Monday, June 11, 2007

FROM OUR OVERSTOCKED ARCHIVES: BEFORE THE WAR ON DRUGS

[50 years ago this summer, your editor covered his first story in Washington. Throughout the year, the Review will offer excerpts from "Multitudes: The Unauthorized Memoirs of Sam Smith" and from back issues. The following story appeared in the November 1970 edition of the DC Gazette, the former name of the Progressive Review]

DC GAZETTE, 1970 - The Public Safety Committee of the DC City Council held two days of hearings this month to hear scientific and public testimony month to hear about marijuana. Most of what it heard was expectable: scientifically, marijuana is a mild conscious-altering drug; it is not addictive, nor does it lead to the use of addicting drugs; it has been known and used and studied for literally thousands of years, and no physiological damage whatsoever has been discovered; instances of adverse mental effects from its use are extremely rare.

Most significant to the council's hearing -- and to a good number of kids who are in prison on pot convictions -- was the fact, reiterated by Surgeon General Jesse L. Steinfeld, that "in the case of marijuana, legal penalties were originally assigned with total disregard for medical and scientific evidence of the properties of the drug or its effects. I know of no clearer instance in which the punishment for infraction of the law is more harmful than the crime." . . .

Activist Petey Greene "testified" on behalf of his grandmother, whose opinions on marijuana are based on practical experience. She once told her grandson to quit: "Petey, you gotta stop smoking those reefers because they make you too hungry, and I can't buy all that extra food. Later, on comparing its effects with those of alcohol, "She said she'd rather me smoke reefers and just sit and smile at people than drink that old wine and come in throwing chairs around. " . . .

The testimony of representatives of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs was notable for its meekness. Although the narcs still refer to marijuana as a killer drug before high school audiences, and still try to imply that pot inevitably and immediately leads to heroin, and still pass out 1930's posters of marijuana as the Grim Reaper -- they backed off under Council questioning. The narc's Dr. Milton Joffe even allowed that although "legalizing simply for hedonistic purposes" was not warranted, "I'm not against pleasure. . ."

Judge Charles Halleck recommended more realistic penalties, since present laws tend to cause the community "to lose faith in the entire system of justice." James H. Heller of the National Capital Area Civil Liberties Union called for the legalization of pot. He said he saw no reason that it should be treated any different from alcohol. (He admitted to having tried grass once, "but it didn't have any effect." ("Maybe you just didn't know how to smoke it," Councilwoman Polly Shackleton consoled him) . . .

Terry Becker, a Quicksilver Times reporter, surprised everyone by calling for more stringent penalties and stricter enforcement. Becked wanted "everyone to turn on everyone to get busted;" it would hasten the revolution, he said . . .

Noting that Surgeon General Steinfeld had referred to the famous Alice B. Toklas marijuana or hash brownies but claimed the recipe was not to be found Alice's cookbook, the Council's Republican chairman Gilbert Hahn opened the second day of hearings by setting the record straight. "You will find the recipe on page 273 of Alice B. Toklas," announced Hahn, and having fulfilled his public responsibility, he ordered the proceedings to proceed.

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