The Gateway to Tyranny

Since Joe Biden’s recent announcement that he’s throwing his hat in the 2020 presidential ring, his abysmal stance on the War on Drugs has been the source of a great deal of criticism, even from those inclined to support him. Four years ago, he claimed that he opposed the legalization of cannabis because he still believed it to be a gateway drug — a position he appears to maintain. The gateway theory of marijuana is roughly as old as Biden himself, but as is so often the case with propagandized narratives, history reveals a lot about the policy.

When Congress was first debating the bill that criminalized marijuana in 1937, Harry Anslinger—the godfather of the War on Drugs—rejected any notion that marijuana use led to other drugs. During the marijuana hearings, Representative John Dingell asked Anslinger, “I am just wondering whether the marijuana addict graduates into a heroin, an opium, or a cocaine user?” Anslinger replied, “No, sir. I have not heard of a case of that kind. I think it is an entirely different class. The marijuana addict does not go in that direction.”

When the Cold War started, the narrative changed. As politicians mongered fear about communist takeovers, the narrative for marijuana use shifted to mirror Red Scare talking points. According to the “domino theory,” the Cold War was necessary because once one country fell to communism, the rest would supposedly fall. Although the domino analogy was originally proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954, the origins of the idea are found in the Truman Doctrine of the 1940s.

In 1951, Anslinger adapted this logic to cannabis in a complete contradiction of his 1937 statements. At the time, it was referred to as the “progression theory” or the “stepping-stone thesis,” before the term “gateway drug” gained currency. During the Boggs Act Hearings, Anslinger said, “Over 50 percent of these young addicts started on marijuana smoking. They started there and graduated to heroin; they took the needle when the thrill of marihuana was gone.”1

It is not actually clear that the gateway drug theory was based on the Cold War ideas about the spread of communism, but the parallels are remarkable and the timing is revealing. On other marijuana claims, the connection to the Cold War was even more explicit. In 1948, Anslinger argued that marijuana use “leads to pacifism and Communist brainwashing”—another 180 degree turn from his early claim that marijuana was “the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”2

The “gateway” political strategy is a gateway to tyranny and oppression in all kinds of arenas.   Soon questioning authority will be seen as a gateway to treason.   But the traitors are acting in the name of authority itself.

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