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Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - Table of Contents

The Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

Chapter IV

social response to marihuana use

The Medical Community

In contrast to the mixed opinions of other segments of society, the medical profession has a rather broad consensus at the present time. In a series of responses from various medical societies, associations and committees, we found certain recurrent themes. Every medical group emphasized the need for more research into the effects of marihuana. There was uniform emphasis on how marihuana, as a "drug," affects heart, head, blood, brain and so on, but not on how it affects society as a behavior. The consensus was that marihuana, the drug, poses some danger for the individual, physically or psychologically. The only major disagreement is about the degree of such danger.

The second recurrent theme was that marihuana should definitely not be legalized. Legalization would imply sanction, medical groups said, with a probable, increase in use as a result. One doctor compared legalization with the failure of Prohibition: "The fact [that] Prohibition was a failure doesn't make alcoholism a good thing and the six million or so (alcoholics) we have are no bargain. Therefore, since there is no legitimate use for marihuana it seems rather silly to legalize its use to initiate a second headache." Another reason commonly given by physicians for opposing legalization is that such a step should be taken if and when it is proven that marihuana is not dangerous.

The third common theme of medical opinion was a call for a more. lenient approach toward users, again a position reflected in almost every quarter of society. One officer of a public health association told a convention: " (Our committee) deplores the strong punitive measures suggested by some because we feel that a jail sentence for the offense of smoking marihuana is not likely to solve the problem of eliminating marihuana use. On the contrary, a prison sentence is likely to do great damage to a young person's personality as well as to his future career." Another group called for prosecutors to use discretionary powers in handling youthful first offenders.

When discussing penalties, the medical community begins to take, a look at marihuana use as a form of social behavior rather than simply a drug which produces certain physical and psychological effects. One doctor wrote: "Because marihuana in present patterns of use is, by and large, a relatively innocuous drug and because its use has many motivations from simple curiosity to symbolism of hostility to the 'establishment', the legal penalties in many jurisdictions throughout the United States are excessively punitive."


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