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40 Years Ago Today: Congress Was Told To Tell The Truth About Marijuana; They Didn’t

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 22, 2012

    Forty years ago today, a Congressionally mandated commission on US drug policy did something extraordinary: they told the truth about marijuana.

    On March 22, 1972, the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse — chaired by former Pennsylvania Governor Raymond P. Shafer — recommended that Congress amend federal law so that the use and possession of cannabis would no longer be a criminal offense. State legislatures, the Commission added, should do likewise.

    “[T]he criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use,” concluded the 13-member Commission, which included nine hand-picked appointees of then-President Richard Nixon. “It implies an overwhelming indictment of the behavior which we believe is not appropriate. The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.

    Richard Nixon

    “… Therefore, the Commission recommends … [that the] possession of marijuana for personal use no longer be an offense, [and that the] casual distribution of small amounts of marihuana for no remuneration, or insignificant remuneration, no longer be an offense.”

    Members of the Commission further acknowledged that marijuana did not meet the criteria of a schedule I controlled substance under federal law, a classification that places cannabis along side heroin as a prohibited substance without any therapeutic value.

    Nonetheless Nixon, true to his ‘law-and-order’ roots, shelved the report and its recommendations — announcing instead, “We need, and I use the word ‘all out war,’ on all fronts.” Since Nixon’s rejection of the Shafer report, annual data from the FBI reports that more than 21.5 million Americans have been arrested and criminally prosecuted for violating marijuana laws. Upwards of 80 percent of those arrested were for charged with possession only offenses, not sales or trafficking.

    Annual Marijuana Arrests in the US

    Yet despite the federal government’s 40-year ‘war on pot,’ today an estimated 45 percent of US adults acknowledge having consumed cannabis at some point in their lives, with nearly 12 percent admitting having done so in the past year. A majority of Americans now say that the plant should be legalized and regulated for adults. Over 80 percent of Americans say that cannabis should be available as a therapy when recommended by a physician.

    Why? Because Western civilization has been using cannabis as a therapeutic agent or recreational intoxicant for thousands of years with relatively few adverse consequences — either to the individual user or to society. In fact, no less than the World Health Organization has acknowledged: “Overall, most of these risks (associated with marijuana) are small to moderate in size. In aggregate they are unlikely to produce public health problems comparable in scale to those currently produced by alcohol and tobacco. On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies.”

    Forty years ago today the Nixon administration had an unprecedented opportunity to enact a rational pot policy. They were provided with the truth about cannabis, but they refused to listen.

    Four decades later, it is time for the Obama administration to listen — and to act. It’s time to make peace with pot.

    144 Responses to “40 Years Ago Today: Congress Was Told To Tell The Truth About Marijuana; They Didn’t”

    1. If you live in Connecticut and want to end marijuana prohibition in our state, please take a minute to visit http://www.ctprimaryproject.com.

      Please pass this on to anyone you know in Connecticut!

    2. Denver WMD says:

      Yes my brain hurts, it’s so sad we have to share the same air. US government is so corrupt I really can’t grasp it. F*ck I should run for Mayor of Denver or Governor of Colorado. Get this fixed our way.

    3. MARLEY'S GHOST says:

      to jeedi: If your gonna quote John Lennon at least give him the credit. Excuse me while i go do it in the road.

    4. We need another well written We the People petition. It needs to be pointed and ensure that all readers know we’re talking about federal prohibition. We need it submitted and passed the threshold WELL before the election. Let’s make it an issue again. Get the Petition on the front page of NORML and every other pro-marijuana site out there. #HR2306 r/trees

    5. Denver WMD says:

      Forty years ago today, a Congressionally mandated commission on US drug policy did something extraordinary: they told the truth about marijuana.

      On March 22, 1972, the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse — chaired by former Pennsylvania Governor Raymond P. Shafer —recommended that Congress amend federal law so that the use and possession of cannabis would no longer be a criminal offense. State legislatures, the Commission added, should do likewise.

      “[T]he criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use,” concluded the 13-member Commission, which included nine hand-picked appointees of then-President Richard Nixon. “It implies an overwhelming indictment of the behavior which we believe is not appropriate. The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.

