Cannabis Turns “Expert Witness” Into a Bat?
We first reported on the “bat story” in our recent blog post, 18 Fun Facts About Cannabis. In that post, the 14th fun fact read, “The U.S. government’s “official expert” on cannabis from 1938 to 1962 once testified in court, under oath, that he had smoked cannabis and it turned him into a bat. Just think about that for a moment.” A bat, really? We needed to learn more about this story. Here’s what we found out.
The U.S. government’s “official expert” on cannabis from 1938 to 1962 was Dr. James Munch, a professor of physiology and pharmacology in the School of Pharmacology at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. But the real story starts with Harry Anslinger, the head of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) from 1930 to 1962 who called legal cannabis “marijuana” because it sounded foreign and threatening to American values.
According to Martin Booth in his book, Cannabis: A History, Anslinger regularly exaggerated the effects of marijuana, once stating that marijuana was “an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.”1 Anslinger was so outspoken about the so-called perils of marijuana that defense lawyers started citing Anslinger’s article, “Marijuana: Assassin of Youth” to support their argument that marijuana made their clients insane and temporarily diminished their ability to act responsibly. That was the scene in early 1938 when a defense attorney called upon Dr. Munch, the expert witness who had testified for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics during the Marihuana Tax Act Hearings, to speak on his client’s behalf. It was during this trial that Dr. Munch “admitted” that he had experimented with marijuana on dogs and had—for purely scientific reasons—tried the drug himself. When he was asked how marijuana affected him, Dr. Munch famously replied, still under oath, mind you, “After two puffs on a marijuana cigarette, I was turned into a bat.” According to Booth, Dr. Munch went on to state, “he flew around the room and down a 200-foot-deep inkwell.”2 Perhaps Dr. Munch had experimented with something other than marijuana? Perhaps he had just read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll ever know why he testified as he did though if we ever do find out, you can be sure we’ll share it in this blog.
Back to the story, rumor has it that not long after the bat testimony, Anslinger told Munch to stop testifying for the defense or he’d lose his appointment as FBN special advisor. Presumably that was the end of Dr. Munch’s gig as a defense expert witness.
1, 2. Martin Booth, Cannabis: A History (Picador; Reprint edition June 1, 2005), p. 191 Retrieved from: