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|The Drug Hang Up, America's Fifty-Year Folly|
The Drug Hang Up, America's Fifty-Year Folly
by Rufus King
Balancing the Grass Account
SOME DAY, when dispassionate historians begin to sift through this drug story, credit for reversing the swing of the pendulum may go to the marijuana chapters. For by the early sixties it began to appear that Anslinger might have overreached, and that President Lincoln's aphorism about all of the people all the time was still a working theorem in matters of common sense and simple justice. A handful of federal judges, life-appointed and reachable only by the sanction of impeachment, began calmly defying mandatory sentencing provisions when marijuana offenders came before them (ten years for a saxophone player caught for the third time with a joint in his pocket?). Juries began coming in with speedy "not guilties" in cases where the defense raised no shred of reasonable doubt but the prosecution was trying for five- or ten-year mandatory minimums for marijuana offenses. Even a few courageous prosecutors began turning open-and-shut marijuana cases into lesser offenses like vagrancy or malicious mischief. And querying voices began to be heard, some of them ringing with great authority. President Kennedy's Ad Hoc Panel on Drug Abuse reported in 1962 that the evidence connecting marijuana with sexual offenses and other anti-social and criminal acts was 'very limited,' that none of the elements of true addiction was present in marijuana use, and that it is generally only a "spree" drug, concluding that "the hazards of marijuana use have been exaggerated" and that "long criminal sentences imposed on an occasional user or possessor of the drug are in poor social perspective." The dean of all American authorities, our enduring hero Dr. Lawrence Kolb, commented mildly that though marijuana, if used excessively, might conceivably cause criminally inclined persons to commit crimes, "its potency as an instigator of crime has not been measured or demonstrated in the United States because of its limited use." Then he added, "The tendency to credit a narcotic as the cause of physical, mental, and social disasters is so great in the United States that marijuana-induced crimes are often reported in the press and by police-trained people when there is no causal relation of marijuana to the crime." In November 1963, following the White House Conference on Narcotic Drugs, the President's Advisory Commission on Narcotics and Drug Abuse sharply distinguished marijuana from the addicting categories, chided both the official and scientific communities for the great dearth of accurate knowledge about the field, scoffed at the Narcotics Bureau's insistence that high penal-ties and mandatory minimums were an effective deterrent, and concluded unequivocally:
In 1966 the New York County Medical Society officially classified marijuana as a mild hallucinogen, insisting that there was no credible evidence proving its use to be associated with crimes of violence in the United States. In 1967 President Johnson's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of justice questioned the entire impact of the Marijuana Tax Act:
On the relation between marijuana and crime, the Law Enforcement Commission noted absolute differences of opinion: that marijuana is a major cause of crime and violence, on the one hand, and that it has no association whatsoever with crime, and only a marginal relation to violence, on the other. The Commission suggested that since marijuana tends to release inhibitions, its effects depend primarily on the individual and on immediate circumstances, so that "it might, but certainly will not necessarily or inevitably, lead to aggressive behavior or crime." Of the Bureau's singsong line that marijuana leads to other drugs, the President's Commission said:
In the other camp, however, neither these questionings nor the mounting challenges in the scientific literature and popular press softened Commissioner Anslinger or the man who succeeded him in 1962, Henry L. Giordano, a career Bureau deputy. As late as 1968 Commissioner Giordano was still telling congressional committees the wholly misleading truth that large enough doses of marijuana (laboratory saturation of animals) have been shown to cause temporary psychoses, and that for predisposed persons a small amount can have dangerous effects. When he insisted to Chairman Dodd of the Senate juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee that marijuana was proved by "recent studies" to have been the first step in the progression to heroin for 80 per cent of all drug addicts, the Senator backed him down:
But Giordano then switched facilely to another old line (and remember this is 1968, not 1920):
Simultaneously the Bureau began defending its policies by sounding a new alarm: the appearance in illicit channels of substantial amounts of hashish and synthetic cannabis essence (THC), described as potent new forms of marijuana. Giordano struck out at those who questioned existing marijuana laws in lumbering (and inconsistent) terms fully worthy of his predecessor:
And under Giordano the Bureau enlarged its training school (to indoctrinate local police authorities), continued its propaganda via agent-lecturers, and intensified its barrage of Treasury-endorsed pamphlets designed to promote its "hard" enforcement line.
