Centennial Thoughts: The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report
Published by The Schaffer library of drug policy – Tuesday 19 November, 2002
Copyright: The Schaffer library of drug policy
This monumental study exposes the overriding and pervasive powers of contemporary collective denial and moral failure underpinning policies of cannabis prohibition. Motivated by convenient moralism, questions are repeatedly disingenuously raised concerning the harm of hemp drugs, cannabis, or marijuana. The engine of agitprop bureaucratic ire fires up. Hearings are scheduled, witnesses heard, proceedings transcribed, summarized, presented to the requesting organization, discussed, filed, and forgotten. The prohibition policies go on. Enforcement, corrections systems strain under the demands of majoritarian magical beliefs in coercive powers of Government; promoted by continuing self-serving Government misinformation and censorship. From the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission’s policy perspective, today’s drug polices would be unthinkable.
In the century since the resolution passed the British House of Commons setting up the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission that resulted in this massive inquiry documented in a nine volume report there have been drastic changes in public policy in the United States and Great Britain.
The Indian hemp drug regulation policies were explicitly predicated upon optimal and minimal government intervention.
The subsequent century in the United States, Great Britain, and Europe has seen pandemic spread of prohibitionist authoritarian Government interference- the American Disease- social experiment run amok.
Income taxes, mass conscription, and two world wars have seen regression from utilitarian governance of enlightened non-interference to intrusive majoritarian autocracy. Authoritative Government has become authoritarian. Less and less Government justification and demonstrated necessity are needed. The principle of non-interference is virtually inoperative. The space of human existence where a person reigns uncontrolled contracts even further. The large departments of individualistic human life are contracted or eliminated by laws, public and corporate policy.
The second intervention by Government; giving advice and promulgating information has seen a parallel degradation. From legitimate and trustworthy dissemination of factual information through the institutions of science and medicine to censorship, giving bad advice, dissimulation and deception in the service of coercion and manipulation. The ensuing chaos of ignorance, partial truths, and outright lies has produced a cacophonous toxic confusion surrounding the use of hemp drugs. The font of contemporary knowledge is now a stinking swamp, hopelessly poisoned by the ignorant fantasies, fears, and untruths resulting from prohibitionists’ drug propaganda efforts.
Fifty years after the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report in America the New York Mayor’s Committee on Marihuana reported on use of the drug after a five year study, seven years after national marijuana prohibition. The perspective was based on the premise that departments of human life and individual circle with uncontrolled reign did not include the right to use marihuana. The authoritative Government intervention of Prohibition is now accepted; the non-interference principle of the Millsean Indian Hemp Drugs Administration policy; dead- a luxury enjoyed, ironically, by people of India subjugated by the British imperium.
Descriptions of marihuana use were now from the perspective of studying the characteristics of the users of this illicit drug: to what extent, method of distribution, attitude of smoker toward society and use of the drug, relationship with eroticism, crime, and juvenile delinquency. Discussions of legitimacy of Government intervention are by implication discussing the relative dangerousness of marihuana. The legitimacy of Prohibition as a social policy was neither justified nor discussed. Religious use or freedom is not mentioned.
“I am glad that the sociological, psychological, and medical ills commonly attributed to marihuana have been found to be exaggerated insofar as the City of New York is concerned. I hasten to point out, however, that the findings are to be interpreted only as a reassuring report of progress and not as encouragement to indulgence, for I shall continue to enforce the laws prohibiting the use of marihuana until and if complete findings may justify an amendment to existing laws.”
In the 1970 revision in Government marihuana prohibition policy generated another report in 1972: Marihuana: a Signal of Misunderstanding- First Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse.
Individual rights are at least discussed in order to be heavily discounted:
“So, while we agree with the basic philosophical precept that society may interfere with individual conduct only in the public interest, using coercive measures only when less restrictive measures would not suffice, this principle merely initiates inquiry into a rational social policy but does not identify it. We must take a careful look at this complicated question of the social impact of private behavior. And we must recognize at the outset the inherent difficulty in predicting effects on the public health and welfare, and the strong conflicting notions of what constitutes the public interest.”
