Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding

When I was writing The Cartoon Guide to Recreational Drugs I scoured the local libraries and bookstores looking for useful and interesting historical works. Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding is one of my sources.

The parts I generally took notes from were either about the drugs themselves or the prohibition of drugs. You’ll find the information garnered from these books throughout the Prohibition Politics section of this site. It will also have informed some of my own postings stored in the older Prohibition Politics archive.

If you find this information useful, you will want to search out the books themselves to read the text in context. All of the books here are at least moderately interesting.


Raymond P. Shafer, chaired. the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse. They submitted their official report to Congress on March 22, 1972. Whereupon, like most official inquiries that were given the freedom to investigate, it was completely ignored: it recommended lightening or outright removing sentences for marijuana use.


The policy conclusions and recommendations were judged with the same bias as the results of the Royal Opium Commission.

“many of our citizens have been numbed by sensationalist accounts of the ravages of addictive hard drugs, and turned off by the variant legal penalties involving marihuana use. I hope that the policy conclusions and recommendations derived from the Commission’s research, discussions, and reflections will be judged without bias. The nation’s collective judgement has been victimized by polarizing effects in the past. It is about time to evaluate the facts free from the crippling prejudices of age, class, and station.”

To The President and Congress of the United States

Nixon wanted a “tough on crime” report regardless of the evidence. Governor Shafer delivered an honest report, with conclusions based on evidence. At the time Shafer was being considered for a federal judgeship, which, of course, he did not get.

“Whatever the facts are we have reported them. Wherever the facts have logically led us, we have followed and used them in reaching our recommendations. We hope this Report will be a foundation upon which credibility in this area can be restored and upon which a rational policy can be predicated.”

Commission Members

Hon. Raymond Philip Shafer, Chairman

Dana L. Farnsworth, M.D., Vice Chairman

Henry Brill, M.D.

Hon. Tim Lee Carter, U.S. Representative, Kentucky

Mrs. Joan Ganz Cooney

Charles O. Galvin, S.J.D.

John A. Howard, Ph.D.

Hon. Harold E. Hughes, U.S. Senator, Iowa

Hon. Jacob K. Javits, U.S. Senator, New York

Hon. Paul G. Rogers, U.S. Representative, Florida

Maurice H. Seevers, M.D., Ph.D.

J. Thomas Ungerleider, M.D.

Mitchell Ware, J.D.


You have to love the politicalese of this introduction. They had to know that Nixon (and probably Congress) wanted no such thing as a “rational” recommendation.

This is the first of two reports; it focuses on marihuana; the second will be on the “broader issue of drug abuse in the United States.”

P. 2

Funds became available on March 22, 1971. They commissioned over 50 projects.

P. 3

“President Nixon has frequently expressed his personal and official commitment to providing a rational and equitable public response to the use and misuse of drugs…. In appointing this Commission, both the President and Congress have recognized the need for an independent, nonpartisan appraisal of the nature of marihuana and the consequences of its use”.

Marihuana and the Problem of Marihuana

The commission asks a very good question: Why marijuana? Why now? It isn’t as if there aren’t other vice, illegal for even longer than marijuana, that could be exciting public interest. The difference is, who takes part in these vices? Gambling and prostitution is for older people; marijuana is for the younger counter-culture.

p. 6

Attempting to determine why marihuana use has become such a big deal:

“The most apparent feature of the behavior is that it is against the law. But inconsistency between behavior and the legal norm is not sufficient, in itself, to create a social problem. Marihuana has been an illegal substance for several decades; and the widespread violation of laws against gambling and adultery have not excited the public to the same extent as has marihuana-smoking in recent years.”

P. 7

“most important, the drug has evolved in the late sixties and early seventies as a symbol of wider social conflicts and public issues.”

“The Commission-sponsored National Survey, “A Nationwide Study of Beliefs, Information and Experiences,” indicated that some 24 million Americans have tgried marihuana at least once and that at least 8.3 million are current users.”