      “… Therefore, the Commission recommends … [that the] possession of marijuana for personal use no longer be an offense, [and that the] casual distribution of small amounts of marihuana for no remuneration, or insignificant remuneration, no longer be an offense.”

      Members of the Commission further acknowledged that marijuana did not meet the criteria of a schedule I controlled substance under federal law, a classification that places cannabis along side heroin as a prohibited substance without any therapeutic value.

      Nonetheless Nixon, true to his ‘law-and-order’ roots, shelved the report and its recommendations —announcing instead, “We need, and I use the word ‘all out war,’ on all fronts.” Since Nixon’s rejection of the Shafer report, annual data from the FBI reports that more than 21.5 million Americans have been arrested and criminally prosecuted for violating marijuana laws. Upwards of 80 percent of those arrested were for charged with possession only offenses, not sales or trafficking.

      Yet despite the federal government’s 40-year ‘war on pot,’ today an estimated 45 percent of US adults acknowledge having consumed cannabis at some point in their lives, with nearly 12 percent admitting having done so in the past year. A majority of Americans now say that the plant should be legalized and regulated for adults. Over 80 percent of Americans say that cannabis should be available as a therapy when recommended by a physician.

      Why? Because Western civilization has been using cannabis as a therapeutic agent or recreational intoxicant for thousands of years with relatively few adverse consequences — either to the individual user or to society. In fact, no less than the World Health Organization has acknowledged: “Overall, most of these risks (associated with marijuana) are small to moderate in size. In aggregate they are unlikely to produce public health problems comparable in scale to those currently produced by alcohol and tobacco. On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies.”

      Forty years ago today the Nixon administration had an unprecedented opportunity to enact a rational pot policy. They were provided with the truth about cannabis, but they refused to listen.

      Four decades later, it is time for the Obama administration to listen — and to act. It’s time to make peace with pot.

    6. Makkaflow says:

      DUDE!
      It is a freaking plant that grows in the forrest. The consequences of smoking it, is not even a topic!

    7. Papa J says:

      Just a heads up folks from ol’ Papa. Our federal government was purchased by Rockefeller and several others in 1937 because they had “interests” in lumber companies as well as the fiber industry. Hence, HEMP was criminalized. BUT, during WWII it was decriminalized for use as fiber and oil for the war effort. Of course, it was back to ‘business as usual’ after the war ended. The ‘business’ of government is to support itself, this is why when our government, senators and representatives, were bitching about being “broke” in 2011 they were looking at laying off IRS workers and low level peons AFTER VOTING THEMSELVES A RAISE! Instead they cut 15000 salaries of the peons and didn’t think twice about giving any of Their money back. Many of y’all will say, “vote against the incumbent politicians”. It won’t work, the new guys get in office and are bought faster than the old ones were. I personally think that this country could learn from Portugal, legalize everything and treat abusers as mental patients rather than criminals. Either way our tax dollars will be used, but in the latter it would be to reform people who are working and paying taxes rather than incarcerate people who are NOT working and have to be completely supported. Just a thought from an ol’ hippie.

    8. Papa J says:

      @melissa RIGHT ON! See people? I’m not the only one who knows about Hearst, Anslinger and Rockefeller.

    9. Don says:

      I largely agree with Mr Flibble (and like so many others hate Nixon’s friggin’ guts. I’m glad he’s dead but his a-hole policies still exist).

      If pot was to be made legal, it would not change anything I am currently doing today. I’d still drink alcohol occasionally, and I don’t smoke cancer sticks (aka cigarettes; the things John Boehner likes to smoke).

      If we were a Government of the people, instead of a Govt of the politicians, we would be missing a huge opportunity for profit. But, the politicians make more money by keeping it illegal since their money comes from sources like: private prisons, donations by Big Pharma and other corporate interests, confiscating peoples property and huge fines… and on and on…

      It’s disgusting that the people now in power in this country seem to have turned their backs on the American people in favor of their own greed; and in some cases (like Senator Mitch McConnell) extreme ignorance. The wisest of them know that pot is not the dangerous drug they pretend it is but are much more interested in money and power than they are in actually doing the right thing; which is clearly ending this terrible prohibition!