Meanwhile, on the international scene Mr. Anslinger, who retained his post at the U.N. until 1970, pressed ahead. In 1954 the WHO Expert Committee had ordained that the use of cannabis can no longer be justified for any legitimate medical purpose. In 1955 Dr. Wolff, the American protege who had by then become chief of the Addiction Producing Drugs Section of WHO, reported categorically that marijuana smoking "eventually leads the smoker to turn to intravenous heroin injections" and that cannabis was dangerous from all viewpoints, physical, mental, social and criminological. This in turn provided a basis for the U.S.-led campaign to bring cannabis within the scope of the proposed new all-inclusive Single Convention. When the Single Convention was finally adopted and approved by the U.N., marijuana was included as if it were in exactly the same addicting class as opium. Anslinger thereupon promptly reversed his field and used the Single Convention (which the United States did not ratify until 1967) as supporting authority for increased anti-marijuana propaganda and enforcement activities on the home front. Simultaneously the definition of drug addiction itself was altered by the World Health Organization, primarily to accommodate U.S. insistence that stimulants like cocaine, and hallucinogenic- "mind-altering"-substances could rightly be embraced in that invidious term. In place of the classic tripartite definition based on habituation, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms (to which the League Narcotics Commission had early added, again partly in response to U.S. pressure, "detrimental to the individual or society"), there was substituted, by the subservient WHO Expert Committee, an open-ended description of "drug dependence" which could be applied to any substance believed to have adverse physiological or psychological effects and which attracted human users. This helped lay the groundwork, incidentally, for the more recent U.S. crusade against "dangerous drugs" and "drug abuse." Thus on this front, too, the scientists yielded meekly to the enforcers. At the 1961 session of the U.N. Commission, for example, when an INTERPOL (police) representative began scolding commentators from the Netherlands who had dared make the heretical suggestion that cannabis addiction was no worse than alcoholism, the WHO spokesman jumped in to support him, pointing out that under the new definition adopted by the Expert Committee cannabis was definitely an internationally controlled substance, with the "added danger that cannabis abuse is very likely to be a forerunner of addiction to more dangerous addicting drugs." The U.N. Commission has gone on excoriating unauthoritative statements minimizing the harmful effects of cannabis and advocating that its use be permitted for non-medical purposes," repeating Anslinger's old saws that the drug causes violence, is injurious to health, and is associated with the use of other drugs, including heroin, and exhorting all governments to greater efforts to eradicate marijuana traffic and combat suggestions that cannabis in any form might be relatively harmless.
In the sixties England experienced an increase in marijuana -smoking comparable, on a smaller scale, to that observed in the United States. Late in 1968 a panel of distinguished doctors and citizens, headed by Lady Wootton of Abinger, made a report based upon an exhaustive study which had been commissioned by the Home Secretary. The Wootton Committee (actually a subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Drugs which was established under the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1965), after holding bearings on all aspects of the subject, rejected suggestions that cannabis should be entirely removed from control or legalized in the United Kingdom; but at the same time it distinguished cannabis sharply from traditionally addicting narcotics suggested that dangers allegedly associated with it had been exaggerated, and found that (at least in connection with smoking and other moderate uses) there was neither any substantial progression from cannabis to other drugs nor any note-worthy relation between cannabis use and the commission of crimes.
