement and having stiff mandatory prison sentences.  He was chiefly responsible for portraying drugs as evil and immoral, as well as leading to increasing violence and ultimately, insanity.

He believed that production, trade, and consumption of narcotics could be eliminated, and a viable deterrent could be achieved by employing strict enforcement and having stiff mandatory prison sentences.  He was chiefly responsible for portraying drugs as evil and immoral, as well as leading to increasing violence and ultimately, insanity.

Anslinger influenced the Congress and the press, lobbied the scientific and professional associations, and also provided them with illustrations on the primary hazards of drug use which at the time were not verified and taken at face value.

Over the years more objective analysis made its way out from the FBNDD’s legal mechanisms and propaganda machine.  Eventually, the test of time began to reveal Anslinger’s misrepresentation of facts, at times pure fiction, and also his suppression of reports and studies determined as contrary to his views.

Continuing to defy logic and medical science in modern time, cannabis remains designated as a Schedule 1 Drug.  The Federal government and its multitude of bureaucratic agencies continue to ignore the Will of the American apparently unaffected by the fact that it is being legalized in one form or another at the State level.  Currently, the count has grown to over half of America’s States – 29 States including Washington DC itself.

In the meantime, countless trillions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have and are being wasted.  We watch in sorrow the unintended social consequences of ‘criminalization’ and bear the untold economic costs that continue to escalate along with it.

Does this expand your frame of reference a bit more?  Please let me know what you think.  Don’t leave without leaving a comment below!

6 thoughts on “What Is The Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs?”

    1. Not familiar with that, but feel free to elaborate. We’re interested! A meth lab paying property taxes? Ain’t that rich!! Hee ;^>

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  3. Fantastic summation of America’s wrong-headed demonization of narcotics and of the man chiefly responsible for the confused mess our country finds itself in. It appears that it will take several more generations to undo the warped perceptions of drugs the general public holds. Americans like to pride themselves with possessing progressive attitudes about a lot of subjects, but when it comes to drugs we find we still have a long way to go.

    1. Thanks for your comments. We are like-minded in our amazement at how such long-standing rackets can still survive. Question is, what are they morphing into now that the tipping point has been reached?

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