About Pot, the Feds Have a Scheduling Problem
Much of the problem with marijuana is its current designation as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government. The government’s persecution of marijuana goes back at least to 1935, when the newly created Bureau of Narcotics, needing some narcotic to fight, created a campaign of disinformation intended to make people believe that pot was directly related to crime, violent behavior, insanity and sexual deviance. Which led to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which considerably restricted the usage, distribution and production of cannabis products. (For much more on the government vs. marijuana back in the 1930s, here’s John Lupien’s master’s thesis on that subject.)
But it was the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 that codified the War on Drugs, President Richard Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell’s misguided plan to stamp out psychotropic drugs in the United States.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy says that the government will spend about $15 billion this year trying to keep people from smoking marijuana. 15 billion dollars. Multiply that by 40 years, take into account that marijuana is easily available to anyone in America who wants it, and you have a policy of utter failure. (I get these numbers from the Drug War Clock, which uses government figures.)
According to the act, Schedule I substances must include the following characteristics:
1) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
2) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
3) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.
I won’t argue point one today except to say that any drug has a potential for abuse. Marijuana’s is less than most. How about another cup of coffee? And “high potential” is completely subjective. No one has ever overdosed on pot.
But with a host of studies suggesting marijuana’s medical benefits and 19 states (including the District of Columbia, which proves that Congress and the Justice Department can’t even control it in their own district) allowing medical patients to purchase and consume cannabis for pain or symptom relief, marijuana’s current status seems ready, if nothing else, for a second look.
This story has been told before, but let’s not forget the circumstances of marijuana’s Schedule 1 status. The Controlled Substances Act was aimed at the marijuana/LSD menaces Nixon and Mitchell perceived, much as the Bureau of Narcotics had 35 years earlier. Remember, the hippies were running wild and naked and fornicating all across America with blunts of the dreaded reefer sticking out of their mouths.
Anyway, Nixon dispatched a former Pennsylvania governor, Raymond Shafer, to study pot abuse in America and come up with some “wink, wink” proposals. Shafer’s National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse took the charge seriously and recommended the decriminalization of marijuana for adults in small amounts. It’s a document worth perusing. Here’s one paragraph that, given all the surveillance over citizens these days, all Americans should ponder. “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 report states. “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.”
Nixon and Mitchell roundly rejected the findings and put pot in Schedule 1, right up there with heroin, LSD, Ecstasy, mescaline, Quaaludes, peyote and psilocybin. Cocaine, because of its limited medical use, got a Schedule 2 classification, considered by the federal government to be safer than marijuana. Even before the commission’s report was released, Nixon told Shafer he would only embarrass himself and that they would pay it no heed. Read about this and other hallucinatory Nixon conspiracy theories involving marijuana, homosexuality, communism and Jews in this Gene Weingarten Washington Post column.
Now, 42 years later, two states, for starters, in November called the Justice Department on its bullshit hypocrisy. Given the mood of the electorate and, happily, the lack of concern today’s younger generation has for legalization, we won’t be the last.
So instead of Gov. Hickenlooper seeking “clarity” on marijuana from Justice – a truly laughable notion in itself — he should be asking why marijuana continues to be listed as a Schedule 1 drug when cannabis is grown and sold for medical uses in almost forty percent of states, including his own and the District of Columbia.