The Wootton report urged that penalties relating to cannabis be sharply reduced, that all possession not connected with selling be dealt with summarily as a "trifling" offense (maximum fine 100 pounds or four months' imprisonment), and that possession of small amounts should not be regarded as serious enough to merit any punishment other than a small fine. The report also noted that cannabis preparations and derivatives ought still to be recognized as legitimate drugs, available for medical treatment as well as research, and urged principal reliance upon a campaign to reduce nonmedical use of the substance by education. Needless to say this study attracted attention and stirred activity in Washington. On Capitol Hill there flowered a variety of proposals to soften federal possession penalties and to set up marijuana study commissions, along with a spate of research-appropriation bills.
Elaborate evaluation projects using animal and human subjects have been launched by the score, some under sponsorship of the new Bureau of Narcotic and Dangerous Drugs, the National Institute of Mental Health, and even the armed forces. Large sums have been poured into efforts to simplify laboratory procedures for synthesizing THC. Led by Gallup, professional and amateur surveyors have produced dozens of statistical analyses measuring the extent of marijuana use in every affected segment of American society. This commotion quickly reached state lawmakers and local enforcement agencies as well. Bills to reduce marijuana penalties for first-offense possession, but sometimes offset by increases in penalties for selling, have been introduced in nearly every recent session of every state legislature. Led by New York, California, and Illinois, over half the states have cut possession penalties from felony to misdemeanor levels (with a record low of seven days maximum, plus attending a course on drugs, in Nebraska). Local prosecutors and drug squads have sometimes been surprisingly forbearing with first-offender teenagers, although local judges have sometimes also gone on handing out incredible exemplary sentences (ten and twenty years if other factors, such as anti-war activities or long hair, play an aggravating role). In June 1970 Congress tied the Marijuana and Health Reporting Act to the 1970 general hospital construction appropriations bill signed by President Nixon after he had vetoed a much more generous grant and allotment measure (on the grounds, among others, that federal efforts should be "redirected-away from emphasis on additional hospital beds' toward "facilities for ambulatory care, long-term care and rehabilitation-alternatives to hospitalization"). The marijuana rider contained a congressional finding designed to freeze the status quo---"Notwithstand-ing the various studies carried out, and research engaged in, with respect to the use of marijuana, there is a lack of authoritative information involving the health consequences of using marijuana" -and then went on to oblige the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to report annually "current information" on the health consequences of using the drug, and any recommendations he might have for new legislation. The Secretary's subsequent reports have backed and filled harmlessly over the subject: marijuana may or may not cause mental illness, is only a "minor contributor" to major crimes and violence, is perhaps only associated with hard-drug use rather than directly causative of it-and whether smoking it produces an antimotivational syndrome" (causing youngsters to grow long hair and "drop out-) is a question which "remains to be answered."
But there has been no comparable timidity-or honest carefulness-in other quarters, including the halls of Congress itself. A free-swinging Senate investigation of alleged massacres of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops at Songmy made headlines by suggesting the whole thing happened because our men were stoned on pot. The Vice President warned solemnly: "In our opinion marijuana is dangerous. It is not just the grown-up equivalent of alcohol. . . . We must have the courage to stand up and say to our children, 'No, pot is not the equivalent of whisky."' Lieutenant Calley's defenders tried to weave pot smoking into his case, and Congress and the Pentagon have continued a noisy dialogue about the use of cannabis in the armed forces (while, as we shall see later, the whole GI establishment is supposed to be steeped in heroin, and Polaris crewmen are alleged to take LSD trips to relieve their boredom). President Nixon, pushing one of his remarkable White House sessions in which media officials have been exhorted to dramatize drug problems in fiction episodes (this one was for thirty-five TV producers, in August 1970), revealed that he had new evidence showing marijuana to be harmful and dangerous. Federal forces have remained as aggressive as ever, with highly publicized raids and quasi-military -games like "Operation Intercept," which tried literally to seal and screen the entire Mexican border for a short period.
