Monday, January 22, 2024

Anslinger Censors 1946 Canadian Film "Drug Addict"

Having occasion to look up a list of films banned in the US, I noticed that the 1946 Canadian film Drug Addict was banned by then-drug "czar" and head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger due to its depiction or drug addiction as a medical problem, and of addicts and traffickers as white people. 

According to a 1998 article published in the Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, "The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) attempted to intimidate sociologist Alfred Lindesmith, a long-time advocate of medical treatment of drug addiction, from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. In addition, the US banning of the 1946 Canadian film "Drug Addict" may have been a pivotal event in a pattern of censorship and disinformation carried on by the FBN under the leadership of Harry Anslinger."

The article, titled "Lindesmith v. Anslinger: An early government victory in the failed war on drugs" by Professor John F. Galliher (University of Missouri), and PhDs David P. Keys and Michael Elsner states, "Lindesmith's views of human addiction and drug addicts were diametrically opposed by those of Harry Anslinger and the FBN." It continues: 

The great migration of African-Americans to urban centers in the North, coupled with the emergence of an illicit narcotics market after the enactment of the Harrison Act of 1914, changed the face of addiction in cities like Chicago, Detroit, and New York. Beginning after World War I and through the 1940s, there were wholesale demographic changes in the United States which created public anxiety and suspicion directed at African Americans, immigrants, and Communists.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the expanding role of the federal government created an opportunity for Harry Anslinger to successfully exploit these fears by linking drugs to minorities. Anslinger had great political power because he maintained the support of both Democrats and Republicans, the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and many churches. Because the FBN controlled the licenses for the importation of opiates, Anslinger also received the support of drug companies. ...

Ansligner was also a savvy bureaucrat during the Great Depression of the 1930s who excelled at protecting his organization from budget cuts by locating new legislative mandates. Above all Ansligner was a government operative, with experience in the intelligence community, who through political harassment, adeptly controlled the flow of information on drug addiction....

In the final analysis, Anslinger was not only a "moral entrepreneur" or a "rule creator," but a "moral enforcer" as well. This allowed Anslinger to play a significant and unique role in creating an American "drug crisis." And in response to this drug crisis, Anslinger was ideally placed to provide a law enforcement response. In this fashion, he was able to guarantee himself, and the FBN, an enormous amount of political influence and legal power. 

Beat poet and Very Important Pothead Allen Ginsberg recalled that, even as late as the 1950s, it was difficult to publish books which referred to drugs or drug use:

There was at the time [an] assumption: that if you talked about [drugs] on the bus or the subway, you might be arrested-even if you were only discussing a change in the law... A decade later you still couldn't get away with a national public TV discussion of the laws without the Narcotics Bureau and the FCC intruding.... [T]he fear and terror ... was so real that it had been internalized in the . . . publishing industry, and so, before the book could be published, all sorts of disclaimers had to be interleaved with the text-lest the publisher be implicated criminally with the author.

The paper demonstrates that Anslinger and the FBN not only attempted to use their legal authority to censor scientific inquiry they considered antithetical to their interests, but sponsored "research" projects that had preordained results more to their liking....This allowed Anslinger to play a significant and unique role in creating an American "drug crisis." And in response to this drug crisis, Anslinger was ideally placed to provide a law enforcement response. In this fashion, he was able to guarantee himself, and the FBN, an enormous amount of political influence and legal power."

Drug Addict, a documentary made by the Canadian Film Board with the assistance of the narcotics specialists in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, embraced Lindesmith's theories, the authors write. It won a Canadian Film Award and was cited as a "bold, honest record of the drug traffic and its toll in human misery. It is as honest as it is stark. The film treats drug addiction as an illness and thus has run afoul of some who would condemn as criminals all who use drugs." As a documentary, "the film objects to the use of the term `dope fiend' in describing addicts, most of whom are presented as sick and bewildered people." 

Drug Addict depicts affluent whites injecting drugs, appearing in police lineups, and congregating on the street. "The source of each city's supply of drugs is the man with the connection. His position is remote from the sale of drugs to the addict. He is in business and he is concerned with profits." This is illustrated by a rotund white man, puffing on a cigar. This image of a high level drug trafficker contradicted Anslinger's efforts to associate drug trafficking with minorities.

According to Wikipedia, when Lindesmith traveled to Ottawa to view the film and attend a United Nations reception for it, Anslinger had the American Ambassador to Canada request that Lindesmith not be allowed to see the film. The Canadian government declined the request, and also denied Anslinger's request to censor the film in Canada. In a New York Times editorial, Anslinger falsely claimed that the film had been banned under the Motion Picture Association code. 

The American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, and Indiana University formed a committee to study drug addiction and, in 1961, published a report, edited by Lindesmith, called Drug Addiction – Crime or Disease. Anslinger tried to stop its publication. His superiors told him to cease his campaign against Lindesmith; when he did not, he was scrutinized for insubordination, and in 1962, he was forced to resign. Technically, Drug Addict remains banned in the United States.

Anslinger spread some propaganda of his own when fighting for the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act which effectively made cannabis hemp illegal in the US. His "Reefer Madness" campaign is what Americans saw as Mexicans were demonized for using the scary drug now named "marijuana." Anslinger also targeted blacks and jazz musicians in his smear campaigns, hounding Billie Holiday to death over her use of heroin. 

In 2000, President Clinton's drug czar was caught dispersing advertising dollars to shows including "ER," "Beverly Hills 90210," "Chicago Hope," "The Drew Carey Show" and "7th Heaven" that included anti-drug content in their programming in a special Salon investigation of a story first uncovered by NORML's Paul Armentano. In 2005, the US General Accounting Office (GAO) found that taxpayer-funded video “news” stories prepared by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to simulate private newscasts constitute “covert propaganda” and are in violation of federal anti-propaganda laws. A series of federally funded reviews of the program found that teens who were most exposed to the Campaign’s ads tended to “move more markedly in a ‘pro-drug’ direction as they aged than those who were exposed to less.”   

Ginsberg's writing is credited with opening the eyes of billionaire philanthropist George Soros to the absurdity of the drug war, leading Soros to recruit Princeton professor Ethan Nadelmann to found The Lindesmith Center, which merged with the Drug Policy Foundation in 2000 to form the Drug Policy Alliance

Among other films banned in the US or some of its cities: Birth Control, a 1917 film produced by and starring Margaret Sanger, and Häxan, a 1922 film that depicts and attempts to "explain" witchcraft as mental illness. Also, The Bicycle Thief (1948), Monty Python's The Life of Brian (1979), and If You Love This Planet (1982), based on a speech by anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott.

I went down this rabbit hole after seeing a video of director William Wyler accepting the 1960 Best Supporting Actor award given to Hugh Griffith for his "wonderfully humorous, human, and sympathetic characterization of an Arab sheik" who befriends the title character in Ben-Hur (1959). Wyler expressed regret that the people of the United Arab Republic would not be permitted to see Griffith's performance. It's reported elsewhere that Arab League states banned the film because its lead actress Haya Harareet was Israeli.

Reportedly Barbie has been banned in Algeria, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Vietnam, and Russia (which also banned Oppenheimer). Source

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