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Polls say people want legal pot

Pew Research Center poll says majority of Americans OK with legalization of marijuana

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Sadly, there was a brief moment before anti-pot hysteria fully metastasized when things could have turned out differently. As part of the omnibus legislation that also created the Controlled Substances Act, Congress established what would be known as the Shafer Commission, which was charged with studying marijuana abuse in the United States. Named for its chairman, former Pennsylvania Gov. Raymond Shafer, the commission was doomed to failure because the executive branch had little tolerance for views that differed from those of its chief executive.

During the commission’s first report to Congress, Shafer, a moderate Republican, suggested the decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana, saying, in part: “The 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 [that] our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.”

You would be right to ask yourself, then, how domestic policy toward marijuana use went off the rails so precipitously, languishing as a sideline issue for more than two additional generations.

Conventional wisdom suggests you need not look further than the guy who signed the Controlled Substances Act into existence. While it was never a secret, the Nixon White House was less than enlightened – despite President Richard Nixon’s Sock-It-To-Me request from a young Goldie Hawn – and had the electorate known just what a schmuck he really was, well … we know how that turned out in the end.

The Shafer Commission’s findings were ignored by a hostile White House. Nixon, by his own admission, had no intention of considering decriminalization of pot. He hated pot and the counterculture it became associated with.

“I had a press conference in California, which was not televised, but I was asked about marijuana because a study is being made by a, group, [unintelligible] the government,” Nixon was quoted as saying on May 13, 1971, during a taped conversation in the Oval Office between himself, his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman and assistant to the president on domestic affairs John Ehrlichman. The three were, apparently, having a conversation about the TV show All in the Family. “Now, my position is flat-out on that. I am against legalizing marijuana. Now I’m against legalizing marijuana because, I know all the arguments about, well, marijuana is no worse than whiskey, or etc., etc., etc.

“But the point is, once you cross that line, from the straight society to the drug society – marijuana, then speed, then it’s LSD, then it’s heroin, etc., then you’re done.”

Lest you think the above is some anomaly, the following is transcribed from another Nixon recording between the president and Haldeman, in the Oval Office, toward the end of May 1971:

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