P. 8-9

“Although marihuana is taken by most users for curiosity or pleasure, the non-using public still feels seriously affected by use of the drug. Several decades ago it was popularly asserted that the drug brought about a large variety of social and individual ills, including crime and insanity. As a result it was prohibited by federal law in 1937. The marihuana explosion of the mid-sixties occurred within the context of 30 years of instilled fear. Although based much more on fantasy than on proven fact, the marihuana “evils” took root in the public mind, and now continue to color the public reaction to the marihuana phenomenon.”

P. 12

“one 19th century observer attributed delirium tremens, perverted sexuality, impotency, insanity and cancer to the smoking and chewing of tobacco.”

“Beginning in earnest around 1870, abstentionists focused the public opinion process on alcohol. As science and politics were called to the task, public attention was drawn to the liquor problem. “Liquor is responsible for 19% of the divorces, 25% of the poverty, 25% of the insanity, 37% of the pauperism, 45% of child desertion and 50% of the crime in this country,” declared the Anti-Saloon League. “And this,” it was noted, “is a very conservative estimate.””

P. 13

“partly from riding the coattails of abstentionist sentiment,” anti-tobacconists gained a measure of success. The New York Times, 1885:

The decadence of Spain began when the Spaniards adopted cigarettes and if this pernicious habit obtains among adult Americans, the ruin of the Republic is close at hand….

Between 1895 and 1921, 14 states banned the sale of cigarettes.

P. 14

All 14 states which had prohibited sale of [cigarettes?] repealed their proscriptions by 1927. Possession was never illegal. Even alcohol, during prohibition, only 5 states prohibited possession.

For opium, morphine, heroin, and cocaine use in the 19th century, “addiction was generally accidental and well-hidden. It stemmed in part from over-medication, careless prescription practices, repeated refills and hidden distribution of narcotic drugs in patent medicines…. Self-regulation by the medical profession and pharamceutical [sic] industry, stricter prescription practices by the state governments and regulation of labeling by the Federal Government in 1906 all combined in the early years of the new century to reduce the possibility of this accidental drug addiction.”

P. 30

“Again and again during the course of our hearings, we have been startled by the divergence of opinion within different segments of our population. Sometimes the disagreement is quite vehement, and relates to the underlying social concerns of particular groups. For example, we were told repeatedly by leaders of the urban black communities that they wanted to purge all drug use from their midst, marihuana included, and that the “legalization” of marihuana would be viewed as part of a design to keep the black man enslaved.”

Marihuana Use and Its Effects

Marijuana use pervades all parts of society, throughout class, religion, gender, and race. Cross-cultural studies showed no “deterioration of mental or social functioning” despite “heavy long-term cannabis use”.

p. 38

“On the basis of the Commission-sponsored National Survey, we have concluded that contemporary marihuana use is pervasive, involving all segments of the U.S. population. The Survey estimated that about 24 million Americans over the age of 11 years (15% of the adults 18 and over, and 14% of the 12-17 year olds) have used marihuana at least once, referred to in this Report as ever-users. Until recently twice as many males as females had used it; the most up-to-date studies of high school students, college-age individuals, and young adults carried out by the Commission indicate that this sex differential appears to be diminishing. In many youthful populations use is almost equally distributed between males and females.” [Could this be because high schools have an equal number of males and females, whereas colleges have, or had previously had, more males?]

“Marihuana use does not appear to vary significantly by race. With respect to the religious affiliation of the users, Jews and Catholics appear to be slightly overrepresented as compared to Protestants.”

P. 44

Experimental Users (once a month or less): “Disciplined, optimistic, and self-confident, experimenters appear to be as conventional, responsible, goal-oriented and orderly as non-users.”

Intermittent Users (2 to 10 times monthly): “Intermittent marihuana users, like the experimenters, are generally conventional in most respects. They are more liberal politically and socially and they tend to stress education for personal improvement rather than for recognition or high grades. Like many non-users, these individuals are likely to be self-expressive, intellectually anhd culturally oriented, creative, and flexible.”

Moderate and Heavy Users (11 times monthly to once daily; several times daily): “Generally, the heavy marihuana user’s life style, activities, values and attitudes are unconventional and at variance with those of the larger society. These individuals are more pessimistic, insecure, irresponsible, and non-conforming. They find routine especially distasteful. Their behavior and mood are restless and uneven.”

“several surveys have also revealed that they tend to be curious, socially perceptive, skillful and sensitive to the needs of others, and possess broadly based, although unconventional, interests.”

P. 48

“Although they could be labeled “underachievers” in terms of the traditional standards of the larger society, these individuals were motivated to pursue actively the interests and activities of their own subculture.”

P. 51

In predicting who will choose to use marihuana, “The most significant behavior seems to be use of legal drugs, especially alcohol and tobacco. Young people who choose to experiment with marihuana are fundamentally the same people, socially and psychologically, as those who use alcohol and tobacco.”

P. 60

“Most marihuana available in this country comes from Mexico and has a THC content of less than 1%. Marihuana of American origin often contains less than two-tenths of 1% THC. Marihuana originating in Jamaica and Southeast Asia often has a 2% to 4% THC content.”

P. 63

“Studies in foreign countries indicate that very heavy prolonged use of very large quantities of hashish leads to the development of tolerance to the mental effects, requiring an increase in intake to reach the original level of satisfaction. However, for the intermittent use pattern and even the moderate use pattern, little evidence exists to indicate the development of tolerance to the desired “high,” although the high may persist for a shorter time period.”

P. 66

Psychological dependence is the repeated use of psychoactive drugs leading to a conditional pattern of drug-seeking behavior. The intensity of dependence varies with the nature of the drug, the method, frequency, and duration of administration, the mental and physical attributes of the individual, and the characteristics of the physical and social environment. Its intensity is at its peak when drug-seeking becomes a compulsive and undeviating pattern of behavior.

Physical dependence is the state of latent hyper-excitability which develops in the central nervous system of higher mammals following frequent and prolonged administration of the morphine-like analgesics, alcohol, barbiturates, and other depressants. Such dependence is not manifest subjectively or objectively during drug administration. Specific symptoms and signs, the abstinence syndrome, occur upon abrupt termination of drug administration; or with morphine-like agonists by administering the specific antagonists.”

Experimenters and intermittent users

Little or no psychological dependence.

Influence on behavior related largely to conditioning to drug use and its social value to the user.

No organ injury demonstrable.

Moderate users

Moderate psychological dependence increasing with duration of use.

Behavioral effects minimal in stable personalities, greater in those with emotional instabilities.

Probably little if any organ injury.

Duration of use increases probability of escalation of all effects including shift from moderate to heavy use.

Heavy users

American “pot head.”

Strong psychological dependence.

Detectable behavior changes.

Possible organ injury (chronic diminution of pulmonary function).

Effects more easily demonstrable with long-term use.

Very heavy users

Users in countries where the use of cannabis ahs been indigenous for centuries.

Very strong psychological dependence to point of compulsive drug seeking and use.

Clear-cut behavioral changes.

Greater incidence of associated organ injury.

P. 68

Subjective Effects: “Perhaps the closest analogies are the experience of day dreaming or the moments just prior to falling asleep. The effect is not constant and a cyclical waxing and waning of the intensity of the intoxication occurs periodically.”

At low (social) doses, there may be “an increased sense of well-being; initial restlessness and hilarity followed by a dreamy, carefree state of relaxation; alteration of sensory perceptions including expansion of space and time; and” more vivid senses; hunger, “especially a craving for sweets”.

At higher (moderate) doses, those reactions are intensified, but the changes would still be “scarcely noticeable to an observer.” Rapidly changing emotions, changing sensory imagery, dulling of attention, more altered thought formation and expression such as fragmented thought, flight of ideas, impaired immediate memory, disturbed associations, altered sense of self-identity, and a “perceived feeling of enhanced insight.” [Woah, this movie is awesome. What’s it called?” “Reefer Madness.”]

At “very high” doses, distortions of body images, loss of personal identity, sensory and mental illusions, fantasies and hallucinations.

P. 69

“Nearly all persons who continue to use marihuana describe these usual effects in largely pleasurable terms.”