      Mr Flibble – like you, I don’t drive when I know I’m too intoxicated to do so – period! I’m almost 60 now and have been using cannabis since age 15. In all that time my entire criminal record consists of about 5 speeding tickets! It is beyond insane that I could possibly get prison time for something that causes less harm to me, or to anyone else, than the things that our Govt says is legal (like at least half of the FDA approved drugs).

      I will never have any respect for our Govt or law enforcement until this law changes. Nothing has divided this country as much as cannabis prohibition with the sole exception of slavery. I’d love to see this country come together as one and start working towards becoming a great nation once again. But, with the politicians currently serving (dictating) I don’t see it happening any time soon…

      So many people ask why we the people don’t step up and demand an end to prohibition. The fact is that we have done everything we can do with the exception of getting violent! The problem is that the politicians don’t care or want to go along with our agenda and find ways to stop it. They stop it by first ignoring science, and then repeating old lies, followed by coming up with new lies. One of the jobs of the Drug Czar is to perpetuate the lies and to ensure that prohibition remains in place at all costs.

      Clearly, I’m very upset with the way our leaders are running this country but I’m doubtful it will change in my lifetime. I hope it changes for the better by the time my children get to be my age!

    10. mamymonkey says:

      Legalize it and tax the hell out of it. Nicotine, alcohol and gas all have exorbinate taxes; why would marijuana be different?? Maybe with the extra money you could fund schools, or lower the debt or just pay for pelosi’s private jet that takes her back and forth on our dime.

    11. I VOTE says:

      VOTE OUT ALL WHO OPPOSE LEAGALIZATION !!!!

    12. smokinplenty says:

      Marijuana is very old Spanish slang…please everyone do yourself a favor and call it what it is…Cannabis.

      To educate yourselves go here:
      http://watch.montanapbs.org/video/1825223761/

      and here:
      http://www.jci.org/articles/view/37948

      and here:
      http://phoenixtears.ca/

      and here:
      http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Healthday/story?id=4509456&page=1

      or any other of hundreds of places where studies have shown that cannabis cures cancer.

      Because cannabis is a cure and outlawed it shows how evil our government really is, although its certainly not the worst, the U.S. maintains the largest monopoly on human suffering. The drug companies win, the American People lose!

    13. Milton says:

      I know people who smoke cannabis all day long and who spend a lot of time looking out the window looking in the trees for the tree police. It is not entirely harmless.

    14. smokinplenty says:

      Anyone that claims there are no accepted medical values associated with cannabis use should be required to submit to a psych-evaluation. Ever notice that the opponents of cannabis never acknowledge that it can be ingested, rubbed on topically in oil form or vaporized? The scam of the whole thing is that NO government organization has the goal to eradicate the plant but to keep it so expensive that nobody could ever afford to eat it, WHICH DOES REVERSE DISEASE!!! WAKE UP PEOPLE!

    15. zexks says:

      So has anyone else here got the “We take petitions seriously” White house email as well?
      Also this should be a national holiday, the day the government officially rejected the truth in favor of propaganda.

    16. max beasley says:

      I have lost so much respect for Obama (never had much for politicians to begin with) but I should have never have thought he would stand tall amongst the snakes he works with each day. He will establish his legacy as the worst 2 term president of all time. It is pathetic that everyday there are commercials about various FDA approved drugs and they all end with a long list of potential side effects, while a natural remedy for so many ailments is illegal.. Trust for the so called Leadership in this country has never been lower and its because of their continuous greed and lies.

    17. Joel: the other Joel says:

      This is a repeat of my last reply with a few corrections:

      It was the efforts of Richard Nixon’s plan to provide hate toward the protesters of his war policies on Viet Nam.
      In the past, federal agencies had failed and made it all worse by giving free LSD to protesters, however, the protesters shared it around and made new converts against Richard Nixon. LSD does more than cause a person to see crazy things, it would also expand the mind as well. Marijuana would also help keep the mind expanding by allowing the curious mind to think things more deeply and creatively. The creativeness of the college hippie protesters who majored in Liberal Arts, Philosophy, and Law, made Richard Nixon’s hate list as enemy number one.
      At that time, federal agencies tried other plans to add spin to the Viet Nam anti-war movement and it failed even worse by trying to make the protest movement violent and to portray the hippies as communist revolutionaries.
      The federal government was running out of options on trying to get the public to spin in their favor.

