Reprinted by permission of The New Republic, © 1967, Harrison-Blaine of New Jersey, 156 (April 15,1967): 17-20.
Mark Barlow, the vice president of Cornell University, went to a very intimate cocktail party three Sundays ago in Ithaca. Some pretty responsible people on the faculty were there. At one point conversation got around to the subject of pot. "We all agreed," Barlow recalls, "that if someone at that moment had a package of marijuana we'd probably smoke it for the hell of it, to see what it's like."
This attitude of experimentation seems a bit odd for someone on the other side of the generational gap, especially when he is the student affairs vice president of a university which routinely reports students caught smoking, selling, buying or possessing marijuana to the police. It is all the more remarkable, considering that in New York the result of a conviction for possessing more than an ounce of marijuana is a mandatory five years in jail.
But these are strange times. The Federal Narcotics Bureau, a branch of the Treasury Department, has recently discovered that marijuana is no longer a kick enjoyed more or less exclusively by Negro jazz musicians, hippies and other low-life but that it is fairly common among decent, middle-class, educated, otherwise conventional people who no longer believe that pot is a dangerous drug.
The burgeoning marijuana traffic, plus the radical change in attitudes toward pot, has been a source of grief to the Narcotics Bureau, which has the job of keeping it under control. Arrests involving pot have doubled in the past two years, narcotics agents have had to be diverted from the more important work of suppressing heroin, and this year the bureau had to come hat in hand to Congress for more money for more agents. The new permissiveness toward pot is seen by Narcotics Bureau Commissioner Henry L. Giordano as "just another effort to break down our whole American system."
Some universities, not Cornell, look the other way when students are arrested in pot "busts"; some parents worry not because their children are smoking pot but because they might be arrested; courts are increasingly reluctant to impose fixed minimum sentences and therefore refuse to bring convictions; even the Narcotics Bureau has -stopped saying that smoking pot results directly in rape, murder and insanity.
In its 448 pages a new book, The Marijuana Papers, tells more than anyone would ever want to know about pot. David Solomon, its editor, is all for pot and believes that "millions of other Americans" are beginning to learn that "marijuana is both pleasurable and harmless."
Marijuana comes from the flowering tops and leaves of the Cannabis sativa or hemp plant, and grows without cultivation in most climates. A few puffs on a reefer give one the sensation of relaxation and a heightened awareness of light and sound. Pot was made illegal by the federal Marijuana Act of 1937, largely as a result of the lobbying of the Narcotics Bureau and its Commissioner Harry Anslinger. Most states subsequently enacted anti-pot legislation of their own. Since the late thirties the Narcotics Bureau has changed its line from an insistence that smoking marijuana is itself hazardous, to the belief that its use leads to other things, notably heroin addiction.
"THE POT HAZARD"
If marijuana did not lead to heroin addiction prior to 1937 but does now, David Solomon argues, perhaps it is because, as an illegal drug, it now must be obtained through the same channels through which other illegal drugs flow. "The marijuana user thus found himself able to purchase heroin from merchants who had previously sold only marijuana." In any event, the "attempt to suppress the use of marijuana in the United States through police power and by means of heavy penalties hows no signs of succeeding."
The Narcotics Bureau is clearly on the defensive about marijuana.in his testimony before a House appropriations subcommittee February Commissioner Giordano attributed the rise in illicit marijuana traffic 7000 arrests in 1964; 15,000 in 1966) to "free expression" groups hat have told young people to do whatever they like, without regard to the mores of society. "We seem to have a lot of people today trying to convince our youth that there is nothing really wrong with marijuana," he said.
But strangely, nowhere in the commissioner's remarks to the subcommittee did he detail the hazards of marijuana, except to reiterate that it is a stepping stone to stronger stuff. He draws this conclusion from studies of known heroin addicts who say that they earlier smoked marijuana. However, there are no studies available to suggest, as Giordano would like to believe, that the converse is true, that even a small percentage of pot smokers graduate to heroin addiction. The assumptions of the Narcotics Bureau, which has something of a vested interest in keeping marijuana a "problem," were questioned by the recent President's Crime Commission Report which said that "there are too many marijuana users who do not graduate to heroin" and that "there is no scientific basis for [the stepping-stone] theory."
Two weeks ago the American College Health Association, an organization of university and college health service professionals, met in Washington to discuss their common interests (ranging from birth control to football injuries). The panel discussions on the campus drug scene attracted the most interest. Marijuana, according to the panelists, is by far the most prevalent and least alarming of the so-called hallucinogenic drugs to be found on campuses today. (One rough guess has 25 percent of the students at the University of California smoking pot, and UC is not unique.) Woodrow W. Burgess, a psychiatrist at the University of California at Davis, calls marijuana a "negligible source of emotional disturbance in college students." He said that "in an active practice of psychiatry of twenty years I have never had anyone come to me and say they were in trouble from taking marijuana." Duke D. Fisher, a physician with the Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles and an authority on LSD, said "We don't see adverse reactions to marijuana." His concern with pot is not its danger (LSD is dangerous, he insists) but its illegality. Robert S. Liebert, a Columbia University physician, thinks occasional use of the drug a normal developmental phase among college kids. "The case could be made," he said, "that if a male goes through four years of college on many campuses now, without the experience, this abstinence bespeaks a rigidity in his character structure and fear of his impulses that is hardly desirable." Dr. Liebert stopped short only of suggesting that colleges "screen out all seniors who have never tried marijuana and insist that they go to the counseling service."
The problem of pot has in a real sense become a problem of law, not of medicine. Recently I visited the campuses of two universities which have lately experienced marijuana busts—Cornell and Wayne State. Both have noted an increase in the use of drugs by students; both consider it a problem. But that is where the similarities stop. Cornell reports student offenders to the cops. Where there is a conviction for selling, Cornell is inclined to kick the student out of school.
The dean of students at Wayne State in Detroit says the university has not and would not cooperate with narcotics agents and would most likely not suspend a student even after he had been convicted of a narcotics violation.
GETTING HIGH ABOVE CAYUGA'S WATERS
Cornell has developed something of a reputation for its drug problem. Last month a Cornell grad student was arrested along with10 other persons in Ithaca, 11 in New York and one in Montreal in what the Thompkins County district attorney called the largest LSD buy in the state's history ($3,000 worth of LSD; $600–$700 of marijuana). The state narcotics bureau's undercover agent who was instrumental in the arrest was posing as a Cornell student and was allegedly getting the drugs for his friends at Cornell. In fact, the number of cases involving Cornell students has been small and university officials, while recognizing that marijuana is more widely used than ever before, do not think Cornell's difficulties are unusual.
Last year Cornell's health service answered a questionnaire from Senator Robert Kennedy about the use of LSD. Of 27 colleges and universities replying to the senator's query, Cornell was reported as having the most known LSD cases—eight (it later turned out that some of the cases reported by Cornell were not LSD at all but morning glory seeds, peyote and other drugs).
In 1965 Cornell's President James A. Perkins decided to face up to the drug problem and instituted a policy of issuing press releases whenever Cornell students were caught with drugs, reporting violations to Thompkins County DA, Richard Thaler, and declaring Cornell's unequivocal abhorrence of narcotics law violations. The policy has had uneven results. In one instance a university announcement forced Thaler's hand and he had to make arrests before he felt that he had the goods on all the drug users involved.
Thaler prosecutes with zeal the cases Cornell turns over to him, and when he plans a bust he tells Cornell officials so they can be in on it. His investigative work has involved paid informants (in one case a university employee), paid amateur sleuths, and student rats. Two years ago he hired a New York City detective to come to Ithaca and hang around Cornell and the nearby Ithaca College, posing as a pot-head. The agent, Edward Manet, befriended Mona Silverman, an Ithaca College girl (in court her lawyer said they had become very good friends indeed). He gave her $20 to buy some pot for him in New York, and when she did he had her arrested. The case became quite involved. In court Thaler was asked by the judge whether he had imported an undercover man to "make love" to the girl. Thaler replied that a kiss is not making love.
The Silverman girl was convicted by the Thompkins County court of selling and possessing marijuana, which under New York law may carry up to 20 years in prison. The conviction for selling, however, was ultimately overthrown by the New York Supreme Court, which concluded that Miss Silverman had not profited from the exchange (most student "pushers" sell marijuana as a not-for-profit favor) and had merely done what Thaler's man had asked her to do. "One who acts solely as the agent of the buyer," the court concluded, "cannot be convicted of the crime of selling narcotics."
Thaler says the community has not been much moved by his narcotics campaign, since many people think he is just interested in publicity and in serving his own political ambitions. They think, and he denies, he has an interest in the state legislature. Thaler's methods, though, especially the question of entrapment, were issues in his 1965 reelection campaign and have alarmed some university officials because Cornell is so willing to entrust its students to Thaler's care. One Ithaca resident wrote the local newspaper demanding Thaler resign. He wondered, "Can we possibly ask parents to send their children into a town whose public officials, through carelessness or ambition, allow their agents to use guile in enticing youngsters into wrongdoing?"
