Book Review: Interim Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs

Way back in the spring of 1969, amid Apollo launches and Lennon/Ono bed-ins, the Canadian government appointed a commission to look into the recreational use of drugs by its citizens. The Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, also known as the Le Dain Commission as it was chaired by Gerald Le Dain, was completed in 1972. FYI, Mr. Le Dain was a lawyer and World War II vet who after the completion of the commission went on to become a judge and eventually work his way up to sitting on the Supreme Court of Canada for four years. Fancy.

An interim report, consisting of 557 pages + appendices, was released in 1970. I found a copy in a used bookstore this afternoon, amidst a thousand terrible guides to herbal medicine. It is set in what appears to be Courier typeface, with wonderfully extravagant leading and tracking. Based on a quick skim through, the report appears to be comprehensive, readable, insightful, and perhaps most importantly, impartial.

Barbiturates, alcohol, minor tranquilizers (e.g. benzodiazepines such as Valium), amphetamines, LSD, cannabis, opiate narcotics, and volatile solvents (inhalants) are all reviewed in terms of their medical uses, pharmacokinetics, psychological and physiological effects, potential for dependence, and interactions with other recreational drugs. A brief but informative history of the medical and recreational use of the drugs is given at the beginning of their individual sections.

A chapter on the frequency and patterns of recreational drug use in Canada reveals the following wonderful tidbits:

  • Regina, Saskatchewan was a hotbed of marijuana and LSD use among high school and university students in the late 1960s in comparison to the rest of Canada
  • LSD use increased rapidly in Canada during periods when marijuana was in short supply
  • Between 1951 and 1965, the estimated number of Canadian alcoholics increased by over 60%, while the rate of convictions for drunkenness remained virtually stable
  • Street samples of marijuana from the time were frequently found to be alfalfa, marjoram, or parsley
  • Nail polish remover and plastic glue were the most popular solvents to get high off of in 1969
The interim report also contains a chapter on Canadian drug policy at the time, which is followed up with a series of interim recommendations on the appropriate social response (research, education, law, treatment and supportive services, prescribing controls) to recreational drug use. Solid stuff, to be sure.

Incidentally, as part of the commission, hearings were held during which testimony was heard from a bunch of people, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

The final report of the commission recommended that marijuana be legalized and controlled in a manner similar to alcohol in terms of possession, production, and distribution. This made it big with the stoner crowd, but it ended up being largely ignored by the government.

To close, here is an amusing excerpt from a discussion of the illicit drug market in a bygone age lacking the massive Canadian suburban hydroponic grow-ops we have today:
One pound of marijuana, for example, is worth $10 in Mexico, about $50 in parts of California, and $100 by the time it reaches distributors in Canada. If this same pound of marijuana is divided into ounces, these ounces (or 'lids') are likely worth $10 in California, $15 apiece in New York, and $20 to $25 to their owner in Canada. Further subdivisions into 'nickel' ($5) or 'dime' ($10) lots (generally called 'bags') are worth exactly that - and no more.
You can order a copy of the interim report through AbeBooks.

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