How One Foolish Decision Has Cost Countless Lives

Big things are happening.

We’re close to a national turning point when it comes cannabis regulation. And if the government gets out of the way, even bigger things will happen when it comes to our health.

But change won’t come easy. That’s why it’s important to understand marijuana’s sordid history with the government.

Few folks know it, but one foolish, politically motivated decision in the 1970s has cost countless lives.

That’s when Nixon declared his war on drugs and launched the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse.

His intent was to have the group study cannabis and to prove its dangers once and for all.

The timing was good.

Congress had recently passed the Controlled Substances Act, establishing the schedules by which drugs would be classified. They didn’t know where marijuana should go, so it was temporarily listed as a Schedule I… pending further review.

Thus, 13 members of Congress, led by former Pennsylvania governor Raymond Shafer, got to work.

They compiled more than 3,700 pages of research.

Not a Problem

The panel evaluated marijuana use in American society, examined the drug’s effect on the human body (and its capacity to alter human behavior) and looked at the impact of the drug on society.

Their conclusion was that cannabis did not cause extensive danger to society.

Read that sentence again.

It’s huge.

The commission’s recommendation was clear. Marijuana should not rank high on the list of issues our society faces. Criminalization would do little good and would not discourage use.

Americans, the commission begged, had the right to choose for themselves.

In their own words:

On the basis of our findings, we have concluded that society should seek to discourage use, while concentrating its attention on the prevention and treatment of heavy and very heavy use.

The Commission feels that the criminalization of possession of marihuana for personal use is socially self-defeating as a means of achieving this objective. We have attempted to balance individual freedom on one hand and the obligation of the state to consider the wider social good on the other.

We believe our recommended scheme will permit society to exercise its control and influence in ways most useful and efficient, meanwhile reserving to the individual American his sense of privacy, his sense of individuality, and, within the context of ail interacting and interdependent society, his options to select his own life style, values, goals and opportunities…

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.

Nixon was furious at the commission’s recommendations and ignored the findings.

They didn’t fit his agenda.

Enter subcommittee hearings in Congress in 1974, led by Sen. James Eastland.

He created an enemy out of a growing anti-war hippie population.

The senator warned, without the burden of fact, that “if the current rate of marijuana use continued, Americans might find themselves saddled with a large population of semizombies.”

Controversial research from Dr. Robert Heath presented to the subcommittee helped shut down any debate. His research asserted that marijuana killed brain cells… based, of course, on government-funded research on rhesus monkeys.

However, his means to this end involved depriving the monkeys of oxygen while they smoked the equivalent of more than a hundred marijuana cigarettes per day for six months.

Even the dopiest of hipster potheads couldn’t match this feat… but it was not enough to convince the panel otherwise.

Marijuana found a permanent place on the list of Schedule I drugs, alongside heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

With a couple of biased nods, the door closed on potential cannabis therapies, medications and treatments that could have saved countless lives.

A Turning Point

Some 40 years later, cannabis – and its virtually unstudied components – remains a Schedule I drug.

But again, we’re close to a turning point.

Last year, the FDA approved the first drug that contains an active ingredient derived from marijuana. That was Epidiolex, a pediatric CBD seizure medication from GW Pharmaceuticals.

There are hundreds of potential health applications for cannabis… like non-high-inducing CBD products that treat congestive heart failure, abnormal diastolic blood pressure and brain cancer.

So the sooner the FDA gets out of the way, the sooner more life-saving treatments will be able to get the green light to undergo research and testing.

And the sooner more lives will be saved.

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