News & Politics

Bummer, Man: LBJ Getting Serious About This Narc Thing

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Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
March 14, 1968, Vol. XIII, No. 22

Lining Up the Big Guns; Crackdown on the Way?
by Don McNeill

A paranoid might observe the proposed increase in federal penalties for the manufacture and sale of LSD, the proposed consolidation of all federal agencies dealing with narcotics and drugs into one super-narco agency under the Justice Department, the proposed increase by more than a third of federal narcotics officers, the recent announcement by Governor Nelson Rockefeller that more than 400 state troopers will be sent to New York City to ferret out drug users, the recent raid by 200 Suffolk County police resulting in the arrest of 47 persons, including 30 students at the State University at Stony Brook, the resulting inquisition aimed at faculty members suspected of not finking on their students, and the recurrent rumors about the renovation of “detention” camps used for the Japanese internment during World War II, in Northern Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and conclude that a crackdown may be coming.

I’m not paranoid but I’m scared.

The proposed changes in federal narcotics penalties and enforcement were outlined by the President in a special message to Congress on February 8. The recommendations amount to a radical change in the Administration’s policy regarding narcotics and drug abuse. The hard line has suddenly been substituted for the previous policy of relative restraint. The proposed consolidation of all federal agencies dealing with narcotics and drug abuse under the Department of Justice seems a final rejection of the hypothesis that such abuse is a medical rather than a criminal problem. The President is a practical man. The most effective way, he might have reasoned, of stopping people from taking drugs is to lock them up.

Quickly. The New York Times reported on February 28 that Congressional observers said privately that the bill was being “railroaded through without the right questions asked. Hearings on the bill began a week ago before the subcommittee on health of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, and are expected to begin soon in the Senate. If and when the bills are reported out of the committees, a joint conference committee will be convened to iron out the differences between the House and Senate bills. Then the final bill will be voted on by the House and Senate and, if passed, will be sent to the President to be signed into law.

…It is interesting to consider the Administration’s arguments in favor of these changes. The single argument that the Administration has presented in favor of the consolidation of the agencies has been, as the President noted, that “more than 90 per cent of the seizures of LSD made by the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control have also turned up marijuana — but that bureau is not authorized to make arrests for the illegal trafficking in marijuana.” Consolidation could remedy this problem, so that the same person could be busted twice.

Regarding the proposed law against possession of LSD and dangerous drugs, Dr. James L. Goddard, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, who has long been on record as opposing federal laws against possession, carefully outlined the Administration’s arguments in favor of the law in his testimony before the House subcommittee last week. Dr. Goddard said, according to the Times, that it had been “pointed out to him that without such a penalty there was ‘a serious loophole’ that might allow peddlers of these drugs to claim their possession was for personal use and not for sale.

“Also, he said, enforcement officials argued that the ‘absence of a penalty was mistakenly taken by some users as official approval of their use of these dangerous drugs in abuse situations.'”

The second argument is absurd. The first is deceptive. Although possession of LSD for personal use is not illegal under present federal law, the law does provide penalties for possession with intent to sell. The burden of proof is on the government, but the possession of of any substantial quantity of drugs is generally considered sufficient evidence of intent to sell. With this law already on the books, it is evident that the proposed law against possession of any quantity of LSD is not, as the Administration contends, directed against the seller, but rather directed against the individual consumer…

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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