50 Years After Nixon’s Commission Said Cops Should Stop Busting Pot Users, the Federal Ban Remains Unchanged
By JACOB SULLUM | Reason 3.22.2022 6:05 PM
Fifty years ago today, the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse issued a report that was quite different from what President Richard Nixon probably was expecting when he appointed the blue-ribbon panel, which was chaired by former Pennsylvania Gov. Raymond Shafer. From the perspective of a president who the year before had declared drug abuse “America’s public enemy number one,” the report’s title—Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding—was not promising. And it got worse from there.
“The criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession [of marijuana] even in the effort to discourage use,” the Shafer Commission concluded. “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.”
Based on that assessment, the report recommended that “possession of marihuana for personal use no longer be an offense” and that “casual distribution of small amounts of marihuana for no remuneration, or insignificant remuneration, no longer be an offense.” That policy, which became known as marijuana “decriminalization,” went nowhere with the Nixon administration. But that decade, nearly a dozen states, beginning with Oregon in 1973, took the commission’s advice, typically changing low-level possession from a criminal offense to a civil violation punishable by a modest fine. President Jimmy Carter endorsed decriminalization in 1977, when he toldCongress that “penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.” #marijuana