“A large amount of research has been performed in man and animals regarding the immediate effect of marihuana on bodily processes. No conclusive evidence exists of any physical damage, disturbances of bodily processes or proven human fatalities attributable solely to even very high doses of marihuana. Recently, animal studies demonstrated a relatively large margin of safety between the psychoactive dose and the physical and behavioral toxic and lethal dose. Such studies seemed to indicate that safe human study could be undertaken over a wide dose range.”

Low to moderate doses: pulse rate increases, recumbent blood pressure increases slightly, upright blood pressure decreases; eyes redden, tear secretion is decreased, pupils become slightly smaller, fluid pressure within the eye lessens, “and one study reports that the eyeball rapidly oscillates (nystagmus).

“A minimal decrement in maximum muscle strength, the presence of a find hand tremor, and a decrease in hand and body steadiness have also been noted. Decreased sensitivity to pain and overestimation of elapsed time may occur.”

P. 70

“These few consistently observed transient effects on bodily function seem to suggest that marihuana is a rather unexciting compound of negligible immediate toxicity at the doses usually consumed in this country.”

Mental function

“Generally, the degree of impairment of cognitive and psychomotor performance is dose-related, with minimal effect at low doses…. Performance of simple or familiar tasks is at most minimally impaired, while poor performance is demonstrated on complex, unfamiliar tasks.”

“Effects on emotional reactions and on volition are…variable and are difficult to measure under laboratory conditions, but can be significant.”

P. 71

Intoxication: “Generally, a temporary episodic impairment of short-term memory occurs. These memory voids may be filled with thoughts and perceptions extraneous to organized mental processes…. Past and future may become obscured as the individual focuses on filling the present momentary memory relapse. His sense of self-identity may beem altered if he cannot place himself in his usual time frame.”

“A heavy sluggish feeling, mentally and physically, is common in inexperienced marihuana smokers who overshoot the desired high or in persons who might orally ingest too large a dose. Dizziness, nausea, incoordination and palpitations often accompany the “too stoned” feeling.”

“Novice anxiety reactions” account for “a majority of unpleasant reactions to marihuana.”

P. 73

Short term effects of “enormous” daily doses studied in rats and monkeys for three months: given up to about 100,000 times the “minimal behaviorally effective human dose. Severe generalized nervous system depression for the first few days, and this produced fatalities in some rats until tolerance developed. “Later, extreme hyperactivity developed.” “All rapidly returned to normal behavior after the development of tolerance to these effects.”

A 28-day study on monkeys given 1 to 10,000 times the minimal effective human dose produced similar findings. “These animal studies illustrated that the margin of safety between active dose and toxic dose was enormous.”

P. 74

The 21-day Boston study, in which subjects were given free access, and frequency of use was from 1 to several times daily, “no harmful effects were observed on general body functions, motor functions, mental functions, personal or social behavior or work performance. Total sleep time and periods of sleep were increased. Weight gain was uniformly reported.

‘No evidence of physical dependence or signs of withdrawal were noted. In the heaviest smokers, moderate psychological dependence was suggested by an increased negative mood after cessation of smoking.

‘Tolerance appeared to develop to the immediate effects of the drug on general bodily functions (pulse rate) and psychomotor-cognitive performance (time estimation, short-term memory, and shooting-gallery skill) but not to the “high.” Marihuana intoxication did not significantly inhibit the ability of the subjects to improve with practice through time on these psychological-motor skills.”

P. 76-77

From the Jamaican and Greek studies (still on-going at the time), “some tolerance does occur with prolonged heavy usage; large drug doses are necessary for the desired effects. Abrupt withdrawal does not lead to a specific or reproducible abstinance syndrome and physical dependence has not been demonstrated in man or in animals. The very heavy users studied did evidence strong psychological dependence, but were able to cease use for short periods of time. In these users, withdrawal does induce symptoms characteristic of pychological dependence. The anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, and other non-specific symptoms of withdrawal are very similar in kind and intensity to those experienced by compulsive cigarette smokers.

‘Although the distress of withdrawal exerts a very strong psychogenic drive to continue use, fear of withdrawal is, in most cases, not adequate to inspire immediate criminal acts to obtain the drug.”

“In the Jamaican study, no significant physical or mental abnormalities could be attributed to marihuana use, according to an evaluation of medical history, complete physical examination, chest x-ray, electrocardiogram, blood cell and chemistry tests, lung, liver or kidney function tests, selected hormone evaluation, brain waves, psychiatric evaluation and psychological testing. There was no evidence to indicate that the drug as commonly used was responsible for producing birth defects in offspring of users.”

“Heavy smoking, no matter if the substance was tobacco or ganja, was shown to contribute to pulmonary functions lower than those found among persons who smoked neither substance. All the ganja smokers studied also smoked tobacco. In Jamaica, ganja is always smoked in a mixture with tobacco; and many of the subjects were heavy cigarette smokers, as well.”

“In a study of Greek hashish-using population preliminary findings revealed poor dentition, enlarged livers and chronic bronchities. Further study is required to clarify the relationship of these to hashish use, alcohol or tobacco use, or general life style of this user population.”

“The Jamaican and Greek subjects did not evidence any deterioration of mental or social functioning… These individuals seem to have survived heavy long-term cannabis use without major physical or behavioral defects.”

P. 78

“If heavy cannabis use produces a specific psychosis, it must be quite rare or else exceedingly difficult to distinguish from other acute or chronic psychoses.

‘Recent studies suggest that the occurrence of any form of psychosis in heavy cannabis users is no higher than in the general population….

‘These findings are somewhat surprising in view of the widespread belief that cannabis attracts the mentally unstable, vulnerable individual.” [Yeah. “Recent observations suggest that the moon is made of dirt. This is surprising in view of the widespread belief that it’s made of green cheese.”]

Social Impact of Marihuana Use

No relationship between marijuana and crime, except perhaps a negative one: marijuana use lessens crime. Driving tests revealed “no significant correlations between marihuana use and driving disabilities.”

p. 88

Even in early investigations of marihuana and crime, “if any relationship was indicated, it was not a positive and direct causal connection but an inverse or negative statistical correlation.

‘Rather than inducing violent or aggressive behavior…, marihuana was usually found to inhibit the expression of aggressive impulses by pacifying the user, interfering with muscular coordination, reducing psychomotor activities and generally producing states of drowsiness, lethargy, timidity, and passivity. [We make you drowsy, so you can rob a bank.]

In fact, when “marihuana-using offenders were compared with offenders who did not use marihuana, the former were generally found to have committed less aggressive behavior than the latter.”

P. 90

There was a West Coast study of “disadvantaged minority-group youthful marihuana users…. marihuana was found to play a significant role in youth’s transition from a “rowdy” to a “cool” non-violent style.”

P. 91

“No evidence exists that marihuana use will cause or lead to the commission of violent or aggressive behavior by the large majority of psychologically and socially mature individuals in the general population.”

P. 92

For non-violent crime, “Recent data suggest that some of this confusion may be the result of a fairly widespread misconception about the addiction potential of marihuana. To the extent that persons believe marihuana users are physically dependent on the drug, they may assume that, like the heroin user, the marihuana user commits his offenses in order to support what is perceived as a drug habit;… There is no evidence that this is the case, even for those who use the drug heavily.”

P. 97

Marihuana and driving: In simulator studies suggest that while marihuana can produce interference with motor/mental abilities which affect driving, “these effects were generally believed to be readily overcome by the exercise of extreme caution by the driver and a significant reduction in speed.”

‘The few driving simulator tests completed to date have generally revealed no significant correlations between marihuana use and driving disabilities.”

P. 102

Drug abuse is the use of psychoactive drugs in a way likely to induce mental dysfunction and disordered behavior.

“The Commission believes that many of the perplexing issues relating to psychoactive drugs, including marihuana, can be clarified if drug abuse refers only to the impact of drug-induced behavior on society.”

P. 104

Lethality: “Experiments with the drug in monkeys demonstrated that the dose required for overdose death was enormous and for all practical purposes unachievable by humans smoking marihuana.”

No genetic damage.

