Nixon vs. Shafer Commission

By David Jenison

Nixon vs. Shafer Commission

When the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) became law in 1970, Congress established five Schedules with specific regulations and oversight and then determined the placement of prescription and illicit drugs into the five classifications. Schedule I was reserved for wholly prohibited drugs that were dangerous and addictive with no medical value. The CSA established a commission to study cannabis and propose placement, but during this research period, Assistant Secretary of Health Roger Egeberg suggested that Congress temporarily make cannabis a Schedule I drug.

The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, more commonly called the Shafer Commission after its chairman, led the research. Participants included Republican Governor Raymond Shafer, Republican Congressman Tim Lee Carter of Kentucky, Republican Senator Jacob Javits, Democratic Senator Harold Hughes of Iowa and various medical doctors, college presidents, attorneys and psychiatrists. Their findings? Cannabis was plagued by ludicrous propaganda, and Congress should end its constitutionally questionable prohibition. Chairman Shafer, who titled the report "Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding," even seemed to endorse responsible recreational use.

Shafer knew this was not the conclusion that Nixon wanted, and he met with the President in the Oval Office before presenting the report. According to public transcripts, Nixon said those who fight prohibition are “not good people,” and he warned the former Governor against presenting an honest account of the commission’s findings. “You're enough of a pro to know that for you to come out with something that would run counter to what the Congress feels and what the country feels, and what we're planning to do, would make your commission just look bad as hell,” said Nixon.

Shafer, to his credit, delivered the report and called for an end to prohibition, yet cannabis remained a Schedule I drug and a historic racist led a congressional subcommittee that sought to refute the commission two years later. Nixon reportedly ramped up cannabis prohibition for political and racist reasons, and Mississippi Senator James Eastland, who headed up the refutal, is a segregationist who called on the public to defy the Supreme Court ruling that desegregated schools. This rich plantation owner-turned-senator seemed happy to demonize cannabis and support its prohibition.

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Richard Nixon's Drug War Turns 48

Cannabis and the CSA

The Substance Schedules

What About Farmer Bob?

Was Harry Anslinger a Racist?

The Anslinger Gore Files

Anti-Cannabis Propaganda

Harry Anslinger: The Godfather of Cannabis Prohibition

The Start of Cannabis Prohibition

Wacky Wiley

The Muckrakers!

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906

Scheduling Conflicts