The possibility of federally legal cannabis looms larger today than it has at any time since the tail end of the Great Depression, when the participants of Roosevelt’s New Deal were laying the physical foundation for modern America.
It was Henry Aslinger who first brought us cannabis prohibition, but that was another era. Then, the hippie movement of the 1960s brought hope for Mary Jane, with Timothy Leary exposing the technical flaw of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 – the violation of the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. That Leary was a wily one.
Richard Nixon is at the root of our current mess. In 1970, Nixon created a committee, run by the former governor of Pennsylvania, Raymond P. Shafer, to investigate and report on cannabis. The Shafer Commission conducted its research, and while the Controlled Substances Act was being drafted, cannabis was placed under the Schedule I category, a place from which it has never returned.
The DEA defines Schedule I drugs as, “drugs with no currently accepted medical use, and a high potential for abuse.” The rest of the list includes heroin (of course!), MDMA, LSD and some other hallucinogens, and Quaaludes – which, while I am too young to know directly, I have been told should have been taken off the streets.
For perspective, Schedule II – “drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence … also considered dangerous” – includes cocaine and methamphetamine.
All of the glorious mess – the legal mess, the social mess, the medical mess, the comedies and tragedies that have played out daily for decades around this plant – have followed that move to Schedule I.
Are you ready for the kicker? After two years of investigation, Schafer and his people concluded that cannabis was not a danger to society, and that it should be removed from federal scheduling entirely. It should instead be dealt with by social channels, much like how alcohol was treated. Shafer’s report, “Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding,” states that, “Considering the range of social concerns in contemporary America, marihuana does not, in our considered judgment, rank very high. We would deemphasize marihuana as a problem.” It seems that the more things change in America…
But Tricky Dick decided not to follow through on the recommendations of the Shafer report. He had other plans entirely. A couple of years later, he resigned in disgrace, and now here we are, a generation later, left to sort the cannabis fallout.
Since 1972, citizens and politicians alike have been fighting a culture war, with cannabis as the central figure. We have been lied to by our government. Supporters of the plant have been persecuted and prosecuted. But, as the old saying goes, “Three things cannot be hidden for long: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”
The truth about cannabis has been exposed. That, my friends, is where things get interesting. For the first time in a long time, we have in front of us the possibility of the removal of cannabis from the criminal purview – not rescheduling but, descheduling – cops be damned, courts be damned, DEA be damned. This would be the correct response to the way our government has handled its part in this saga.
Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at [email protected].