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. Just An Observer says:

      Nixon = Five letters

      Obama = Five letters

      Idiot = Five letters

      Do the math…LOL! The thing to not laugh about is Big Brother nanny-statism from either the Left or the Right.

    2. Anonymous says:

      Chapter V

      marihuana and social policy

      A Final Comment

      In this Chapter, we have carefully considered the spectrum of social and legal policy alternatives. On the basis of our findings, discussed in previous Chapters, we have concluded that society should seek to discourage use, while concentrating its attention on the prevention and treatment of heavy and very heavy use. The Commission feels that the criminalization of possession of marihuana for personal is socially self-defeating as a means of achieving this objective.

    3. Anonymous says:

      They didn’t spell marijuana wrong genius lol

    4. lilmissgreens420 says:

      I truly belive that the goverment needs to decrimanialize pot. i do not belive that it should be in the likes of herion and i for one support it for medical

    5. brad says:


      the same reason you spelt Marijuana wrong?

    6. InkMama says:

      Oops! I meant they did NOT spell it wrong

    7. InkMama says:

      They did spell it wrong. It is a Spanish word, both spellings are correct.

    8. Publius says:

      The Schaefer Report was suppressed and most copies destroyed at the behest of Nixon.

      The spelling of Marijuana has always been somewhat up in the air as it was a slang word used by Mexican fieldworkers and has been variously spelled as Marihuana, Marijuana. Marijuana is currently the most popular spelling, but both are found in dictionaries.

      In point of fact, the use of that word was specifically to confuse the issue. Everyone knew what cannabis or hemp was, Marijuana was just some weed that migrant workers and black jazz musicians used.

    9. Nicole says:

      Dei-Kobi….. that is actually the correct spelling for marihuana.

    10. ck31 says:

      Cuz as they were coughing off some killer, they were sayin marijuana? Lol

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