The tactics used by those who would suppress marijuana often seem to result in more serious problems than pot itself. Thaler points out that the courts have ruled that getting someone to purchase marijuana and then setting him up for the kill when he turns over the stuff is not illegal entrapment. Pot is a serious offense, he emphasizes, and extraordinary methods are necessary to ferret out offenders. Cornell feels constrained to cooperate with such activities, and once again the reason is law. It is a crime in New York to know of the commission of a crime and not report it.
One high university official said privately that "one has to separate a principle of cooperation from how one is going to cooperate specifically with the constabulary you happen to be working with. There's a lot of stuff I'd do in principle, but Thaler would have to subpoena me before he'd get the information out of me, and then I'd even consider civil disobedience."
Of course, not everyone at Cornell feels this way. Proctor Lowell George says Thaler merely uses the same procedures that "they use in the city of New York" to apprehend dope peddlers. You don't just walk up to people and ask them if they are pushing marijuana. "You've got to obtain evidence and to do this you need an undercover man." I asked Proctor George whether he approves of entrapment, paid student informers, and agents posing as students. His reply was, "Do they do it any differently in New York?"
NO ONE TO TRUST
A plethora of agencies is involved in controlling drug traffic: the Federal Narcotics Bureau (marijuana, heroin), the Food and Drug Administration's new Bureau of Drug Abuse Control (LSD, amphetamines, barbiturates), customs agents, state narcotics bureaus, state police, local police.
There is some cooperation among these agencies although there is just as much overlap of activity. Just before the March arrests in Ithaca the Thompkins DA heard from his spies that the state narcotics bureau was taking motion pictures of persons having contact with known pushers and also that FDA people were on the scene, but he never heard directly from either agency and the state narcotics bureau has yet to reply to his request to see their movies.
Educational institutions also become involved in the police function through their own campus cops, and sometimes in more indirect ways. Dr. Henry B. Bruyn, director of student health at the Cornell Memorial Hospital at UC in Berkeley, said at the recent American College Health Association meetings that in 1962 the city of Berkeley passed an ordinance which had the effect of requiring a campus physician to report the name of any patient who had suffered an adverse drug reaction—a law which effectively destroys the confidential doctor-patient relationship in drug cases and makes one's physician an agent of the state.
Cornell held discussions with officials at the University of Rochester, which also has had trouble with illicit drugs, during which it was suggested that room maids might keep their eyes open for drug users. Cornell denies that such reports are encouraged or received.
Students have been recruited as paid informers; and, in the recent case at Fairleigh Dickinson University, police officers have registered for and attended classes as students. The result of all this activity is a fear on the part of some students that they are being spied upon from all directions and that they cannot trust anyone, even one another.
Richard Thaler feels that it is important to play on this fear reaction, that the more frightened students become of an arrest the less likely they are to experiment with drugs. "You can treat people through fear, fear that they're going to get caught, fear that the consequences are going to be personally disastrous, fear that the stigma that's going to be attached to their activities is going to be irrevocable," he says, "or you can treat them with force, that is, by making arrests, by making whoever is involved go through the expense, and the time, and the publicity of standing trial."
Thaler says, "From what I've been told—of course not having any personal knowledge—marijuana in and of itself is apparently not that dangerous." Students, he says, wonder why then he is so eager to prosecute cases. "I have no choice. It's defined in the law as a crime, and therefore I'm charged with the duty of prosecuting."
David Radin, the editor of the student Cornell Daily Sun, said that before the most recent pot bust at Cornell, marijuana was "really rampant on campus. There were many students who had large holdings." Since the bust he believes the town is clean, but that after spring vacation pot will be back on campus. Sam Roberts, managing editor of the Sun, said most students rather take pot for granted. "But not Thaler. He'll go looking around and he'll feel so proud when he's discovered one exchange, when 100 a week are taking place."
In the final analysis, most doctors and university administrators beg the question of the harmfulness of marijuana and view it pragmatically as a violation of law. At Wesleyan University (Connecticut) the college physician, C. B. Crampton, sent a frank "personal message" to the students. It said in part: "When you spend five dollars for a nickel-bag of marijuana you are contributing directly to the most vicious criminal elements in your country—the individuals and groups who deal in narcotics. No decent human being will subsidize the narcotics rings knowingly, but many do so unwittingly. Parenthetically, I should point out that stiff penalties are imposed not only for selling narcotics and hallucinogenic drugs, but for having them in your possession. A man can be (and some individuals have been) sentenced to five years in prison for possessing a single packet of marijuana or a few milligrams of LSD."