Nixon Commission Report Advising Decriminalization of Marijuana Celebrates 30th Anniversary

More Than 13.2 Million Americans Have Been Arrested on Pot Charges Since Congress Rejected 1972 Policy Recommendations

Washington, DC: Friday marks the 30-year-anniversary of a 1972 federal commission report advising Congress to remove criminal penalties on the possession and nonprofit distribution of marijuana. The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (a.k.a. “the Shafer Commission”), appointed by then-President Richard Nixon, formally made its recommendation on March 22, 1972.

“Neither the marihuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety,” concluded the report’s authors, led by then-Gov. Raymond Shafer of Pennsylvania. “Therefore, the Commission recommends … [the] possession of marijuana for personal use no longer be an offense, [and that the] casual distribution of small amounts of marihuana for no remuneration, or insignificant remuneration no longer be an offense.”

Despite the commission’s recommendations, Nixon and Congress ignored the report. Since then, more than 13.2 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges, including some 735,000 in 2000 – the last year for which federal data is available.

“Decriminalizing the personal possession and use of marijuana by responsible adults was the right thing to do then and it is the right thing to do now,” said NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup. According to a December 2001 Zogby poll, 61 percent of voters agree with the Shafer Commission’s conclusion that responsible marijuana smokers should not be arrested or jailed.

Recently released transcripts of Nixon’s conversations with Gov. Shafer, who chaired the 1972 pot commission, indicate that the President tried to pressure him to reject his committee’s findings. “You’re enough of a pro to know that for you to come out with something that would run counter to what Congress feels … and what we’re planning to do would make your commission just look bad as hell,” Nixon warned in a May 26, 1971 conversation. In other conversations, Nixon linked marijuana to the downfall of civilized societies.

For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500. A hard copy of the March 22, 1972 letter from commission chairman Raymond Shafer to then-President Nixon is available from NORML. A full report regarding Nixon’s declassified statements on marijuana is available online at: