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. Chris in WI says:

      I have been saying for years that if this report was ment to be authoritative, then everyone arrested since its release 40 years ago was arrested illegally.

      It blows my mind that something, illegal due to lies, remains so 4 decades after a presidential commission points it out like this did!

    2. Owen says:

      Richard Nixon : “I am not a crook”.

      Me: “Are too!”

      I propose we make Nixon’s birthday a national holiday – a day real Americans go and urinate on his grave.

    3. Jeedi says:

      “No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of Tricky Dicky
      Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
      With just a pocketful of hope
      It’s money for dope
      Money for rope

      Ah, I’m sick to death of hearing things
      from uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites
      All I want is the truth now
      Just gimme some truth now

      I’ve had enough of reading things
      by neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
      All I want is the truth now
      Just gimme some truth now”

    4. Joe says:

      Is there a link to the Shaffer report?

    5. Dei-Kobi says:

      Any reason they spelt Marajuana wrong?…

    6. chrisvv says:

      Don’t worry, the US govt has filed for, and received a patent, for a key chemical in Cannabis: Cannabidiol (CBD).

      They claimed it had numerous health benefits, and received a patent through the Dept of Health and Human Services in 2003.

      The patent no. is 6630507, re: Cannabinoids antioxidant properties

      Again, the same govt. who claims this substance qualifies for schedule 1 CSA like heroin, admits their own classification is unjustified as is all incarcerations.

    7. Smargadine says:

      Is this really helping our cause, a report that is forty years old that most people already know about? Our government is very unlikely to change any law regarding marijuana until they are forced to do so by the states. Most states will not stand together to work toward their common goal. We live in the United States of America that are clearly not united, mainly because of our political structure and the greed associated with that system. I want more than anything for our laws to change, but feel that the only change that can be made is at the state level, and that process is meeting resistance at almost every turn. This report was important forty years ago and is still important today, but has been ignored for so many years that our government will continue to ignore it. Whether or not marijuana is dangerous (which many thousands of studies have shown it to be less harmful than a drug a child can buy at most convenience stores) is not relevant but what is relevant is how much money is being paid by corporations to keep it illegal because it will hurt their bottom line. When will it end? Only we, the American people, can decide how this will end. As long as we have politicians who serve for decades (which goes against the ideas within the Constitution, you know a representative democracy), there will be little change because it is business as usual for them and it will continue to be that way until we make the change that is needed. Vote out lifelong politicians because they are not representing our interests, they are just representing themselves and whoever pays them the most (i.e. compaign contributions) and will lie, cheat, and steal to keep that job. We need to do what is right for our country and return to the representative democracy that was intended and not continue down the path on which we are currently embarked. Over 75% of Americans support medicinal marijuana, but our government still so no, and raid operations that are legal under state law. This doesn’t appear to be representative of the people, so why does it continue? Because we allow it and with that permission we will eventually become a police state and we are well on our way. Please vote for sensible leaders who pay attention to the facts and those who are paid to think by the corporations against it (big pharm, oil, lumber, prisons, etc, etc…). We have a lot of problems in this country but we still remain the great light of this world, but unless WE make a change, that light will be extinguished. Please do your part and encourage others to do theirs.

      May wisdom, reason, and peace guide our way.

      Marijuana is illegal because it is immoral, but it is immoral because it is illegal. (Me)

    8. Smargadine says:

      Correction: not those

    9. Steph says:

      @owen, chill dude… he was still human, even tough he was an asswipe.

      What makes people think that the government will listen now? I mean, a state goes legal and they start punishing it by throwing even more DEA agents at it. Most of the time a house will get raided over a dimebag that some guy got seen buying from a dealer.

    10. AndrewH says:

      Marijuana, or Marihuana, not marajuana……