P. 105-106

The Commission reviewed (for long-term, chronic effects of heavy use-up to 41 years), contemporary studies, and lower socioeconomic populations of Afghanistan, Greece, and Jamaica. “Minimal abnormalities in pulmonary function have been observed in some cases of heavy and very heavy smokers of potent marihuana preparations (ganja or hashish). However, one study concluded the cause was smoking in general, no matter what the substance. The other study could no express any conclusion because of the absence of a control population. Such decrements in normal pulmonary capacity may represent early warning signals in the development of chronic lung disease.”

No brain damage.

“No outstanding abnormalities in psychological tests, psychiatric interviews or coping patterns have been conclusively documented in studies of cannabis users in other countries of the world.”

P. 107-108

Believes that ‘amotivational syndrome’ “merits further research and evaluation.” But it occurs only in “heavy, long-term users”.

“In a word, cannabis does not lead to physical dependence. No torturous withdrawal syndrome follows the sudden cessation of chronic, heavy use of marihuana…. the level of psychological dependence is no different from the syndrome of anxiety and restlessness seen when an American stops smoking tobacco cigarettes.”

Social Response to Marihuana Use

Throughout the history of marijuana prohibition, lawmakers have had to create blatant lies in order to pass laws against marijuana.

p. 131

The House Ways and Means Committee, on the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937:

Under the influence of this drug the will is destroyed and all power of directing and controlling thought is lost. Inhibitions are released. As a result of these effects, it appeared from testimony produced at the hearings that many violent crimes have been and are being committed by persons under the influence of this drug. Not only is marihuana used by the hardened criminals to steel them to commit violent crimes, but it is also being placed in the hands of high-school children in the form of marihuana cigarettes by unscrupulous peddlers. Cases were cited at the hearings of school children who have been driven to crime and insanity through the use of this drug. Its continued use results many times in impotency and insanity.

In 1956, adding to the penalties for marihuana use, Senator Price M. Daniel, Chairman of the Senate subcommittee considering the ‘56 Act, commented:

Marihuana is a drug which starts most addicts in the use of drugs. Marihuana, in itself a dangerous drug, can lead to some of the worst crimes committed by those who are addicted to the habit. Evidently, its use leads to the heroin habit and then to the final destruction of the persons addicted.

P. 132

“Arrests, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences of imprisonment all increased at both the federal and state levels”, once college youth started using it. Marihuana arrests by Customs increased 362% from FY 1965 to 1970. . Arrests by the BNDD (which concerns itself primarily with sale), rose 80% from 1965 to 1968. State arrests rose 1,000% from 1965 to 1970.

P. 135

“When the Supreme Court declared certain aspects of the [Marihuana] Tax Act [of 1937] unconstitutional in 1969, revision of the law became essential.”

P. 148

“At the college level, the response is even more lenient. In many cases official neutrality or even protection against police intervention substitutes for the restraint common at the secondary level. Under formal or informal arrangements with local law enforcement officials, many schools bar on-campus arrests for marihuana use. Apparently they have concluded that enforcement of the marihuana laws causes more harm than does use of the drug. In some cases, college authorities have substituted their own policy for society’s official policy. The Commission learned at one of its hearings in Chicago, for example, that a major Midwestern university explicitly declared that students would be subject to university disciplinary action if they were found in possession of more than one week’s supply of marihuana.”

Marihuana and Social Policy

They noted that, if this were alcohol, we already know that its prohibition is unconstitutional. The right to be let alone is “the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.” Recommendation: personal, private use no longer a crime; casual distribution no longer a crime.

p. 164

“Having previously rejected the approval policy (option number one), we now reject the eliminationist policy (option number two). This policy, if taken seriously, would require a great increase in manpower and resources in order to eliminate the use of a drug which simply does not warrant that kind of attention.”

The other choices (besides approval and elimination) are discouragement, or neutrality.

P. 168


P. 176

“On the basis of this evaluation we believe that the criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use. 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.”

