National Commission On Marihuana Celebrates 35th Anniversary

Congressional commission determined “the criminal law is too harsh a tool” to apply to pot possession

Decrim message is even more applicable today than it was then

Washington, DC: Recommendations to Congress by the National Commission on Marihuana (sic) and Drug Abuse 35-years-ago today that called for ending the criminal arrest and prosecution of adults who possess or use small amounts of marijuana are more applicable today than they were then, says NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre.

Thirty-five-years ago, the first – and to date, only – US Congressional Commission to address marijuana and public policy recommended the government amend federal law so that the possession and use of small quantities of cannabis by adults would no longer be a criminal offense. That commission, known as National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse (also known as The Shafer Commission) concluded:

    • “[T]he criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use. … It implies an overwhelming indictment of the behavior which we believe is not appropriate. The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.”

The Commission recommended, for the first time, that Congress enact a national policy of marijuana ‘decriminalization,’ whereby the possession of cannabis for personal use as well as the casual distribution of small amounts of marihuana for little-or-no remuneration would no longer be a criminal offense.

However, then-President Richard Nixon rejected the Commission’s determinations – electing instead to launch a so-called “War on Drugs,” a federal strategy that still exists today.

“In the years since former President Richard Nixon and Congress rejected the Shafer Commission’s recommendations, the US government has spent billions of taxpayers’ dollars targeting and arresting minor marijuana offenders without achieving any reduction in marijuana use, availability, or demand,” St. Pierre says.

He notes that since 1972:

“In 1972, the year the Shafer Commission first recommended decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, the FBI reported that fewer than 300,000 Americans were arrested for pot,” St. Pierre says.

“Today, nearly 800,000 Americans are arrested annually on marijuana charges – an increase of more than 150 percent. In addition, nearly 90 percent of those arrested today are charged with simple possession only – the very practice that the Commission demanded Congress end 35 years ago.”

St. Pierre concludes: “Currently, one in every eight inmates incarcerated for drug crimes is behind bars for pot, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $1 billion per year. It is apparent that the Commission’s 35-year-old common-sense solution to decriminalize cannabis is even more applicable today than it was then. It is time for the new Democrat Congress to revisit this issue and bring an end to the needless arrest and incarceration of otherwise law abiding citizens who consume marijuana in the privacy of their own home.”

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500 or visit: Additional audio commentary on the Shafer Commission report, including an exclusive interview with former Commission member Dr. Thomas Ungerlieder, is available on Wednesday’s and Thursday’s episodes of NORML’s Daily AudioStash at: