Cannabis Heroes and Villains: Governor Raymond Shafer (The Shafer Commission) and President Richard Nixon
President Richard M. Nixon’s anti-marijuana enthusiasm was matched only by that of Harry Anslinger. Tapes of conversations from Nixon’s White House reveal a racist, paranoid man obsessed with eradicating marijuana. Nixon related marijuana with the part of the culture he believed was destroying America.
“Homosexuality, dope, immorality in general, these are the enemies of strong societies. That’s why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff, they’re trying to destroy us,” Nixon ranted.
When it passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, Congress admitted they didn’t know all that much marijuana, so they placed it on Schedule I temporarily until it could be studied. They created the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, informally known as the Shafer Commission after Republican Pennsylvania Governor Raymond Shafer, who Nixon appointed as chairman.
In addition to the law and order former prosecutor Shafer, a known drug warrior, Nixon stacked the deck with the dean of a law school, the head of a mental health hospital, and a retired Chicago police captain. Along with the Nixon appointees, two senators and two congressmen from each party served on the Shafer Commission.
Nixon’s tapes make it clear he wanted a report that supported his views on the evils of marijuana and his “tough on crime” policies for dealing with it, regardless of what the facts might be.
Nobody was more surprised than Shafer himself with what the Commission’s study discovered.
The 1972 report, entitled “Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding,” unequivocally stated that “neither the marihuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety” and recommended Congress and state legislatures decriminalize the use and casual distribution of marijuana for personal use.
Nixon refused to even read the report. Instead his reaction was to declare war, making him the first to coin the “war on drugs” term.
“We need, and I use the word ‘all out war,’ or all fronts . . . .”
That was Richard Nixon’s response to the Shafer Commission’s scientifically researched recommendation that marijuana use no longer be a criminal offense. The year after Nixon declared war on marijuana, arrests jumped by over 100,000 people, ushering in the era of mass incarceration that only grew worse with subsequent administrations both Republican and Democrat. Since then, over 15 million people have been arrested for marijuana offenses.
We can also thank Richard Nixon for creating the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), an all powerful government entity employing over 4000 agents and having the authority to request wire taps, bust into private homes without warning, and gather intelligence on and seize assets from ordinary citizens.