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. Steven says:

      If we think we’re pussies then we will be. Reach deep people. See whats right. Change is OK. Let these spring rains sooth us. I saw a hummingbird moth for the first time today, it was wonderful.

    2. chad g says:

      Maybe we should highlight the failure of our current policies!
      1. Our prohibition has caused the direct murder of over 50,000 mexicans in the last 5 years.
      2. With the 800,000 arrests made in the us..
      a) countless waists are tied up in court, prosecution, prison and other costs.
      b) every state and county has a sex/ murder crime from known offenders let free from pison due to overcrowding. This is due to mandatory minimums.
      c) with 25% of world inmates and only 5% of world population can we truly be the land of the free.
      3. Most associated crimes are a direct result of prohibition itself.

      Everyone rallies around the benefit of marijuana and not the downfalls of the current politics. Legalization can only come from the backlash of the politics and not merits. Every grower, cop, healthcare, profess., counselor and confused/misinformed voter is going to vote no, but if they truly were informed about the major/destructive policies and countless human lives destroyed…


    3. QQuestor says:

      well guys and Gals Dr Ron Paul is running for Pres. if you did not vote for him, this problem of legislation is your fault. i voted for him.now if you feel its more important to steel my hard earned cash to give to lazy people then any of the other 4 are your choice. ( and there MJ policy s are the same too. Paul is the only different choice.

    4. Elle says:

      @Slosh, frankly people like you are part of the problem not the solution.. if you’d rather be jobless than give up ‘weekend smoking’ you have your priorities a bit screwed up. Until the law changes, maybe you should consider coming down, bucking up and earning a living. (yet somehow you have money to buy pot)

    5. hope_JD says:

      talk about separation of church and state. How about God and Nation? What , the country won’t make a profit from legalization, and decriminalization for ppl who smoke in the privacy of their homes. I’ve always been in favor of these eye opening and humanitary epiphanies. Get with the program you ppl in gov’t and Mr. President. stand up for what’s right!! You guys are wasting enuf of our money by keeping menand women in jails for such pettyness. For every cop bustin someone for a joint, they could be out there catchin the REAL CRIMINALS and YOU know what they are.

    6. ZINN PIXX says:

      I have a dream… that someday no one will be prosecuted or
      incarcerated for a plant! An amazing plant that can feed, clothe, house & heal us. A plant that can bring peace & harmony to our lives…I have a dream…ZINN PIXX

    7. “Drug war” prohibition makes the U.S. a weaker world super power. Sapping our resources, fighting constant battles HERE, along our borders, not 1/2 a world away! The “drug war” is un-American & treasonous, pointing out our vulnerabilities with constant incursions into the U.S. 24-7! India is under constant suicide attack from Pakistan. Thanks to the “drug war”, submarines have pointed out a serious chink in our armor! Evil doers could use the “drug war”, thanks to Border Wars with it’s numerous clones, cue Steven Segal & Sheriff Joe Arpaio, as a road map to mayhem! Add collateral “drug war” deaths like Jose Guerena, valiant Marine veteran coldly cut down doing exactly what his country TRAINED him to do, defend his family! The Pima County, Arizona SWAT team shot Jose more than 60 times after he told his wife & 4 year old son to hide as they broke in. We need to stand up & shout, NO WAY, YOU CAN’T GO ON KILLING MARINES LIKE JOSE FOR UNJUST REASONS! The cost in American blood & a trillion or 2 of treasure lost is too high to measure. None other than Fox News, via John Stossel, is calling for an end to the “drug war”! You expect Fox News to agree with the 700 Club, but they are both AGAINST the “drug war” thanks to Pot Robertson, er make that Pat Robertson! Worldwide forces are coming into alignment to slay the “drug war” demon & Sir Richard Branson is going to hurl it into outer space via Virgin Galactic!

    8. […] direct incentive to lie.  Has it and does it continue to knowingly lie?  Absolutely!  From 1936 until now, the deluge of misinformation from Government funded studies, Congressional testimony, and much […]

    9. […] 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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