Schaffer Library of Drug Policy

Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding

History of Marihuana Legislation - Drafting the Uniform Act

US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

Table of Contents
I. Marihuana and the Problem of Marihuana
Origins of the Marihuana Problem
The Need for Perspective
Formulating Marihuana Policy
The Report
II. Marihuana Use and Its Effects
The Marihuana User
Profiles of Users
Becoming a Marihuana User
Becoming a Multidrug User
Effects of Marihuana on the User
Effects Related to Pattern Use
Immediate Drug Effects
ShortTerm Effects
Long Term Effects
Very Long Term Effects
III. Social Impact of Marihuana Use
IV. Social Response to Marihuana Use
V. Marihuana and Social Policy
Drugs in a Free Society
A Social Control Policy for Marihuana
Implementing the Discouragement Policy
A Final Comment
Ancillary Recommendations
Legal and Law Enforcement Recommendations
Medical Recommendations
Other Recommendations
Letter of Transmittal
Members and Staff
History of Marihuana Use: Medical and Intoxicant
II. Biological Effects of Marihuana
Botanical and Chemical Considerations
Factors Influencing Psychopharmacological Effect
Acute Effects of Marihuana (Delta 9 THC)
Effects of Short-Term or Subacute Use
Effects of Long-Term Cannabis Use
Investigations of Very Heavy Very Long-Term Cannabis Users
III. Marihuana and Public Safety
Marihuana and Crime
Marihuana and Driving
Marihuana - Public Health and Welfare
Assessment of Perceived Risks
Preventive Public Health Concerns
Marihuana and the Dominant Social Order
The World of Youth
Why Society Feels Threatened
The Changing Social Scene
Problems in Assessing the Effects of Marihuana
Marihuana and Violence
Marihuana and (Non-Violent) Crime
Summary and Conclusions: Marihuana and Crime
Marihuana and Driving
History of Marihuana Legislation
History of Alcohol Prohibition
History of Tobacco Regulation
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Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - Table of Contents

The Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

I. Control of Marihuana, Alcohol and Tobacco

History of Marihuana Legislation*


By 1924, the Commissioners had appointed Committee to draft a uniform narcotic drug act At the 1925 meeting of Commissioners, the chair man of the Committee reported that he himself had prepared a first tentative draft based on the New York Act, the Washington state legislation, the Harrison Act, and a bill then before the New York Legislature. Presumably this was the on drafted by the A.M.A. Conference after its 192 meeting.

The chairman noted, however, that Dr. William Woodward, head of the A.M.A.'s Bureau of Legal Medicine and Legislation, with whom he had only recently conferred, had made "some very valuable suggestions." Because the tentative draft had already been printed before these suggestions, he requested that it "not be read but be re-committed to the Committee" (1925 Handbook: 977-985). This first draft included cannabis in the list of "habit-forming drugs," although all such drugs could be distributed and used for medical purposes (1925 Handbook: 978).

A second tentative draft was presented in 1928 and again the draft was not discussed at the conference but recommitted for further study. The second draft was essentially an exact copy of the 1927 New York Statute. It also included cannabis in the class of habit-forming drugs (1928 Handbook: 75-78,323-333).

There was a lack of concern on the part of the Commissioners themselves with the whole narcotics problem between 1924 and 1928. The President of the Conference, introducing Dr. Woodward, said:

In view of the importance of the act I think it would not be amiss to listen to the Doctor for a few minutes, that he may point out to us why it is important. In some of the states we do not recognize the importance because it has not been called to our attention (1928 Handbook: 76-77).

Nor was the Bureau of Prohibition particularly concerned at this time with the cannabis provision. Lack of official concern and interest continued to be the Bureau's attitude toward the second tentative draft (Nutt, June 13,1929).

Since neither the Commissioners nor federal narcotics officials were particularly concerned about state and local control of narcotics generally and marihuana in particular, it seems clear that neither was responsible for the inclusion of marihuana in the category of "habit-forming drugs. Rather, it would appear that it was included in the first draft because that had been drawn from the 1923 Washington statute which had listed cannabis.

Insofar as the second draft was a copy of the 1927 New York Act, inclusion of cannabis in this draft is not unusual. Few, if any, of the persons involved in the drafting were concerned about marihuana smoking or even aware of its use.

Two third drafts were submitted, the first in 1929 and the second in 1930. The initial one closely resembled the second tentative draft, and once again it included cannabis in the category of "habit-forming drugs.` Again, the growth, distribution, and possession of cannabis was prohibited except for medical purposes.

The nascent Congressional interest in marihuana in 1929 and the Bureau of Prohibition's subsequent resistance to amending, and thereby endangering, the Harrison and Export and Import Acts, caused the Bureau to take full notice of this 1929 third draft. Like its predecessors, however, the initial third draft was recommitted for further study (1929 Handbook : 43, 332-346).

