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50 Years After Nixon’s Commission Said Cops Should Stop Busting Pot Users, the Federal Ban Remains Unchanged

Today marks fifty years since the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse published a report which was very different to what President Richard Nixon was likely expecting. The blue-ribbon panel was presided over by an ex-Pennsylvania Governor. Raymond Shafer. From the perspective of a president who the year before had declared drug abuse “America’s public enemy number one,” the report’s title—Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding—It was not encouraging. The situation got even worse.

Personal possession is not a subject of criminal law. [of marijuana]The Shafer Commission stated that even though they tried to discourage the use, it was not enough. It implies an indictment of behavior that we do not believe appropriate. “The actual and possible harm caused by drug use isn’t severe enough to warrant intrusions of the criminal law into private conduct, something our society does not accept with any great reluctance.”

The report recommended that possession of marijuana for personal use not be considered an offense and that small quantities of marihuana be distributed for no or minimal remuneration. This policy was known as “decriminalization” of marijuana. Nearly a dozen states followed the advice of that commission during this decade. They began with Oregon in 1973 and changed low-level marijuana possession from a crime to a civil offense punishable by a small fine. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter supported decriminalization. He stated to Congress that penalties for possession of drugs should not be worse than their use.

That sentiment was most popular in the 1970s. However, support for marijuana reform dropped in response to the growing popularity of pot-smoking adolescents and an increased war on drugs during Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. But today, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws notes, “32 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation either legalizing or decriminalizing the possession of marijuana for adults.” There are 37 states that recognize marijuana as a medical substance. Of these, 18, which account for nearly two-fifths, allow its recreational use.

The Shafer Commission recommendation has not been followed by Congress. Federal marijuana possession remains illegal. Even relatively modest attempts to address the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws have failed to make any headway in the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) His legislation must be prioritised, insists Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Joe Biden is a former drug fighter who has now portrayed himself as a reformer. He supports federal marijuana decriminalization and believes that states should have the right to legalize it. He is opposed to the repeal of the federal prohibition on marijuana, unlike most other Democratic candidates.

Biden said that he would broadly apply his clemency power to commute nonviolent drug offenders’ sentences and that anybody convicted for marijuana offenses, “should be allowed out of prison.” Biden has yet to use his clemency authority.

Biden talked also about making it easier for medical research to be conducted by classifying marijuana as Controlled Substances Act. However, this can only be done administratively and not through new legislation. However, he has not made any progress in this area.

Gallup started asking Americans to vote for legalization of cannabis use in 1969. From 12 percent in 1969, to 28 per cent in 1977, and then to 23 per cent in 1985, before a gradual rise began in the middle of 1990s. The latest poll shows that two-thirds (or more) of Americans believe marijuana should be legal. Biden appears unimpressed with this sea change in public opinion.

How about those arrests the Shafer Commission considered adisproportionate response to cannabis use? In the United States, there were 292,000 marijuana-related arrests in 2005, compared to 226,000 last year. This number had increased to 446,000 in 1978. It declined over the decade that followed, reaching 446,000 in 1978. Then it began a steady climb in the early 1990s. In 2007, the total reached an all-time high of 893,000. It was 350,000 by 2020. That’s a 36 percent decrease from 2007 and 60 per cent lower than 2007.

These cases, which accounted for 91 percent of all those in 2020, involved possession at low levels. They correspond to the Shafer Commission’s recommendations that arrests should cease half a century ago. Absolute numbers show that the 2020 number was higher than 1972’s. Adjusting for population growth, however, saw the marijuana arrest rate drop by 24 percent to 139 from 106 per 100,000 Americans.