Sign the Resolution
Contents | Feedback | Search
DRCNet Home | Join DRCNet
DRCNet Library | Schaffer Library | Special Collections
Rufus King Collection | Drug Hang Up
The Drug Hang Up, America's Fifty-Year Folly
by Rufus King
Lawyers, Doctors, and Senator Daniel
THE DECADE of the fifties, following the Crime Committee investigation which opened it, saw some more heavy-weight matches. In prior years the Bureau had been challenged only by individuals, Linders and Ratigans and Lindesmiths-and by solitary Congressman Coffee. But now some important national ups began stirring themselves. The legal profession, the American Bar Association, began taking an interest in drug-law enforcement, and for the first time raised questions about Commissioner Anslinger's empire. The American Medical Association waxed bolder than it had at any time since World War I, and appeared almost ready to step in and assert some of its prerogatives. There were whisperings of rebellion in the ranks of the Public Health Service. At one point it even looked as if Congress might take a critical new look. And the hitherto inviolate Treasury agency began coming under sporadic fire from enlightened sectors of the press. In 1952 a skillful free-lancer, Alden Stevens, drawn to the subject by the plight of a friend caught in addiction, attacked the Bureau head-on in a popular journal under the tide "Make Dope Legal." At the same time a dean of the medical profession, Dr. Hubert S. Howe, and two eminent colleagues, Dr. Herbert Berger and Dr. Andrew A. Eggston, began campaigning for re-establishment of control of drug addiction by medical practitioners, and the latter team persuaded the New York Academy of Medicine to adopt a reform proposal which became known as the Berger-Eggston Plan. A parade of articles and tracts followed: "Should We Legalize Narcotics?," "We're Bungling the Narcotics Problem...... How Much of a Menace Is the Drug Menace?...... The Dope Addict-Criminal or Patient?," "This Problem of Narcotic Addiction-Let's Face It Sensibly," and (from the great Lawrence Kolb), "Let's Stop This Narcotics Hysteria!" The Bureau countered with a stream of handouts and reprints of its own, patronizing anyone who appeared to be a spokesman for its viewpoint and using the prestige and resources of the Treasury Department to disseminate favorable material by inundating the country with pamphlets. Commissioner Anslinger joined the fray, contributing statements and articles and participating in the authorship of two books, The Tragic in Narcotics (with William F, Tompkins) and The Murderers (with Will Oursler). In 1954 the American Bar Association created a special Committee on Narcotics, and early in 1955, on recommendation of this body, the ABA House of Delegates passed a resolution calling on Congress to re-examine the Harrison Act and make a full review of federal enforcement policies developed under it. Notwithstanding that the Kefauver investigation had terminated only three years before, the U.S. Senate responded with astonishing alacrity. The Bar Association action was taken February 21, 1955, and on the same day Senator Price Daniel of Texas introduced S. Res. 60, to authorize the Senate Judiciary Committee "to conduct a full and complete study of the narcotics problem in the United States, including ways and means of improving the Federal Criminal Code and other laws and enforcement procedures dealing with possession, sale, and transportation of narcotics, marijuana and similar drugs." The special subcommittee which the resolution proposed was to have subpoena powers and authority to hold hearings any-where in the United States. By moving so fast, Senator Daniel assured control of the ensuing investigation for himself, since the initiating sponsor is customarily named chairman. His resolution passed the Senate on March 18. Though in retrospect it seems clear that challengers of the Bureau never had much of a chance and quite possibly that Anslinger chose Daniel and called all the shots from the outset -there was, or appeared to be, spirited in-fighting, in the beginning, over the way the investigation was to be set up and staffed. Friends of the ABA and others who hoped the sub-committee might throw fresh light on the subject tried to see to it that there would be representation of neutral and inquiring viewpoints. But they were outmaneuvered. The Senator, it soon appeared, was mainly interested in building a record in Texas to further the campaign which he planned to make for the governorship of that state (and did make, successfully, the following year). Originally there were two other members, fair-minded Senator O'Mahoney of Wyoming, who was prevented from taking an active role because of illness, and Senator Welker of Idaho; subsequently Senators Eastland of Mississippi and Butler of Maryland were added. The post of counsel went to a mild Capitol Hill hanger-on, kin and protege of a venerable House chairman. But in the critical job of chief investigator, from which the real power was wielded, there turned up a Daniel fellow Texan, W. Lee Speer, with eighteen years of service in the Bureau of Narcotics, obligingly loaned to the subcommittee by Commissioner Anslinger. It was obvious from the first moments of the opening hearings, on June 2, 1955, that Anslinger had been hard at work, and that anyone who hoped the investigation might truly illuminate the drug scene was going to be disappointed. Senator Daniel began with the chairman and counsel of a special committee that had been hastily set up in the Canadian Senate on February 24, 1955 (note the date), to inquire into the narcotic drug situation in Canada, particularly with respect to Vancouver, B.C., where efforts had recently been made to treat addicts noncriminally through a modified clinic system. As Anslinger watched, beaming, the Canadian visitors read statements which so parroted dogma of the U.S. Bureau that it sounded suspiciously as if they had been written in Washington, with interpolations such as: "Especially to Commissioner Anslinger, may I say one word to you, that he is considered by us as one of the greatest authorities, you, Commissioner Anslinger, on the narcotic drug problem in the entire world." This Canadian recitation set the tone. Addicts are criminals ('the majority had criminal records before becoming involved with drugs") and mere incarceration was not enough ("the only practical