The second third tentative draft, submitted in 1930, was the first to remove cannabis from the definition of "habit-forming drugs" and to include only a supplemental provision for dealing with the drug (1930 Handbook: 485,97).

When the Conference of Commissioners met to consider the second third tentative draft, Judge Deering, the Chairman of the Committee on the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act, recommended its recommission for further study because the Committee had not yet had an opportunity to consult the newly created Bureau of Narcotics.

At the time of this conference, August 14, 1930, no one had yet been appointed Commissioner of the Bureau, although Harry J. Anslinger was Acting Commissioner (1930 Handbook: 126-127). The Senate confirmed Anslinger's appointment as Commissioner on December 18, 1930.

The Bureau of Narcotics their became actively involved in the drafting process. Commissioner Anslinger was pressing for inclusion of the cannabis provision. He stated that he felt the limited medical use for cannabis was far outweighed by the need to control potential cannabis addiction (Anslinger, July 28,1930).

Dr. Woodward and the pharmaceutical industry advocated optional inclusion of marihuana on the one hand, and federal narcotics representatives urged not only inclusion but elimination of medical use, on the other.

The fourth tentative draft retained the optional cannabis provision. At a session before the convening of the full Conference of Commissioners from September 9-12, 1931, Commissioner Anslinger and A. L. Tennyson of the Bureau met with Judge Deering to discuss the Bureau's feelings about the fourth tentative draft.

At this time Commissioner Anslinger stated that the Bureau felt strongly that inclusion of cannabis in the state law ought to be mandatory. Moreover, the Bureau urged that the only successful way to deal with the marihuana drug traffic, because of its domestic nature and the easy availability of the weed, was to prohibit the cultivation of the plant altogether and to find some substitute for the limited medical use (Tennyson, September 16, 1931). However, the fourth tentative draft presented to the Conference of Commissioners included the optional marihuana provision. And, the Conference tentatively approved the fourth tentative draft and directed the Committee to prepare a final draft (1931 Handbook: 127-128, 390-402).

The American Medical Association played a key role in the drafting process prior to 1931. Their efforts had been largely responsible for consideration of the Uniform Drug Act in the first place. From the beginning in 1925, Dr. William Woodward, the Director of the A.M.A.'s Bureau of Legal Medicine and Legislation, actively assisted in the drafting of the Act and widely circulated the drafts to interested persons for their comments.

It appears, however, that Dr. Woodward's personal style and the preeminent position of the American Medical Association in the drafting process were resented by the two remaining interest groups-the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the retail and wholesale pharmaceutical associations. The Bureau had been commenting on drafts only after they had been drawn by the A.M.A. and did not feel it was playing an active role in the drafting process. The pharmaceutical industry felt that their interests were considered only peripherally and that they had been excluded from the heart of tire, drafting process.

As a result of the dissent, a conference of interested parties was scheduled before the final draft was to be presented to the Conference of Commissioners.

Present at this preliminary conference on September 15, 1932, were representatives of the Drug Committee the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the Department of State, the Public Health Service, the American Medical Association, and delegates from the drug industry and other medically related industries and organizations. The final version of the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act was hammered out at this session. The Bureau was central to the drafting process and Commissioner Anslinger made a major effort to involve the drug manufacturers and the wholesale and retail drug trade in it to protect the Act from possible subsequent political disagreement (Anslinger, August 1, 1932): Finally, the conference agreed on a draft to be presented to the National Conference.

The manufacturers of drug products were strongly opposed to the inclusion of cannabis under any criminal regulatory scheme. Representatives of the industry opposed a mandatory cannabis provision. The final conclusion reached by all the parties present was:

After considerable comment, it was decided to eliminate Section 12 (Cannabis) and leave it to the Conference of Commissioners as to whether it should be included under the general provisions of the Act (Report of Preliminary Conference, 1932: 23).

The Bureau was no longer insisting on the mandatory inclusion of in absolute marihuana prohibition; it did not want to risk the opposition of the drug industry to the, entire Act.

The fifth tentative draft did, however, include a significant change in form which would have important consequences in the decades to come. Although the marihuana provision remained supplemental to the main body of the Act, any state wishing to regulate the sale and possession of marihuana was instructed, simply, to add cannabis to the definition of "narcotic drugs." All the, other provisions of the, Act would their apply to marihuana as well as to the opiates and cocaine. The Commissioners adopted this form as it had been prepared at the September 15, 1932, preliminary Conference.

The only recorded opposition to the adoption of the final draft came from some Commissioners who objected to tying the Uniform State Law to the terms of the federal Harrison Act. This last obstacle was over-come by the argument that a number of states already had passed such legislation so that the states' rights problem need not stand in the way. The Act was adopted 26 to 3 (1932 Handbook: 107).

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