“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.”
I’ve thought about this paragraph and the document it comes from a lot in the months since marijuana became legal in Colorado. In 1970, under President Richard Nixon, Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. Title B under the act was the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which classified illegal drugs into five schedules, or categories, with Schedule I reserved for the most heinous.
What has almost been lost to history was CSA’s Part F, which called for a commission to study marijuana use from all aspects — medical, cultural and legal — and come up with recommendations. Nixon got to choose the head of the commission, and he dispatched a former Pennsylvania governor, Raymond Shafer, to come up with a (“wink, wink”) document that showed how marijuana was undermining the country. A federal judgeship, Nixon mentioned, might be in the offing.
Instead, Shafer’s National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse took its charge seriously and produced, to date, the only serious study of marijuana yet undertaken from its medical, cultural and legal aspects. It offers a history of marijuana use and regulation, but its main conclusion was that marijuana should be decriminalized for adults for personal use. Needless to say, Shafer didn’t reach the bench, and though Nixon tried his damnedest to bury the report, it’s available online and well worth perusing if you’re even remotely interested in the topic of marijuana legalization (http://bit.ly/3l5zAJ).
Nixon, of course, stuck it to Shafer and everybody else, almost spitefully classifying pot as a Schedule I drug, in the same category as heroin, LSD, ecstasy, mescaline, quaaludes, the date-rape drug GHB and psilocybin, and igniting the War on Drugs. Cocaine, because of its limited medical use, got a Schedule II classification, which means the U.S. government considers cocaine safer than marijuana. Break out the medical coke, everybody.
There are slivers of hope for ending this four-decade exercise in stupidity. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., is introducing a bill that would disallow the federal government from prosecuting individuals and businesses, including marijuana dispensaries, that comply with state cannabis laws (http://yhoo.it/YRdO0u).
However, a recent U.S. House Appropriations Committee hearing that featured Attorney General Eric Holder, whose department is the one Rohrabacher’s bill is aimed at and who is still deciding the federal response to the new laws in Colorado and Washington, sounds like history repeating itself.
One of Holder’s options is to challenge the state laws in federal court. On the committee is Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., who on his congressional website claims to be a medical doctor.
Harris suggested that the attorney general could choose to attempt to overturn those laws, sending a message to American youth that marijuana is not safe, according to an Associated Press story (http://bit.ly/ ZzkJLA). “Kids need clear messages and I’m afraid we’re not sending them one,” he told the AP.
These are the kinds of comments that make my head explode. Nixon’s message was loud and clear: Pot users and those who sell it are threats to society and should be incarcerated, despite what his own study suggested.
Since then, 20 states and even the District of Columbia, where Rep. Harris’ House offices are located, have approved it for medical purposes (http://bit.ly/17NCc6e). Yet Rep. Harris and his cronies lack the intellectual curiosity to even question or wonder why millions of Americans are using pot for medical purposes or voting against the War on Drugs.
Harris pressed Holder on how quickly a decision might come, “because children are dying from drugs,” he added dramatically.
This column does not advocate for any underage use of marijuana. Amendment 64 is explicitly clear about that, too. Kids, like adults, do die from drug and alcohol abuse. But no teenager, or adult, for that matter, has ever died from a pot overdose (http://bit.ly/7SnWRU). Yet Harris, who, let’s remember, claims to be a medical physician, appears to be saying that we should be sending kids exactly the same “clear” message as Richard Nixon: Lie to them.
Harris is right about one thing. Kids need “clear” messages about drugs. But far more importantly, they need “honest” ones.
Next week: A conversation with Rep. Jared Polis about his bill that would change federal drug policy.
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