When one surveys the history of cannabis use in the United States with regard to the alleged direct causal connection between marihuana use and the commission of serious crime, one is struck by the widespread influence a nine-hundred-year-old myth has had on this belief. The myth of the eleventh-century Persian "Assassins" has for years served as an ultimate source for those who have sought to establish a connection between marihuana and crime. Marco Polo is usually credited with having introduced the story of the Assassins to the Western world. The Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, H. J. Anslinger, made the following statement on the subject in 1937:
In the year 1090, there was founded in Persia the religious and military order of the Assassins, whose history is one of cruelty, barbarity, and murder, and for good reason. The members were confirmed users of hashish, or marijuana, and it is from the Arabic "hashshashin" that we have the English word "assassin."1
Anslinger succinctly outlines the myth in the form which has had the strongest impact on nearly all who are aware of any part of it, or even of any connection between the words "hashish" and "assassin." In order to appreciate just how misinformed the view reiterated by Anslinger is, an examination of some aspects of the historical basis for the myth is helpful.
The story goes back at least to the middle of the seventh century, when the Moslem saint Husein (also spelled Hussein), the second son of Ali, who was a first cousin of Mohammed, unsuccessfully claimed to be the caliph, that is, the head of the Islam theocratic organization and a direct agent of God. After Ali's death, Islam