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

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by Paul Armentano: Confronted
and Owned: Anti-Marijuana Zealot Bill Bennett



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.

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
controlled substance under federal law, a classification that
places cannabis along side heroin as a prohibited substance without
any therapeutic value.

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
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
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.

Paul Armentano
[send him mail] is the deputy
director of NORML and the NORML Foundation. He is also the co-author
of the new book Marijuana
Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People To Drink?
Green Publishing, 2009).

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