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President Richard Nixon is best known for being the only president to resign from office. One of the lesser known historical facts about him is he is responsible for marijuana becoming illegal.

In 1970, congress passed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This law established a system to classify and regulate all narcotic and psychotropic drugs. Those that were classified as having a high abuse potential without an accepted medical use were placed in the most restrictive category of Schedule I.

They weren’t sure where Marijuana fit in the schedule. Cannabis was a plant, not a drug in the conventional sense. It had been used as a medication for thousands of years, but it was not clear in 1970 if it had an “accepted medical use.” The claim that it was highly addictive was also questionable.

Congress asked the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to recommend where cannabis should be placed in the CSA. Roger Egeberg, the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs, stated that studies needed to be completed before that question could be properly addressed. He suggested that the plant be temporarily placed in Schedule I until the science was clear. The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, known as the Shafer Commission, was appointed by President Richard Nixon to make final recommendations, which would not be made until 1972.

In a televised interview in May of 1971, shortly before declaring drug abuse as “public enemy number one” President Nixon preempted the Shafer Commission report. He had “such strong views…against legalizing marijuana” that he intended to ignore any recommendation to legalize marijuana because he “could see no social or moral justification whatever.”

The Shafer Commission issued its report in March 1972, recommending that marijuana should be “decriminalized”. Shortly thereafter, the report was buried and Marijuana the plant, which is neither highly addictive nor without accepted medical use has remained a Schedule I controlled substance ever since.


Michael Morgenstern, MDDr. Michael Morgenstern is a double board certified neurologist who is also certified to treat addiction. He treats patients with medical marijuana at Morgenstern Medical at locations in Manhattan, New Hyde Park and Syosset. He is the founder of the NY Medical Marijuana Association. He can be reached at [email protected]