HMJ Classics: “Blind Elders”

This is the first installment of a series about cannabis prohibition that came to known as “Blind Elders.”


A line from a song by Donovan goes, “. . .and, as the elders of our time chose to remain blind . . ..” This is that kind of story. This is part of the story of how cannabis got classified a Schedule I drug. It’s 1970. History to some; the year someone graduated from high school.

The Controlled Substances Act was drafted in 1970. That act created the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. While the Commission was studying and drafting its’ report, cannabis was placed — supposedly temporarily — in Schedule I, the most restrictive classification under the Act. Cannabis’ ultimate classification would depend on the report of the commission. What would they recommend?

The Commission was chaired by Republican Raymond P. Shafer, once governor of Pennsylvania. The Commission became known as the “Shafer Commission.” There were thirteen (13) members of which President Nixon personally picked nine (9). Nixon, by his selection, intended to “fix” the conclusions of the report.

The final report sent to Congress and the American people was titled, “Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding.” Sailing into a strong head wind of reefer madness the study concluded that, “looking only at the effects on the individual, there is little proven danger of physical or psychological harm from the experimental or intermittent use of the natural preparations of cannabis.” The President was pissed.

The Shafer Commission recommended a policy of discouraging “heavy and very heavy use” of marijuana. The government encourages marriage by providing favorable tax incentives to married people. The government does not compel people to get married. Something like this approach was suggested to keep people from consuming too much cannabis. A version of this is the slogan “drink responsibly.” Other than that the Commission recommended:

Decriminalizing simple possession of cannabis: “The criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession . . . The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify . . ..”

Private possession was no longer to be criminalized.
Public possession of small amounts would be “contraband subject to seizure and forfeiture.” The individual would not have a criminal record but would lose the value of the cannabis.
Public possession / distribution would be subject to a fine.

The Commission found the constitutionality of marijuana prohibition was suspect. Also, “the use of drugs for pleasure or other non-medical purposes is not inherently irresponsible; alcohol is widely used as an acceptable part of social activities.”

National legal, medical, religious and public heath professionals agreed with the report. President Nixon said, “no.” Nixon strong-armed Shafer prior to release of the report, complaining to him that his Commission would look “bad as hell” by “coming out with something [the report] . . . that runs counter . . . to what we are planning to do [start the “war on drugs.”]”

Nixon did not implement the recommendations of the report. Cannabis is still classified as Schedule I. But you know that.

This is not the only time the elders of the time chose to remain blind as regards cannabis. Next week we’ll visit another of these failures.

[image: Google images “Shafer & Nixon”]

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Author: DavidB

a heathen, but hopefully not an unenlightened one

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