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An Analysis of Marijuana Policy

National Research Council of the National Academy of Science, 1982


National Academy Press

'The National Academy Press was created by the National Academy of Science to publish the report issued by the Academy and by the National Academy of Engineering the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council, all operating under the charter granted in the National Academy of sciences by the Congress of the United states

An Analysis of Marijuana Policy

Committee on Substance Abuse and Habitual Behavior

Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education

National Research Council

National Academy Press Washington D.C. 1982

NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.

This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to procedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.

The National Research Council was established by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy's purposes of furthering knowledge and of advising the federal government. The Council operates in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy under the authority of its congressional charter of 1863, which establishes the Academy as a private, nonprofit, self-governing membership corporation. The Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in the conduct of their services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. It is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. The National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine were established in 1964 and 1970, respectively, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences.

Available from:

Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education

National Research Council

2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20418


2101 Constitution Avenue Washington D. C. 20418

Office of the Chairman

June 21, 1982

Dr. William Pollin, Director

National Institute on Drug Abuse

Parkiawn Building

Room 10-05

5600 Fishers Lane

Rockville, Maryland 20857

Dear Dr. Pollin:

I transmit, herewith, a report of the National Research Council's Committee on Substance Abuse and Habitual Behavior:

"An Analysis of Marijuana Policy" prepared at the request of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The Committee on Substance Abuse and Habitual Behavior, composed of 18 experts in the several relevant disciplines, has weighed carefully the available data regarding the costs, risks, and benefits of the major policy alternatives regarding the control of marijuana use and supply. The Committee is clear in pointing to the deficiencies of this body of evidence and cautions about the hazards of formulating policy recommendations based solely or in part thereon. In this regard, I call your attention to the following statement by Louis Lasagna and Gardner Lindzey contained in the Preface to the report:

The Committee wishes to make clear what it regards as the limits of this report for the selection of policy alternatives. Scientific judgment can estimate the prevalence of different kinds of use, risks to health, economic costs, and the like under current policies and try to project such estimates for new policies. It can come to some conclusions based on those estimates. But selection of an alternative is always a value-governed choice, which can ultimately be made only by the political process.

This caveat notwithstanding, the Committee has derived from its examination of the scientific data a conclusion about the major policy choices facing the nation with respect to marijuana: complete prohibition, prohibition of supply only, and regulatory approaches. Specifically, the Committee concurs with the judgment of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, rendered in 1971, that a policy of prohibition of supply only is preferable to a policy of complete prohibition of supply and use.


Dr. William Pollin

June 21, 1982

Page Two

What must be understood by the public, the media, and all who read the Committee's report is that its decision to endorse a policy change was not fashioned from scientific information--old or new--alone. Rather it was the analysis of a combination of factors which affect policy decisions, including the cost and efficacy of enforcement practices. Values were necessarily involved in balancing these factors and there are those within the membership 'and governing bodies of the Academies and the National Research Council who might not have come to the same policy conclusions, after reviewing the same data.

My own view is that the data available to the Committee were insufficient to justify on scientific or analytical grounds changes in current policies dealing with the use of marijuana. In this respect I am concerned that the Committee may have gone beyond its charge in stating a judgment so value-laden, that it should have been left to the political process.

I have one further concern that cannot go unaddressed. I fear that this report, coming as it does from a well-known and well-respected scientific organization, will be misunderstood by the media and the public to imply that new scientific data are suddenly available that justify changes in public attitudes on the use of marijuana. This would be unfortunate at a time when daily use trends by high school students are down significantly. As the Committee's discussion of marijuana's behavioral and health-related effects clearly demonstrates, there is no new scientific information exonerating marijuana. In fact, the review by our Institute of Medicine, published a few months ago, reevaluated existing scientific evidence and concluded, as have others, that marijuana is a harmful drug whose use justifies serious national concern.

Dr. William Pollin

June 21, 1982

Page Three

I wish to remind you that this is a committee report; the only position that can be inferred with respect to the National Research Council on the issue of marijuana policy is that the National Research Council is satisfied that the Committee was competent to examine the issue and diligent in carrying out its task. Despite my personal disagreement, I believe that the Committee has performed a useful service by illuminating many of the complex issues surrounding this highly controversial subject.

Yours sincerely,

Frank Press Chairman

LOUIS LASAGNA (Chair), Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry

HOWARD S. BECKER, Department of Sociology, Northwestern University

PETER DEWS, Department of Psychiatry and Psychobiology, Harvard University

JOHN L. FALK, Department of Psychology, Rutgers University

DANIEL X. FREEDMAN, Department of Psychiatry, University of Chicago

JEROME H. JAFFE, Veterans Administration Hospital, Newington, Connecticut, and University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Farmington, Connecticut

DENISE KANDEL, Department of Psychiatry and School of Public Health, Columbia University, and New York State Psychiatric Institute

JOHN KAPLAN, Stanford University School of Law

GARDNER LINDZEY (past chair), Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California

GERALD McCLEARN, College of Human Development, Pennsylvania State University

CHARLES P. O'BRIEN, Veterans Administration Hospital, Philadelphia, and Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania

JUDITH RODIN, Department of Psychology, Yale University STANLEY SCHACHTER, Department of Psychology, Columbia University

THOMAS C. SCHELLING, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

RICHARD L. SOLOMON, Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania

FRANK STANTON, New York (formerly, president, Columbia Broadcasting System)

ALBERT STUNKARD, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania

RICHARD F. THOMPSON, Department of Psychology, Stanford University

PETER K. LEVISON, Study Director

DEAN R. GERSTEIN, Senior Research Associate

DEBORAH R. MALOFF, Research Associate

MARIE A. CLARK, Administrative Secretary

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