The Mexican government, which acknowledges no drug problem of crisis proportions among its own people, has been bludgeoned and bribed (upward of $1 million in aircraft, equipment, and direct aid) into "Operation Cooperation," aimed at restricting marijuana cultivation on her own soil, Federal pot arrests are rising in number and, worse, victims are being spied upon and jailed in all comers of the nation. In the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, mentioned in the first chapter, marijuana fared badly. Congress listed it specifically in the classification reserved for substances most addicting (in the new nomenclature, having 'high potential for abuse'), least useful ("no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States"), and most dangerous ('lack of accepted safety for use . . . under medical supervision"). This classification automatically calls into play the stiffest penalty structure and most repressive regulatory powers ever conferred on drug-law enforcers. Authority to reclassify substances is placed not in any medical or scientific hands, but in the Attorney General. In other classifications the Attorney General is required to ask for a "scientific and medical evaluations from the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.
But in the case of marijuana, Congress got around this by providing that no scientific or medical factors need be considered "if control is required by United States obligations under international treaties.(Recall Anslinger's successful coup in pressuring signatories of the 1961 Single Convention into including control requirements for cannabis.) The full sweep of the federal enforcement powers conferred on the Attorney General by this formidable Act will be detailed when we return to assess its impact on other drugs and drug abuses, but we must note one more provision aimed specially at pot.
The Act created yet another Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, wholly political in composition and orientation (two senators, two congressmen, and nine presidential appointees, required to be in partisan balance but not otherwise qualified). This commission, set up in 1971 with ex-Governor Shafer of Pennsylvania as chairman, is charged with pronouncing anew on every one of the old marijuana themes. Its membership includes several people who appear elsewhere in these pages--liberally inclined Senators Hughes and Javits offset by a pair of law-and-order congressmen, an eminent pharmacologist who served on President Kennedy's Ad Hoc Panel on Drug Abuse in 1962, and Dr. Henry Brill, long-time leader of the official U.S. campaign to obscure and discredit British success in minimizing drug-abuse problems. Dozens of new studies have been commissioned by this group. Scores of witnesses have been heard. But no one expects it to do more than lament, exhort, affirm most of the status quo-and perhaps call for more research. If this prediction about the Commission's findings sounds pessimistic, here is one of President Nixon's own forecasts:
One of the new federal Bureau's most stalwart apologists, Dr. Edward R. Bloomquist, has lately turned his attentions to marijuana, assailing it as causing, in the new nomenclature, a drug-abuse pattern which includes psychological dependence, some tolerance, and undesirable side effects, and as being capable of altering perception and causing paranoid symptoms. Dr. Bloomquist adorns the pages of medical journals with references to high school students who go about saying, "I know it won't hurt me; I read about it in the library and I know," and with speculations that marijuana might cause a user to "enter a motor vehicle and . . . plow through a crowd of pedestrians." He inclines to dwell on the alleged effects of the drug on sexual responses-"releasing restraints," making the experience of orgasm "more prolonged and more intense," but at the same time asserts it is no cure-all for impotence."