“Religious freedom” as currently delineated by the Government places the burden on the individual to pass certain “tests” to prove that hemp drugs used for sacramental purposes:
“Cases dealing with religious freedom in other contexts have isolated three distinct foci of inquiry when a law is challenged as violative of the “free exercise” clause: (1) Is the claimant’s belief and practice really a “religion” within the meaning of the First Amendment? (2) If so, is the practice prohibited by the challenged statute essential to the practice of the “religion?” (3) Even if the answers to (1) and (2) are yes, is there nevertheless a sufficiently compelling state interest to warrant overriding the practice? Only when the proscribed activity is essential to a qualified “religion” and the state’s interest is not overwhelming will the courts invoke the First Amendment to invalidate an otherwise permissible legislative proscription.”
In the 1989 Carl Olsen, a white Rastafarian and director of Iowa NORML unsuccessfully attempted a religious freedom defense for charges of marijuana selling and importation for distribution to other members of the Ethiopian Coptic Zion Church.
“If the ‘compelling interest’ test is to be applied…it must be applied across the board, to all actions thought to be religiously commanded… Any society adopting such a system would be courting anarchy…. The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind- ranging from compulsory military service….to the payment of taxes…..drug laws.”
Dutifully crafted by Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now on the supreme court, no question of how authoritative interference of Government is accepted to be appropriate public policy. Religious freedom is now restricted to activity that must be asserted and proven rather than assumed. Proving compelling interest has switched from the Government to the individual.
Departments of human life were seen not to be imperiously guarded for the individual but regarded with mistrust and source of opportunities for dissent against public policy. At the height of the Vietnam war marijuana use was strongly identified with the growing student antiwar resistance.
The non-intervention principle is at least recognized but the departments of individuality and circle around the individual were routinely stepped over by Government with justification in this case for national security. Militarism preempted any considerations of individual rights of privacy. Departments of human life were small and confined to cosmetic obligatory institutional ritual displays in the context of growing public resistance to the American military industrial behemoth run amok in southeast Asia.
Notwithstanding the cautious conclusion of the Commission to critically examine the policies of marijuana prohibition, the report was conspicuously rejected sight unseen by then president Richard M. Nixon to demonstrate his being “tough on crime” in a presidency struggling to end the Vietnam war.
Twenty-two years later on the centennial of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report finds the principle of Government non-interference is an all but forgotten faded idealistic icon, given hollow obeisance at state ceremonies, a quaint philosophical curiosity of the past. The circle around the individual is reduced to a pale, flaccid, tattered, transparent, and permeable membrane. Intrusion is limited only by available funding to Government interference. The worsening of the balance of power between the individual and state has increased by an order of magnitude, facilitated by advances in technology.
Toqueville in his prophetic Democracy in America warns of dangerous forms of despotism in democratic, egalitarian America:
“A great many persons of the present day are quite contented with this sort of compromise between administrative despotism and the sovereignty of the people; and they think they have done enough for the protection of individual freedom when they have surrendered it to the power of the nation at large. This does not satisfy me: the nature of him I am to obey signifies less to me than the fact of extorted obedience.”
“Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look upon them as benefits.
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of the man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence, it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
Attacked by oaths of “drug free,” informers (including children), undercover police, drug-sniffing dogs, random and warrantless searches, child snatching, drug testing, forfeiture of property, surveillance of bank, business, electricity, and other records, the departments of human life wither. The parts of human life considered reserved territory are noticeably smaller- the individual, society and “civilization” suffer the loss.
Review of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report is important for perspective in assessing the legitimacy and direction of contemporary Government drug policy in a democratic society. Froude’s theorem of functional governance: “no laws are of any service which are above the working level of public morality, and evasion.” was of importance to feudal England, the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission in 1894 and a century later a public policy issue of prime magnitude.
THM April 16, 1994