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Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding


National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding




This is the first of two Reports by the National Commission on and Drug Abuse. Public Law 91-513 requires that we report to the President, Congress and the public initially on marihuana and then on the broader issue of drug abuse in the United The second Report will include a review of the marihuana issue with particular attention to studies which have been conducted in the interim.

In large measure, the marihuana issue is a child of the sixties, the visual and somewhat pungent symbol of dramatic changes which have permanently affected our nation in the last decade. Some have that our mandate has placed the cart before the horse, and that we should have focused first on the wider social issue and assessed marihuana's impact on society within that context. much thought and investigation, we now believe that Congress was wise in focusing this Commission's attention first on marihuana. separating it from the rest of the drug controversy, we have been better able to analyze the unique position marihuana occupies in our society.

Our mandate was a broad one, covering, for example, the nature and scope of use, the effects of the drug, the relationship of marihuana use to other behavior and the efficacy of existing law. Realizing that marihuana had never before in the American experience been the subject of a concentrated, authoritative governmental study, we launched a comprehensive research and fact-finding effort. We sought.. to evaluate and supplement existing material, to fill knowledge voids. and to assess the so-called truths commonly posed in the marihuana debate.

Soon after funds became available on March 22, 1971, we commissioned more than 50 projects, ranging from a study of the effects of marihuana on man to a field survey of enforcement of the marihuana laws in six metropolitan jurisdictions. Of particular importance in our fact-finding effort were the opinions and attitudes of all groups in our society.

Through formal and informal hearings, recorded in thousands of pages of transcripts, we solicited all points of view, including those of public officials, community leaders, professional experts and students. We commissioned a nationwide survey of public beliefs, information and experience referred to in this Report as the National Survey. In addition, we conducted separate surveys of opinion among', district attorneys, judges, probation officers, clinicians, university health officials and free clinic personnel.

This inquiry focused on the American experience. However, we have been well aware from the outset that the scope of marihuana use in the United States differs considerably from that in other countries where the drug has been used for centuries. Accordingly, the Commission sought to put the American experience in perspective by seeing the situation first hand in India, Greece, North Africa, Jamaica, Afghanistan, and other countries.

Because of our initial concentration on marihuana, certain issues common to marihuana and other drugs have been deferred for more complete coverage in the second Report. For example, a detailed analysis of educational programs about marihuana and its use will be considered when we evaluate drug education programs in general.

Further, we do not discuss the rehabilitation of the problem marihuana user since no such specialized programs exist; we found the subject is best approached from a broader perspective of rehabilitation programs for problem users of all non-narcotic drugs. An examination of federal and state organizational response to the drug issue, as well as an in-depth study of general law enforcement strategies, have both been undertaken and will continue, but will not be reported fully until the second year.

Officers of the Federal Government have set a high priority on fuller understanding of the marihuana issue and appropriate governmental action. President Nixon has frequently expressed his personal and official commitment to providing a rational and equitable public response to the use and misuse of drugs. Similarly, Congress has shown its concern in passing the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. In appointing this Commission, both the President and Congress have recognized the need for an independent, nonpartisan appraisal of the nature of marihuana and the consequences of its use, for a similar appraisal of the abuse of all drugs, and for appropriate recommendations for public policy as a result of both studies.

The Commission decided early in its deliberations to write a Report that was complete but not overly technical so that the reader could understand the points discussed without analyzing detailed studies. Some. studies and supporting data are included in an Appendix to the Report, which is published separately. For the researcher and others interested in greater detail, the Appendix provides the necessary technical data.

This Report focuses on marihuana, the popular name for a mixture of stems, leaves and flowering tops of the Indian hemp plant, Cannabis Sativa L. This Report presents the most significant information gathered to date about the drug and its users, concluding with the Commission's recommendations concerning the most appropriate public response to marihuana usage in our society.


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Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding