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In-Depth Interview: Prof. Alexandra Chasin Recounts the Early Days of America’s War on Some Drugs

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In her new book, Alexandra Chasin details the early history of America’s “war on drugs”, led by Harry Anslinger in the 1930’s–just after Americans figured out that alcohol prohibition had failed.The book is Assassin of Youth: A Kaleidoscopic History of Harry J. Anslinger’s War on Drugs, and Chasin is a very good writer who built a fascinating narrative based on the life and work of Anslinger.  Her “kaleidoscopic” approach makes it a compelling read, from Anslinger’s early days with the Pennsylvania Railroad to his rise to become the first “drug czar” who headed the Bureau of Narcotics for over 30 years, roughly parallel to J. Edgar Hoover’s reign at the FBI.

Chasin explains her research was driven by studies she saw about the high level of non-violent drug offenders in prison.  Before delving into the history, she comments on the opioid addiction epidemic and proposed new legislation to rationalize federal marijuana laws with the states that have legalized cannabis for medical and adult use.

She thumbnails Anslinger’s rise, and his appointment by President Hoover to lead the Bureau of Narcotics.  Anslinger was effective in garnering media coverage for hysterical claims, especially about marijuana, and was an advocate for extreme sentencing for drug offenders, including mandatory sentences.  She shares the story of Hollywood star Wally Reid, who was addicted to morphine, then used as a poster child for prohibition.

For more on Alexandra Chasin, click here.