and realistic solution to the problem is the compulsory isolation and quarantine of the addict population in suitable treatment and rehabilitation facilities"). The Canadians reported that the Vancouver Chief of Police had recommended putting all drug addicts on a remote island for treatment "which would include a work program". In 1952, with the advent of the Eisenhower administration, the Treasury Department had initiated a move to tighten its lines of control over drug-law enforcement within the federal bureaucracy itself. Informal meetings were set up between Com-missioner Anslinger and second-echelon representatives from State, justice, H.E.W., and Defense (the latter because of alleged concern over addiction among U.S. troops in Korea). In 1934 this consultative group was transformed into a formal Interdepartmental Committee on Narcotics; the same spokesmen continued to meet and the venture was still dominated by Treasury, but the group was now even more valuable as another echo of the Bureau's official line. So the first witness after the Canadians was the chairman of this interdepartmental committee, an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. After appropriate homages to Anslinger ("uniquely qualified to provide you with accurate information concerning all phases of the narcotics problem"), he affirmed the current official estimate that the addict population of the country was only about 50,000, and then picked a middle course between discounting notes of hysteria, on the one hand, and leaving any impression that the Bureau had not been doing its job with maximum efficacy, on the other:
Popular indignation has been understandably aroused over reports that the illicit drug traffic has extended to youngsters of school age. I believe that the experts who will testify on this point will bring out the fact that reports of any large number of such cases have not been substantiated; yet the fact that any at all exist is shocking- and amply justifies the public's determination to correct such a situation.
Then Anslinger himself described how his Bureau had reduced addiction from one in 400 persons before the Harrison Act to one in 1,500 persons at the end of World War I, and currently to about one in 3,000--or the previously given total of 50,000 to 60,000. He reported that his name-and-address list of . active addicts had grown to 28,514, with approximately 1,000 new names being added each month, coupled with the inconsistent assertion that every user of illicit drugs came inevitably to the attention of some police authority within two years after acquiring his habit. He provided last-digit figures for each major city-New York, 7,937; Los Angeles, 6,975; Chicago, 1,896; etc.-and stated that addiction among adolescents had been a major problem after World War II but had reached its peak in 1951 and had since significantly abated. Although most addicts "are likely to be well-schooled in crime before they turn to drug addiction," the rest, he avowed, inevitably turn to vice, shoplifting, and petty thievery to assuage their cravings, and thereafter quickly graduate to "major crimes." Accordingly, penal institutions provide the only answer, to make us safe from criminal drug addicts and drug peddlers by keeping these undesirable people off the streets and out of further criminal activity." As for treatment programs not depending on confinement: "The American Medical Association, the National Research Council, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and other authorities on the subject of addiction have stated that drug addiction cannot be cured by ambulatory means." When it was pointed out to the Commissioner, in questioning, that a contemporaneous study done for the Attorney General of California had found a total of no fewer than 20,000 addicts in that state alone, he responded: Now, that committee that made that report made a guess. They made a guess based on the number of arrests, figuring that so many peddlers had so many customers. Well, you get into fantastic figures when you try that sort of thing. . . . That report on California, I must say, was probably based on the number of arrests multiplied by a given figure which, after all, is not accurate. We are giving you accurate information, Senator, that has come to our attention, come to the knowledge of the authorities, city, state, and Federal, up to this time. In the questioning he was also able to play up another main theme that heroin production was being officially encouraged in Red China 'to cause destruction and deterioration among people in the free countries to which this drug is being sent."
At one point there was a notable disclosure of the Bureau's real attitude toward persons who are merely addicted, as op-posed to the usual protestations that federal authorities only go after big-time peddlers: Now, we often find the courts will say, "Well, now, I have here this poor drug addict. He only peddles to take care of himself." Well, I hope the honorable Senators are not taken in with that sort of thing, because that addict will peddle a capsule or he will peddle a kilo or a thousand ounces or a ton if be can. Now, 70 percent of those we send to prison are addicts. . . . You should make no distinction, and I will be challenged on this plenty, and you will hear a lot of testimony to the contrary.
From this opening the Daniel Subcommittee embarked on a junket, holding hearings in Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland-and, of course, Austin, San Antonio, Ft. Worth, Houston, and Dallas. Hundreds of witnesses, consisting mostly of an interminable parade of law-enforcement officers, filled a record of more than 8,000 pages. The Subcommittee circularized prosecutors, sheriffs and police chiefs in every major city it did not visit. Woven through volume after volume of anecdotal material and dire warnings were two tough themes: even the severe mandatory sentences prescribed by the Boggs Act were insufficient, since the solution to all problems was stiffer punishment for all offenders; and addicts who could not otherwise be imprisoned were nevertheless "contagious" and ought to be removed from normal contacts with society unless and until they cured themselves. In the hundreds of pages of testimony heard in Texas, smuggling on the Mexican border was highlighted out of proportion, and marijuana came in for exaggerated condemnation.