Jonathan Pryce is such a fine, fine actor. In his latest film, Dough, he played the role of a Jewish baker who hired a Muslim-African refugee as his bakery assistant. The assistant started using the bakery as a front for his marijuana distribution. When cops visited the bakery one day, he panicked and, to prevent getting caught in possession of marijuana, he dumped the stash into the dough mixer. As a result, the once struggling bakery became an overnight sensation.
Critics did not praise the film, many called it mediocre, but we totally enjoyed it. A feel-good movie that isn’t a chick flick, Dough is about the surprising affinity that developed between a very traditional Jewish and a Muslim youth trying to survive in London.
But, of course, because we downed a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon while watching the film, my very fertile mind went beyond processing the plot. I recalled something that Speedy once said about marijuana — that it became illegal in the United States because, after Prohibition ended, there was a government official who no longer had anything important to do so he found something to make himself useful and important once again. The man’s name is Harry J. Anslinger and the “something” that he focused on was marijuana.
In 1929, a man called Harry Anslinger was put in charge of the Department of Prohibition in Washington DC. But alcohol prohibition had been a disaster. Gangsters had taken over whole neighborhoods. Alcohol—controlled by criminals—had become even more poisonous.
So alcohol prohibition finally ended, and Harry Anslinger was afraid. He found himself in charge of a huge government department, with nothing for it to do. Up until then, he had said that cannabis was not a problem. It doesn’t harm people, he explained, and “there is no more absurd fallacy” than the idea it makes people violent.
But then suddenly, when his department needed a new purpose, he announced he had changed his mind.
He explained to the public what would happen if you smoked cannabis. First, you will fall into “a delirious rage.” Then you will be gripped by “dreams… of an erotic character.” Then you will “lose the power of connected thought.” Finally, you will reach the inevitable end-point: “Insanity.” [Alternet]
In this day and age of sound bytes when people don’t normally read beyond headlines, the quoted portion simply means that Anslinger decided that marijuana was dangerous not so much because he had scientific and medical evidence to back up his claim but more because, with alcohol no longer prohibited, he wanted a job that made him feel important. In other words, marijuana became illegal in the United States because of one man’s vanity. Or, perhaps, it was fear — fear of losing his job and fear of becoming insignificant.
Anslinger’s campaign gained traction not for any valid reason but simply because he was wily enough to use the media — not the responsible kind of media but the kind that practice yellow journalism.
Insecure people are pathetic. But they can be dangerous too if they hold positions of power. Just think of Senator Vicente Sotto who spearheaded the ban of poppy seeds in the Philippines. He needed to be in the headlines, he wanted to be known for something that no one else had bothered about and he came up with poppy seeds. Yes, the little black dots in your bagel. Just like Harry J. Anslinger almost a hundred years ago, here’s a man who wanted to feel important. Never mind if it’s for the wrong reasons. The masses won’t be able to decipher the insanity of his claims anyway.