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Commissions on Drugs

COMMISSIONS ON DRUGS

For hundreds of years, governments have been using commissions of inquiry to help them investigate pressing social problems and to formulate plans for organized social and governmental responses to these problems. One of the first government commissions on problems associated with drug use, appointed in 1893, was the Indian Hemp Drugs Commissionwhose purpose was to investigate the extent to which the hemp plant was cultivated, the preparation of drugs from it, the trade in those drugs, the extent of their use, and the effects of their consumption on the social, physical, and moral conditions of the people. In addition, they were asked to investigate certain economic aspects of the use of hemp and also the potential political, social or religious results of the prohibition of hemp. After one year of investigation, the commission published a report summarizing its conclusion that the occasional use of hemp in moderate doses was not harmful but that excessive use did cause injury.

Commissions often can create a firm basis for long-lasting social policy. One of the best examples relating to drugs is provided by the Shanghai Commission and the Smoking Opium Act of 1909. Several laws directed at the traffic in narcotics had been introduced into the U.S. Congress before 1908, but only after President Theodore Roosevelt convened the Shanghai Opium Commission in 1909 was federal enactment of any legislation accomplished. The Shanghai meeting had been called to aid China in its attempt to eliminate opium addiction. Then the first U.S. federal legislation against American narcotic abuse, the Smoking Opium Exclusion Act of 1909, outlawed the importation into the United States of opium prepared for smoking.

Within Great Britain, the Rolleston Commission served the important function of establishing basic principles for long-lasting social policy. For more than sixty years, the recommendations of the Rolleston Commission, called the Rolleston Re-Port, have guided British social and governmental policy toward the prevention and control of nonmedical usage of heroin and other opioid drugs.

In North America, there have been a series of important commissions directed toward nonmedical drug use. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Mayor of New York Fiorello LaGuardia to chair a scientific commission to investigate the effects of marijuana and other drugs in communities, especially within urban areas of the United States. After looking into these issues for five years, the LaGuardia commission members published their final report entitled The Marijuana Problem in the City of New York: Sociological, Medical, Psychological and Pharmacological Studies. Based on interviews with hundreds of users, and after sociological studies and laboratory investigations, the commission concluded that marijuana was not an addictive drug as compared to morphine and that tolerance to marijuana was developed to only a limited degree. Although the LaGuardia report is a significant contribution to the marijuana literature, its conclusions must be qualified because of various weaknesses in the experimental methodologies available at that time.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy appointed the President's Advisory Commission on Narcotics and Drug Abuse. This commission considered how best to begin reexamination of the problem of drug abuse in the United States, as well as what specific recommendations to make regarding the control of the problem of addiction by law enforcement. The commission's final report in 1963 suggested that psychological treatment might be useful against addiction. The report also marked a shift away from the trend to consider all Narcotics the same under law.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, both the United States and Canada launched commissions of inquiry into a growing problem of nonmedical drug use among the young people of their countries. The Canadian LeDain Commission was appointed in 1969 with the goals of referencing the existing literature and data regarding the nonmedical use of drugs; reporting on the current state of medical knowledge of these drugs; studying the motivation underlying such nonmedical use of drugs; investigating social, economic, educational and philosophical factors related to such use; and finally, recommending ways the Canadian government could act to reduce the problems associated with such use.

Shortly afterward, in the United States, the Na-Tional Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse issued two important reports, the first entitled Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding and the second called Drug Use in America: Problem in Perspective. For the most part, the commission's recommendations about Marijuana fell on deaf ears. A most important recommendation of the commission was realized in the form of a well-funded national program of periodic epidemiologic surveillance concerning nonmedical drug use and the consequences of such use, now apparent in the Monitoring the Future studies and in the Na-Tional Household Survey on Drug Abuse.

(See also: Marihuana Commission ; Opioids and Opioid Control ; Shanghai Opium Conference of 1909 ; U.S. Government: The Organization of U.S. Drug Policy )

Jennifer K. Lin

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