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September 30, 2011

Time to Revisit the Shafer Report?

March 22, 2012 will mark the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon's summary rejection of the timidly worded Shafer Commission's two year study simply because he didn't agree with its recommendations. Originally mandated in 1970 by a Congressional committee struggling with the wording of John Mitchell's Controlled Substances Act because of their concern that although little was known about "marijuana's" effects on chronic users, it had already been chosen for listing on the highly restrictive Schedule One, by Roger Egeberg, the Assistant Secretary of Health, presumably at Nixon's insistence.

Thus one result of Nixon's summary rejection of the commission's recommendation was that the ban on a drug his own Committee had taken great pains to point out was unsupported by scientific evidence in 1970 would continue to tarnish it with the same stigma Harry Anslinger had smeared it with in 1937 for three more decades before growing agitation by its (underground) medical users finally produced California's unique "medical marijuana" initiative in 1996.

Parenthetically, it must also be added that until passage of the Draconian CSA (and the speedy creation, by Executive Order, of its supportive bureaucracies, the DEA and NIDA) no research supporting "marijuana" prohibition had ever been done. Anyone reasonably familiar with ordinary medical research should have been able to recognize the flood of "Gateway" studies that began in the early Seventies for what it was: post hoc, policy-compliant "research" filling a void that had existed, both before and after Anslinger's ludicrous 1937 MTA. In other words, three decades of disinterest in illegal "reefer" by the behavioral sciences were quickly followed by a plethora of studies seeking to explain the explosive youthful cannabis interest of the Sixties without ever recognizing that it had been unique to that era or asking why it had occurred when it did. Instead; the CSA itself had generated a bonanza of DEA and NIDA funding for policy-friendly "research" by Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences.

Nixon's summary burial of the timidly-worded Shafer Report was high-handed, even for him; but the media let it pass, almost without comment in March 1972. In that connection, it should also be remembered that particular time was probably the high-water mark of his entire Administration. He had just scored an unlikely foreign policy coup by driving a wedge between China and its Russian allies (while also insuring a benign Chinese response to "Vietnamization").

Ironically, although Nixon's re-election may have seemed almost certain in March 1972, it would be his own insecurity that would goad his supporters into the ludicrous Watergate break-in that eventually destroyed his Presidency. It's also not surprising that the press failed to notice his brush-off of Shafer in March '72; given the context, they probably spent little time reading it themselves.

In that connection, and considering that we now have 4 decades of expensive Drug War failure by which to evaluate the CSA, perhaps we should finally read the long-neglected Shafer report. My own study, still ongoing, suggests that it made some very good points about cannabis; in fact, we might be a lot better off today if it had received a modicum of intelligent, unbiased scrutiny before the nation (and the UN) foolishly committed themselves to a scientifically vacuous policy based on little more than Harry Anslinger's vivid imagination, Richard Nixon's paranoid resentment, and John Mitchell's seductive rhetoric.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at September 30, 2011 10:29 PM