Article written by Richard Cowan, former NORML National Director and author of Tips For Choosing The Right CBD Salve.
I crossed paths with Nahas in 1973 in the Texas Senate where he was testifying against changing the Texas marijuana laws which allowed life in prison for simple possession of any amount. (There were over 800 in prison and 30 doing life for less than an ounce.)
He was distributing copies of his first book about the alleged dangers of cannabis, “Marihuana: Deceptive Weed.” He would eventually publish nine more.
I was there to lobby in favor of legalizing marijuana. but we did get possession of an ounce reduced to a Class B misdemeanor, and eight hundred prisoners were released.
His next book, with the catchy title, Keep Off the Grass, was published in 1985 and claimed that every marijuana user was a “pusher” of marijuana.
Over the years I have encountered medical doctors who were rabid prohibitionists, but Nahas was a really interesting case. He was a distinguished anesthesiologist, who had made significant contributions to the subject. However, it was his personal story that made him a truly tragic figure.
As a young man in Paris during the Nazi occupation, he was active in the Resistance, and was captured by the Nazis and tortured. Or so the story goes. After the War there were many self described heroes, and Nahas did spend the rest of his life lying. So I am skeptical.
As the New York Times said in his obituary “Nahas saw his anti-drug campaign as nothing less than a continuation of the fight against totalitarianism, which for him began during World War II as a decorated leader of the French Resistance; like totalitarianism, he believed, drugs enslaved the mind. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by France, the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the United States and the Order of the British Empire for his wartime heroism.”
Now consider that there have been more than 22 million Americans arrested on marijuana charges... and even now more than half a million every year. So was he really fighting against “totalitarianism.”
As the Times obituary reported, “In 1974, he announced that he had discovered a link between the drug and the body’s immune system. “The findings represent the first direct evidence of cellular damage from marijuana in man…”
But scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studied the chromosomes of volunteers who smoked marijuana, found no deficiency in immune responses and no chromosome abnormalities, which Dr. Nahas had also predicted. Nevertheless, Dr. Nahas suggested that the results prompt reconsideration of a recent government report that marijuana’s dangers were less than those of alcohol.”
The journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research published a study on January 7, 2020 that analyzed the number of Americans who died from alcohol-related problems between 1999 and 2017. The researchers looked at death certificates for each year and found some concerning statistics. The number of alcohol-related deaths has increased 50.9% from 1999 to 2017. In 1999, 35,914 people died from an alcohol-related problem, while in 2017, 72,558 people died. Of the 2.8 million people that died in 2017, 2.6% of those deaths were because of alcohol.”
There are still no reported deaths from marijuana intoxication.
Of course, the harm done by Nahas had many accomplices. The Wall Street Journal carried a regular column by Nahas for several years and in 1997 ran a lengthy column in which he argued against the medical use of cannabis, even for the terminally ill.
Nahas died in 1992, and the Wall Street Journal has been sold to Rupert Murdoch, and America and the world are moving toward the end of marijuana prohibition.
What a legacy.