Monday, July 11, 2011

Back When There Were Republicans Who Understood Issues

National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse. Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972.

Raymond Shafer, Chairman of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse (and former Pennsylvania Governor) hoped this study would “demythologize” marijuana. The report urges for more “uniformity and rationality” in Federal and state marijuana laws.

The report notes that marijuana only became considered a major problem during the 1960s. It is noted marijuana has “certain pharmacologic properties”. While marijuana is illegal, the public reacted more negatively (circa 1972) against marijuana that it did to other illegal acts such as adultery and gambling.

Marijuana was used primarily by low income people before the 1960s. Society overall was not very concerned about this use. As marijuana spread into use by middle income and high income young people, more people more aware of marijuana and some acted with alarm. There were also cultured clashes growing in the late 1960s between younger and older people over social issues and topics including marijuana use. Opponents of marijuana saw marijuana use as “the rejection of cherished values”.

The factors that led to the Federal government making marijuana illegal in 1937 were based “more on fantasy than on proven fact”, this report concludes.

The debates on alcohol temperance and prohibition were widely debated in the 19th and 20th centuries. The anti-narcotic laws that passed every state by 1906 were not widely discussed as narcotic use was mostly done by foreign residents, such as Chinese immigrant opium users, and lower income people. Marijuana was used mostly by Mexican and West Indian immigrants. Marijuana was “incorrectly classified” as a narcotic. By 1931, every Western state except two and a few Eastern states had made marijuana illegal. The National Conference of Commissions on Uniform State Laws developed model state legislation banning marijuana in 1932 that became law in every state by 1937. The Commission notes that “not once during this entire period was any comprehensive scientific study undertaken in this country of marihuana or its effects.”

The report states the debate over marijuana has legal, medical, social, moral, and philosophical aspects. Each aspect should be understood to grasp the overall issues. It is noted that much is known about marijuana and its effects, the issue is not one that is lacking information. It is known that alcohol and heavy cigarette usage have harmful effects and they are legal and easily obtained. There are philosophical issues about the role of government in protecting people from themselves and in restricting private conduct. Some argue a government has a responsibility in protecting social order and in preventing people from harming themselves. Some see alcohol and legal marijuana as efforts by higher social orders to keep lower income people, particularly African Americans, happily intoxicated and satisfied with remaining low income workers.

Sociological studies estimate 24 million American had used marijuana (as of circa 1972). Some argue this high acceptance of use means people want it to be legal. Yet, others observe many of these people used it for short time periods and interest in it disappeared, and thus it is not widely supported.

There are legal debates as to whether moral behavior should be handled by the police and courts, families, schools, and/or religious institutions. Some question the effectiveness of laws banning marijuana and whether the costs of administering these laws are greater than their benefits.

Marijuana use (circa 1970s) did not vary much by race.

45% of adults and 41% of young people who used marijuana surveyed stated they did not use another drug. 61% of adults who stopped using marijuana stated they did so because it no longer interested them. The frequency of marijuana use is so disparate there is no such thing as a typical user. Young people who use marijuana were more likely to have a parent who used medicine, alcohol, or cigarettes. Peer group pressure is a leading reason why young people use marijuana.

All chemicals, including food, marijuana, and drugs, affect living tissues in a human body. It is debated the degree to which benefits and harms result from each chemical, which also can vary according to how much chemical is taken over how much time. People also have varying tolerances to different chemicals.

Marijuana use was not found to cause physical bodily damage. No fatal use of it was found. High dose users could have psychotic reactions which usually coincide with outside stress. Many users felt altered consciousness and found its use as pleasant. There were no major physical, mental, or biochemical problems found with long term marijuana use. Some organ injury or behavioral changes could occur with long term heavy use.

There were social impacts on the issue of marijuana use. May in the media and law enforcement had portrayed marijuana use as lowering inhibitions that led to increased crime and violence. Later studies failed to find these links. While marijuana users may commit more crimes, it is believed it was because criminals were more likely to use marijuana.

A survey found 48% of Americans questioned believed marijuana use could be lethal, despite no record of a single overdose death of using marijuana.

Marijuana use does not lead to physical dependence and the body has few withdrawal symptoms where it use of marijuana stops. Some heavy long term users may be psychologically dependent on its use.

Some feared young marijuana user wanted to withdraw from society, not work, and became radicals. 43% of adults surveyed believe marijuana was being promoted by foreign enemies. The Commission found young marijuana users wanted to become part of society and wanted to work.

About one quarter of Americans surveyed then favored removing criminal penalties for using marijuana.

Congress in 1951 made the minimum penalty for possessing marijuana two years imprisonment for a first offense, five years imprisonment for a second offense, and ten years imprisonment for a third and subsequent offenses, along with a $20,000 fine. Selling marijuana had a minimum penalty of five years imprisonment for a first offense with ten years imprisonment for a second or subsequent offense. Selling marijuana to a minor had a minimum penalty of ten years imprisonment. Except for first time possession offenders, parole and probation were not allowed in marijuana cases.

Marijuana enforcement increased in the late 1960s. In 1965, there were 18,815 arrested for violating state marijuana laws and 523 arrested for violating Federal marijuana laws. This compared to 188,682 arrested for violating state marijuana laws and 2,082 arrested for violating Federal marijuana laws in 1970.

Many began believing the penalties for marijuana laws were too harsh. Judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement handled marijuana cases more leniently. 24 states reduced the penalties for marijuana violations. The Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws created model legislation making all drugs, not just marijuana, as misdemeanors.

In 1972, 42 states and the D.C, had made possession of at least small amounts of marijuana as misdemeanors with 4 other states allowing the courts to sentence marijuana users as misdemeanor offenders.

A survey of prosecutors found 31% would not prosecute marijuana used in private groups, 29% would offer informal probation instead of prosecuting, and some would consider several factors before prosecuting a marijuana case, such as prior record, amount of marijuana found, the family situation of the accused, etc.

A survey of Judges found 13% would incarcerate an adult for possession marijuana and 4% would incarcerate a minor.

A survey found 51% of adults and 48% of young people thought marijuana should be handled through the medical system, 37% of adults and 20% of young people thought it should be handled by the courts, 11% of both adults and young people thought it was not a problem, and 5% of adults and 20% of young people had no opinion.

The Commission recommended discouraging the use of marijuana, concentrating efforts on heavy users; removing criminal penalties for private possession and casual distributing for no or nominal remuneration of marijuana; retaining Federal law on public marijuana possession, cultivating, distributing, or selling in public and setting the fines at $100; making disorderly conduct from marijuana intoxication punishable by 60 days or less imprisonment and/or a$100 fine; operating a vehicle under the influence would be punishable by one year or less imprisonment and/or a fine of $1,000 or less and suspension of drivers license for 180 days or less; a having a person influence the influence of marijuana be civilly liable for any resulting harm or damage.

The Commission recommended increased evaluation of medical uses of marijuana in cases of glaucoma, caner, migraines, and alcoholism.


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