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

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    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.

    41 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……

    11. ck31 says:

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

    12. Nicole says:

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

    13. 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.

    14. InkMama says:

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

    15. InkMama says:

      Oops! I meant they did NOT spell it wrong

    16. brad says:


      the same reason you spelt Marijuana wrong?

    17. 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

    18. Anonymous says:

      They didn’t spell marijuana wrong genius lol

    19. 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.

    20. 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.

    21. caveman says:

      Thank you NORML for all of your hard work!

      I consider joining my local NORML chapter all of the time, but as a professional, I live in fear of MY government’s power to take my livelihood.

      It is counter intuitive that we the people pay massive numbers of people to limit our rights as free people. I feel like a kindergartner in this over policed state.

      Is it too much to ask to live in peace and be a law abiding, productive citizen? My highly paid, well compensated government tells me every day that I am a criminal.

      I can’t put into words my frustrations toward the people who have contributed to the destruction of all of the lives by very well thought out plans purely for financial gain. It is maddening!!

      I am many things: a conservative, a father, a brother, a son, a worker and a lover of life. What I am not, is a criminal………

    22. Joel: the other Joel says:

      It was the efforts of Richard Nixon’s plan to target hatred towards protesters of his war policies on Viet Nam.
      Federal agencies made it worse by giving free LSD to protesters, however, the protesters shared it around and made new converts against Richard Nixon. LSD does more than causing a person to see crazy things, it also expand the mind. Marijuana helped to keep the mind expanding and it made the society more friendlier and objectively allowed the curious mind to question things. The creative smart-ass protester of the college hippies that major in Liberal Arts, Philosophy, and Law, made enemy number one on Richard Nixon’s hate list.
      The federal agencies tried other plans to add spin to the Viet Nam anti-war movement and it failed even worse by making it violent and portraying the hippies as communist revolutionaries. The federal government was running out of options on trying to get public to spin in their favor.

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

    23. Freedom says:

      Its just an excuse to arrest minorities take away their voting rights.if we cant legally vote due to felony charges then we cant vote in change.

    24. Bryant says:

      Let us lock the lawmakers up and make them eat and smoke herb all day until they see it our way.

      That is what they do to us – lock us up and fill us full of their propaganda, hoping we will break and see it their way..

      Reminds me of communist countries, not the one the founding father’s envisioned.

      They need a taste of their own medicine. LOL. I mean our medicine. Spark it up, Congress!

    25. Kelly Kathrineberg says:

      @ Jeedi Truth… truth… truth… truth. Nice Gen X reference. We are surely family!

    26. Billybob says:

      any reason you spelt marijuana wrong? @Dei-Kobi.
      And i believe in the old days they used an h. not sure why though.

    27. [...] 40 Years Ago Today: Congress Was Told To Tell The Truth About Marijuana; They Didn’t 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 [...] [...]

    28. Chris in WI says:

      @Dei-Kobi regarding MariHuana (sic)

      That’s the way the government (mis)spelled it in 1937 and to this day you can still see this variant in law books. Just illustrates the small amount of effort they put into researching this wonderful plant before deeming it “evil”.

      I sometimes wonder how different our society would be with hemp diesel instead of oil and the wars it brought us.

    29. melissa says:

      You know, when talking about the truth, should we not be addressing the real reasons why marijuana became illegal in the first place? How many people realize that prior to the marijuana tax act of 1937, for centuries, marijuana supplied most of the worlds paper, clothing, textiles, rope, because it was the strongest, natural, most renewable fibre; and was the second most used medicine in America for 150 years, and was applied to 100 different medical issues including stress, nausea, glaucoma, asthma, arthritis, and epilepsy. How many people know that Henry Ford had acres of Hemp fields so he could fuel his Model T’s with Hemp ethanol oil and his side door panels of his cars were made from hemp and were considered 10 times stronger than the door panels made in all vehicles now. Hemp seed oil can also be used as a machine-grade lubricant for engines thereby replacing petroleum from the ground. Given now what we know about hemp, is the real reason why marijuana is still illegal, not because it is a threat to our children, but a threat to big business? Look at the history, and names like William Hearst and Harry Anslinger, and the lies that they spread in order to get public approval to make marijuana illegal in the U.S.

    30. DAKINe HAWAIi says:

      Here is where you can find the shafer report


      1937 Cannabis made federally illegal in the U.S. with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act.
      they used the word “marihuana” because it sounded Hispanic.

    31. Anonymous says:

      Marijuana is still illegal because big business would have too much to lose if it were not. Let the truth about the history of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, be told.

    32. melissa says:

      Marijuana is still illegal because big business would have too much to lose, if it were not. Let the truth about the history of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 be told.

    33. fishcreekbob says:

      Cannabis the multi Trillion dollar crop.

    34. Galileo Galilei says:

      Meanwhile the number one killer, nicotine, is perfectly legal. Congress took over 30 years after the Surgeon General mandated warnings on tobacco products before allowing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate it. With 400,000 lingering, early deaths a year from tobacco and the systematic suppression of research on the anti-tumor properties of marijuana is there really any wonder why we have a health care crisis. We need to address health care at its fundamental biological basis, not elevate ideology over science.

      One can’t help but wonder if everything the government does is this inept. Talk about fraud and waste.

    35. Galileo Galilei says:

      Just a suggestion:

      I think perhaps we could encourage people to vaporize their favorite drug instead of smoking. This would at least eliminate the accumulation of combustion products. I’ve been left with an aversion to prohibition, but you can smell smoke on people even if the do it outside, so at least this may be enforceable.

      I’d be curious to see any comments on this suggestion, folks, if done sincerely and not reduced to the Beavis-and-Butthead mentality so common on the Internet, especially from folks in the health care field.

    36. Tom says:

      God i fucking hate Nixon itll be nice when hes forgotten if i had the power id erase him from history books. But then again history books are there to learn from our mistakes

    37. Tom says:

      Im a server at a Raddison hotel for banquest and had to serve a republican Nixon party you can guess how that went. Bunch of ignorant old people that whine like a baby. Lucky I need that job and dont want a battery

    38. Mr Flibble says:

      The degree of obvious contradiction in marijuana prohibition just makes my head hurt if I think about it too much. Any reason given for continued prohibition makes so little sense it seems they’ve stopped even attempting to provide logical explanations for it.

      The only real reasons are greed and fear of change. These people who make so much money on marijuana being illegal fail to see that, were it legalized, they could change the focus of their organizations and make more money. Since the actual motivation for their current anti-pot organizations are more driven by money than any moral ideals or concern for the common man’s welfare it seems they would have no real crisis of conscience doing a 180 to keep making the money they currently do off prohibition.

      The government is missing a huge opportunity for profit.

      I don’t smoke pot, but only because I have no desire to go jail. Continued prohibition will see no financial gain to the court systems from me.

      I drink about once a month when I feel the desire to be drunk. Were pot legal I would still drink just once a month. The alcohol industry would see no lost profit from me.

      I don’t smoke tobacco, so the tobacco industry would see no lost profits from me.

      I would only smoke pot like I drink: at home with no intention of operating a motor vehicle, so public safety would not be put at risk because of me.

      The only change the government would see from me as a result of legalization would be an increase in revenue on both the local and federal economic levels.

      Somehow I don’t think I’m in the minority.

    39. J says:

      Didnt they start spellling marijuana that way ( marihuana) to make it appear more “foreign” and increase the fear that it was a problem associated with mexicans??

    40. Walter says:

      Legalize it already! Tax it, get out of debt as a nation.

    41. netwrok says:

      The US government is a bigger threat to the citizens of the USA than any other terrorist organization in the world.

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