Marijuana's Dependence Liability – 1970

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As with many of the topics discussed in prior sections, the evaluation of the psychic or physiological liability presented by marijuana use depends on the standards applied to the issue.

According to the legislative history,

“There must be an assessment of the extent to which a drug is physically addictive or psychologically habit forming, if such information is known.”(1)

The key word here is “extent.”

At the time Congress created the Controlled Substances Act the United States public was debating reconsideration of criminal penalties for marijuana use and sales.

“The extent to which marihuana should be controlled is a subject upon which opinions diverge widely. There are some who not only advocate its legalization but would encourage its use; at the other extreme there are some States which have established the death penalty for distribution of marihuana to minors. During the hearings, Dr. Stanley F. Yolles, who was the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, submitted a chart of fable and fact concerning marihuana . . .[Among the facts are the following statements.]

“Marihuana does not cause physical addiction, since tolerance to its effects and symptoms on sudden withdrawals does not occur. It can produce habituation (psychological dependence) . . .

“We know nothing in the nature of marihuana that predisposes to heroin abuse. . .

“Marihuana use has increased enormously in spite of the most severely punitive laws.”(2)

The Congress asked the Department of Health, Education and Welfare for their recommendation where marijuana should be placed in the Controlled Substances Act.

The response, by letter of 8/14/70, of the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs is as follows:

“Dear Mr. Chairman: In a prior communication, comments requested by your committee on the scientific aspects of the drug classification scheme incorporated in H.R. 18583 were provided. This communication is concerned with the proposed classification of marihuana.

“It is presently classed in schedule I(C) along with its active constituents, the tetrahydrocannibinols and other psychotropic drugs.

“Some question has been raised whether the use of the plant itself produces “severe psychological or physical dependence” as required by a schedule I or even schedule II criterion. Since there is still a considerable void in our knowledge of the plant and effects of the active drug contained in it, our recommendation is that marihuana be retained within schedule I at least until the completion of certain studies now underway to resolve the issue. If those studies make it appropriate for the Attorney General to change the placement of marihuana to a different schedule, he may do so in accordance with the authority provided under section 201 of the bill.

“We are advised by the Office of Management and Budget that there is no objection to the presentation of this report from the standpoint of the administration’s program.

“Sincerely yours, (signed) Roger O. Egeberg, M.D.”(3)