      In 1969, President Richard Nixon and Attorney General John N. Mitchell came up with a plan ……

    18. Observer One says:

      How else would we support the Prison Industry? Imprison young men of color for using and generally ignore young “white” men’s using? When did you read that someone used cannabis and ran amuck killing? How about alcohol? I’m just sayin’

    19. Ray DiPasquale says:

      When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.
      Claude Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)

    20. NagaSadhu says:

      Nixon true to his law-and-order roots shelved the Shafer report started the DEA and the all out war on cannbis using the tactics of the Police State.

    21. smokinplenty says:

      @ ObserverOne

      …more crimes are committed out of plain old emotions…, really!

    22. CoreyMP88 says:

      40 yr old wars are always healthy for the economy…(SARCASM!)

    23. I VOTE says:

      F Nixon ! and any other crooked politician who opposes legalization.
      the time is now, vote out ALL who oppose.

    24. Sam Sharp says:

      It is dangerous to be right when your government is wrong.

    25. Fed-Up says:

      Milton says;”I know people who smoke cannabis all day long and who spend a lot of time looking out the window looking in the trees for the tree police. It is not entirely harmless”

      Milton…Oh yeah. But, do the “tree police” have Eminent Domain to vandalise your property or is this your hallucination or perhaps your jaded fantasy(for others) What if the tree police came to life?

      Be careful what you wish for… The” harm”
      is fabricated but your “idealisim “is very fragile.

    26. Joel: the other Joel says:

      “In 1969, President Richard Nixon and Attorney General John N. Mitchell came up with a plan ……”

      The plan I was referring to was the creation of the “Controlled Substance Act Of 1970″.
      It was a bold new federal attack on the anti-war counter-culture also being known as the “Drug culture”, by quickly passing a law that would make pot smoking hippies into criminals in the highest degree under federal law and making the possession of cannabis a Schedule One federal offense while presenting the law to the legislature as a drug issue.

      The law quickly passed without any medical review.
      Nixon later created a federal police force,the DEA, that would enforce his drug policies without any interference.

    27. [...] Armentano writes a brief synopsis on NORML’s blog on how the U.S. federal government has ignored its own fact-finding in favor of doing the opposite [...]

    28. Darth says:

      The authorities in the UK have even started lying about it all over again, saying that it gives off a carcinogenic odour while growing! *bangs head on desk* http://www.buy-cannabis-seeds-online.com/index.php?option=com_idoblog&task=viewpost&id=329&Itemid=82

    29. Irene says:

      I have never heard of a “High-Driving Accident”….But, there are TOO Many “DRUNK Driving Accidents”which kill way to many people every damn day! In addition, FDA approves Narcotics which are SO ADDICTIVE & DANGEROUS for people, but STILL, they are prescribed like candy to people everyday. Then let’s NOT forget the sleeping medication that causes sleep walking, sleep driving, sleep eating….Are You SERIOUS?? What The Hell?!?!? Just LEGALIZE It & tax it, then we will have happier people and maybe even a Balanced Budget!!!

    30. jim says:

      Thanks for the heads up. i am in Cali so I will contact my congress rep.

    31. fishcreekbob says:

      How much could have been saved from then till now on health care alone? Cannabis the Trillion dollar knockout punch.

    32. Marcel says:

      Unfortunately a slightly intellectually – challenged US President is surrounded by a mob of busy-body bible-thumpers, and seems to be lazy enough to maintain the status quo.

    33. Marcel says:

      Furthermore, no matter how much the lawmakers and the “doctors” love to engage in “studies” on the subject, the current prohibition is just a straight out violation of basic personal rights and civil liberties. It is NOBODY ELSE business why one consumes and whether it is “therapeutic” or not…. PERIOD!