In one of his summations Dr. Bloomquist refers to President Lincoln's warning that as a nation of free men the United States will never be destroyed except by itself-"We must live through all time, or die by suicide." This, he says (now quoting Dr. B), . painted a clear picture of how drug abuse can become a national menace-a menace that clouds men's moods and deludes their thoughts." At the risk of giving a competing author too much notice, I am constrained to go one step further in this exposure of subversion. Dr. Blooniquist is currently in print with a treatise which relies for authority on, among others, two persons identified only as attorneys but who are in fact members of the legal staff of the U.S. Narcotics Bureau itself. And his publishers note with pride that more than half a million of his reprints have been distributed to interested persons in response to requests, which is true because the Bureau reprinted some of his pronouncements at U.S. taxpayers' expense and scattered them wherever they might have propaganda value. Similarly distributed over the country at taxpayers' expense (to facilitate collection of a federal excise tax which no one has ever been allowed to pay) have been other reprints such as an article by a Massachusetts judge who decided one of the recent marijuana test cases in the Bureau's favor, and who concludes:
Likewise handed out broadside is a slick booklet prepared by former Commissioner Giordano which attributes to marijuana such symptoms as illusions, delusions, and sensory derangements, which warns that effects of the drug on the nervous system and brain "are undoubtedly the most profound and constitute the greatest problem for the user," which says marijuana can produce psychotic episodes, and which claims that habitual use "is definitely associated with criminality, violence and insanity." Giordano, a one-time pharmacist, talks about habituation to marijuana in terms of "craving," and revives the possibility that there may be an ominous tolerance phenomenon. Pot smokers, says he, "will go to great lengths" to obtain their supply. And he warns that another dangerous aspect of habitual marijuana use "is the pattern of graduation to narcotic addiction": smoking pot develops a taste for "drug intoxication," which in turn leads many people to the use of more potent drugs-even heroin. Further, as might be expected, the Giordano tract relies heavily on the 1961 Single Convention and on the fact that "on the advice of the Expert Committee on Dependence-Producing Drugs of the World Health Organization' marijuana was placed in a special category with heroin as being a drug "particularly liable to abuse and to produce ill effects." Thus Americans cannot now back out of their lunatic prohibition campaign against this mild substance at home because of the treaty obligation-and must keep faith with everyone abroad who was bullied into including marijuana in the Single Convention by U.S. spokesmen in the first place. Finally, the American Medical Association has once more struck its standards and backed off. Shrugging the experience of centuries, the research and evaluations of recent decades, and the dozens of responsible studies currently under way, the AMA made headlines with a press release in April 1971 headed "Research Shows Pot Smoking Harmful" :
The paper thus ballyhooed as, at last, the conclusive final word resulting from "sound research" was the work of two child psychiatrists who picked over several hundred cases referred to them for therapy over a five-year period to come up with thirty-eight - twenty boys and eighteen girls between the ages of thirteen and twenty-four, including a dozen who came after being arrested for marijuana offenses. These patients had told the psychiatrists (that is, revealed "by history") that they smoked pot at least twice a week, were not on anything else such as speed or LSD, and had no psychiatric problems until shortly after they started using the drug. The authors did not trouble with formal neurological examinations, but observed that a few among the group staggered, had hand tremors, and went about "over-shooting exits on turnpikes" and "misjudging traffic lights and stop signs at intersections." An undisclosed number were also not very good at catching baseballs or hitting basketball nets with basketballs. Most of their subjects "consistently showed very poor social adjustment, poor attention span, poor concentration, confusion, anxiety, depression, apathy, passivity, indifference, and often, slowed and slurred speech." Altered consciousness, inability to bring thoughts together, paranoid suspiciousness, and regression toward an infantile state "were all very common." Sexual promiscuity was found to be "frequent," while the incidence of unwanted pregnancies and venereal diseases was "high." Interference with personal cleanliness, grooming, dressing, and study habits or work ("or both"), they reported, was "marked." If anything was left to be desired as to the personal cleanliness or grooming of any of the thirty-eight before they became smokers, the bad characteristics "were always markedly accentuated following the onset of smoking." In one subgroup "a clear-cut diagnosis of psychosis was established." Some- "several"-were suicidal. But in some who were not so apathetic, the doctors observed that hyperactivity, aggressiveness, and a type of agitation "were common." After these generalizations the work, which fills in toto only seven AMA Journal pages in thus settling all questions about the subject, gets down to cases such as the following (paraphrased).
Al, 17 and female, smoked daily for a year before treatment and daily for another year while she was seeing the doctors, lost her memory and perception, thought she was a great actress, and finally tried suicide while remaining in a "pleasant mood" during and after the (suicide) effort.
A2, a 17 year old boy "seduced homosexually after an older man gradually introduced him to marijuana smoking," thought he was Messiah, but returned to normal when he was hospitalized and marijuana (and presumably the older man) were withdrawn.
A3, a 14 year old boy became, after 8 months of smoking, an active homosexual.
A4, 16, female, became preoccupied with political issues, rebelled, dropped out, and tried suicide (she had been "a quiet and socially popular girl" before smoking).