Early prohibitions of alcohol possession were declared unconstitutional, for example, the Supreme Court of Kentucky, 1915, Commonwealth v. Campbell:

It is not within the competency of government to invade the privacy of the citizen’s life and to regulate his conduct in matters in which he alone is concerned, or to prohibit him any liberty the exercise of which will not directly injure society. … The right to use liquor for one’s own comfort, if they use it without direct injury to the public, is one of the citizen’s natural and inalienable rights…. We hold that the police power—vague and wide and undefined as it is—has limits….

In 1890, in Ah Lin v. Territory, Judge Scott wrote:

I make no question but that the habit of smoking opium may be repulsive and degrading. That its effect would be to shatter the nerves and destroy the intellect; and that it may tend to the increase of the pauperism and crime. But there is a vast difference between the commission of a single act, and a confirmed habit. There is a distinction to be recognized between the use and abuse of any article or substance…. If this act must be held valid it is hard to conceive of any legislative action affecting the personal conduct, or privileges of the individual citizen, that must not be upheld…. the prohibited act cannot affect the public in any way except through the primary personal injury to the individual, if it occasions him any injury. It look like a new and extreme step under our government in the field of legislation, if it really was passed for any of the purposes upon which that character of legislation can be sustained, if at all.

P. 177

“As a matter of constitutional history, a second tradition, the application of specific provisions in the Bill of Rights, has generally replaced the notion of “inherent” limitations. The ultimate effect is virtually the same, however. The Fourth Amendment’s proscription of “unreasonable searches and seizures” reflects a constitutional commitment to the value of individual privacy. The importance of the Fourth Amendment to the entire constitutional scheme was eloquently described by Justice Brandeis in 1928 in the case of Olmstead v. U.S.:”

The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings and his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfaction of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone—the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.

In Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court (in 1965) held that Connecticut could not constitutionally prohibit the use of birth control devices by married persons.

Such a law cannot stand in light of the familiar principle, so often applied by this Court, that a “governmental purpose to control or prevent activities constitutionally subject to state regulation may not be achieved by means which sweep unnecessarily broadly and thereby invade the area of protected freedom.”… Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship.

P. 182-183

March, 1971, President Nixon said to the National Conference on the Judiciary:

What can be done to break the logjam of justice today, to ensure the right to a speedy trial—and to enhance respect for law? We have to find ways to clear the courts of the endless stream of “victimless crimes” that get in the way of serious consideration of serious crimes. There are more important matters for highly skilled judges and prosecutors than minor traffic offenses, loitering and drunkenness.

P. 189

They recommend a partial prohibition, which would (they feel) have the following effects:

  • Symbolizing a continuing societal discouragement of use;
  • Facilitating the deemphasis of marihuana essential to answering dispassionately so many of the unanswered questions;
  • Permitting a simultaneous medical, educational, religious and parental efforts to concentrate on reducing irresponsible use and remedying its consequences;
  • Removing the criminal stigma and the threat of incarceration from a widespread behavior (possession for personal use) which does not warrant such treatment;
  • Relieving the law enforcement community of the responsibility for enforcing a law of questionable utility, and one which they cannot fully enforce, thereby allowing concentration on drug trafficking and crimes against persons and property;
  • Relieving the judicial calendar of a large volume of marihuana possession cases which delay the processing of more serious cases; and
  • Maximizing the flexibility of future public responses as new information comes to light.

“The major features of the recommended scheme are that: production and distribution of the drug would remain criminal activities as would possession with intent to distribute commercially; marihuana would be contraband subject to confiscation in public places; and criminal sanctions would be withdrawn from private use and possession incident to such use, but, at the state level, fines would be imposed for use in public.”

In other words, and quite loudly:


P. 193

For states, they recommended that


A Final Comment

Throughout the report, the commission continually discusses that because of the unfairness and disproportionality of the laws against marijuana, they would even recommend going even further away from punitive laws than they’re already recommending, were it not for the “social realities”. The social realities being, the public does not yet support at greater than 50% the legalization of marihuana.

p. 211

“The existing social and legal policy is out of proportion to the individual and social harm engendered by the use of the drug. To replace it, we have attempted to design a suitable social policy, which we believe is fair, cautious and attuned to the social realities of our time.”