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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Twentieth Annual Report of the Research Advisory Panel - State of California



The Panel believes that a rational approach to change should be based on three concepts that neither the public nor many legislators appear to be aware of or appreciate, however clear the distinctions are to researchers and practitioners in the area of drug abuse:

1) Differentiate different drugs and different routes of administration. There is no basis for progress in talking about the drug problem and looking for a magic solution to the massive problem as it is perceived by the public. The approach must be based upon a separate consideration of each of the several drugs involved. The various drugs involve different toxicities and different individual and social problems. The terrible lethal effects of cigarette smoking, that is, of inhaling tobacco smoke, are familiar. Some drugs, notably alcohol, cause, as a direct pharmacological effect, criminal or anti-social activity. Other drugs, notably heroin, are much less inherently dangerous either to the individual or to society, in spite of their high addiction liability, but they generate massive problems for the criminal justice system. The statement about heroin is not controversial or arguable. The California and Federal Legislatures have acknowledged that narcotics are not inherently prohibitively dangerous and have authorized programs to provide huge doses of methadone, a strong narcotic, to heroin users in lieu of their street drug.

We must then, not be naively permissive in our attitude toward alcohol and other depressants that disinhibit and cause inappropriate reactions. And we should not react emotionally against less harmful drugs in such a way that their regulation generates more problems than would their ungoverned use.

Eventually, although certainly not at this time, regulations, that is, societal reaction, will have to take into account different routes of administration as well as different drugs and recognize, for example, that cocaine in one form may be a minor hazard, whereas smoked cocaine may be highly addictive and require a more restrictive approach.

In our judgment, a first step in rationalizing our approach would be to further isolate marijuana from the other illegal drugs. This drug is widely used as a social drug, comparable to alcohol. More than half of the population has or will have had experience with this drug. Marijuana presents the same problems of responsible and irresponsible use as alcohol. However, no change in regulation would be acceptable if it leads to another industry comparable to the alcohol and tobacco industry.

2) Separate drug effects from associated criminal activity. Legislators and other Political leaders-must look objectively at the hazards claimed to result from drug abuse and differentiate damage caused by direct drug effects from damage engendered by societal reaction. For example, the population is not actually threatened by the behavior of the heroin user under the influence of this drug. The heroin user who is "coasting" after an injection is not given to violent activity. Yet those same heroin users, driven by their compulsion, will, in their efforts to maintain a supply of this drug, resort to income generating criminal activities. These may be as minor as panhandling, may lead only to property and drug trafficking crime or, the personality of the user permitting, result in violent crime. Above the individual user is a stratum of heroin purveyors who operate as organized criminal activity and who will, the need in their opinion requiring, resort to the most violent acts. Obviously, to burden the individual user with the onus of organized criminal activity carried out by people who are rarely users themselves can lead to control of the problem only if the consumers are totally removed from the streets. This has not been accomplished even in the face of horrendous penalties, including briefly, in New York State under the so-called Rockefeller plan, the death penalty.

With a drug like marijuana, which enjoys popular approval in the face of legal prohibition, the associated criminal activity is regarded as nominal. And in the face of a refusal by a significant fraction of the population to support the laws against marijuana, it will be impossible to control the market in marijuana. Indeed, although the huge illegal market for imported marijuana may add significantly to our negative balance of payments, that market is not associated with drive-by killings or other devastating criminal activity.

3) Awareness of Risk/Benefit Ratio of any Change.

Suggestions for changes in the regulation of abused drugs should realistically take into consideration the possibility that any relaxation of regulation could lead to increased use. Any change effected should be evaluated over time to ensure that it does nothing, or the minimum, to encourage drug use. The term "legalization," should never be used in describing the approach we are advocating since we are not proposing to add an unregulated drug to the market or to permit the development of an industry which proselytizes for drug use. "Decriminalization" would be a legitimate description, but there is no intent to minimize the dangers or encourage the use of any drugs, always including those already in wide and damaging use, such as alcohol and tobacco.

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