Bl, 24, husband, became paranoid and impotent after two months of daily use, but returned to normal when he stopped.
B2, was a 20 year old cum laude son in the family business, until 6 months of smoking made him impotent, unambitious, and deluded into believing that he headed simultaneously both the Mafia and the KKK.
B3, 18, male, because of 3 years' smoking became preoccupied with astrology, vegetarianism and yoga; he also thought he was God; he couldn't be persuaded to quit pot, so he has "moved to the west coast and continued his unproductive, aimless life, supported financially by his parents."
B4, 19, male, smoked for 4 months and thought be could communicate with animals and was the Messiah; he continued to make high grades in school, but only "on the basis of sheer momentum of accumulated academic experience"; he shunned family and friends but went back to them upon cessation of smoking.
And so on. In the "C' category there was only one case, a popular sixteen-year-old with a B average who, a psychological tester said, might commit asocial and/or anti-social acts prior to becoming depressed in the future. The two "D' category cases were bright, neat honor-roll youngsters who began wearing old, torn, dirty clothes and dropped out of college, although one gave up pot, got his motivation back, and is now a preprofessional student. In the "E" category thirteen unmarried girls, every one virtuous before smoking, showed an "unusual degree of sexual promiscuity, which ranged from sexual relations with several individuals of the opposite sex to relations with individuals of the same sex, individuals of both sexes, and sometimes, individuals of both sexes in the same evening." Seven of the thirteen became pregnant (one or more times), four got venereal infections, five took up lesbian activities, and three tried suicide all having lost their sexual inhibitions "after short periods of marijuana smoking."
At the end of this recitation, the AMA authors blame "equivocation by authorities in speech or writings on the innocence or dangers of marijuana,' and scold parents for permissiveness:
And in summation they wipe out all competing experience and conflicting authority in a single paragraph:
But let us get on to other episodes. Even in this lengthy discussion, I have barely skimmed the cynicism and hypocrisy of the marijuana story. As this is being written, for example, the mighty Treasury and Justice Departments have launched a new joint campaign to collect the old $100-per-ounce tax from persons convicted of possession within the past six years (the period of limitation) and before the Marijuana Tax Act was repealed in 1970-so possession offenders can be met at the prison gates on their release with huge (and headline-making) tax bills. Nor have I begun to catalogue all the distortions about marijuana fostered by those who have had a stake in repressing its use. Indeed, were I as free-swinging as some of the hard-liners I might construct a plausible theory that anti-marijuana pressures are coming from promoters of its natural competitors, tobacco and alcohol. There is evidence of this in the reported grumbling among brewers and bartenders. But someone has to draw a line somewhere. Indisputably marijuana smoking has become very important in the United States. But repressive efforts have helped make it so. Estimates of the number of smokers are as widely varied as those which characterized the opium hysteria in 1919-21. All seem to agree that no fewer than a million-perhaps five or six million- are occasional users on a more than single-experiment basis. Estimates of the number of regular or habitual pot smokers range from a few hundred thousand to well over the million mark. Marijuana has unquestionably overflowed its old confines in slums and ghettos, spreading into schools and threatening to saturate respectable middle-class communities. Youngsters who used to make themselves sick trying cornsilk and purloined tobacco behind the barn now do have many counterparts retching over a daring few puffs at a joint. And where the habit penetrates, behind it comes the narcotics officer, armed with extraordinary powers, enforcing exorbitant penal statutes, and availing himself of all the most odious gutter tactics of police work, informers, bought convictions, entrapment tricks, the use of phony indictments to coerce cooperation-and far too often simple, unvarnished frame-ups. Moreover, especially since pot money is not 'dirty money," like the proceeds of heroin pushing, the traffic-also far too often-must certainly nurture simple, unvarnished corruption as well. The only bright spot is that if this nightmare grows a little worse, as the concerted efforts of our lawmakers and law en-forcers seem to promise it will, then it may, one day, God willing, wake us up.