    34. Dave Evans says:

      Law and Order has nothing to do with marijuana prohibition. It is the opposite, broken law and disorder. People know marijuana is good, but the government types pay each other to keep saying it is bad. The war on drugs is a war on ourselves, drug warriors are just as bad for us as a society as are junkies. They’re just addicted to finding every excuse for abusing their neighbors and are more adept at hiding their evil tendencies.

    35. sick -n- tired says:

      When did our goverment stop answering to the majority of the people who voted them in? Obviously the majority of America wants it legalized.
      I smoked pot in the 70′s and 80′s, and even though I no longer partake,I beleive it is completely harmless, and should be legal and sold in grocery stores like alcohol and cigarettes.
      Tax it, stop the drug lords from getting rich and killing people, and use the tax money to help our youth!
      Last thing, WTF is the deal on marijuana tax stamps? Are you F’ing kidding me? What a crooked government we have.

    36. [...] *http://blog.norml.org/2012/03/22/40-years-ago-today-congress-was-told-to-tell-the-truth-about-mariju… [...]

    37. dave says:

      surprise,surprise, know ther’s a new one the goverment not telling the people who put then in office not telling the truth!!

    38. [...] NORML Blog, Marijuana Law ReformDid you like this? Share it:Tweet Tags: about, Congress, didnt, Marijuana, Tell, they, Today, Told, truth, years [...]

    39. fishcreekbob says:

      What about the lizards? If we plant a hundred million acres for a big chunk of our energy and industrisl needs and maybe a few milliom for medical needs we’ll need to do alot of the work by hand so we can see the lizards and not harm them but then maybe Mexico will build a fence to protect they’re people from us kidnapping them to work the hemp fields.

    40. lo....l says:

      fuck this government i cant even care anymore i get soo fucking pissed. i smoke and wont ever give a shit if its legal or not.
      fuck the governments lying sack of shit rich bastards and thier close minded old fashioned way of thiking

    41. bkzombee says:

      wait a minute, if heroin has no medicinal value to it then wats with the pain killers (oxicontin,morphine,codene,bla bla bla)

    42. Nancy Lee Garrett says:

      40 years that is about as long as, I have been smoking; 43 to be exact. How long was alcohol prohibited? 40 years, that is outrageous. That was my hey day, back in the 70′s. In my early 20′s I remember those day’s, that is when you could buy a ounce for $15 or $20. A 1/4 pound was $45. We still had more civil rights back then too. Of course that is before the official “War on Drug’s” was declared. Most cop’s in my town turned a blind eye to some people smoking. They did profile more back then too. Duh! God bless America the land of the free. LOL

    43. Nancy Lee Garrett says:

      @Marcel you got that right! I asked Mr. Obama why did you lie to us? Never got a reply.How can our federal and state government collect taxes on something that is illegal and then go and try to shut the dispensaries down? When they are the very people who paid those taxes. Big! Huge! conflict of interest, wouldn’t you say?
      Furthermore,how many scientific studies do we have to pay for, before they are satisfied that Marijuana is truly safe and beneficial for all kinds of health problems?

    44. Marcel says:

      @Nancy Lee Garrett – YUP! As for myself I puffed and puffed all through the 70′s 80′s somewhat less in 90′s and rarely these days, but even if I was to totally abstain I would still feel strongly on the basis of civil liberties. I vigorously oppose a nanny state that sees fit to dictate what I can eat, drink, smoke, snort, inject or otherwise prescribe to MYSELF. Government in my face is government with a bloody nose… POW!…:-)

    45. Scotty says:

      I think if it wern’t for Marijuana convictions in this country the Criminal Justice Industry would go broke!!!

    46. [...] 40 Years Ago Today: Congress Was Told To Tell The Truth About Marijuana; They Didn’t | NORML Blog,…. [...]

    47. Mark says:

      Viet Nam
      Watergate
      Rejection of the Shafer Commission’s Report

      No wonder Nixon’s nickname was “Dick”.

    48. [...] Armentano writes a brief synopsis on NORML’s blog on how the U.S. federal government has ignored its own fact-finding in favor of doing the opposite [...]

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