For several members of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and control, yesterday was a day of indignation.
For Keith Stroup, directors of an organization that advocates the decriminalization of marijuana use, it was a day of frustation.
A drama unfolded inside Room 2200 of the Rayburn House Office Building where the narcotics committee, chaired by Rep. Lester L. Wolff (D-N.Y.) has been conducting public hearings on marijuana laws.
Stroup, director of the Washington-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORMAL), was the seventh witness yesterday. He was angry.
For the past four years, he said, his organization has had bills in the House Commerce Subcommittee on Health and Environment calling for the decriminalization of marijuana use and possession. The subcommittee had done nothing, he said. And now, here was Wolf's committee, which has no power to formulate legislation, holding hearings on the matter.
"You won't take a position." Stroup told the panel in an agitated voice. "You're not voting . . . You're ducking the issue, that is what you're doing."
Stroup, who vigorously stated that he smoked marijuana "because it makes me feel good," told the panel members that they also were drug users. "I don't know whether you smoke, or drink, or take certain pills, but I would suggest that all of you use drugs," he said.
Silence. Red faces. And then this from Wolff:
"What sort of disorientation do you get from a pack of cigarettes?"
"None," said Stroup.
"A cup of coffee?"
"But my understanding is that you do get some disorientation from smoking one marijuana cigarette," Wolff said triumphantly.
Stroup started to reply, but was faced with a barrage of questions from Rep. Robin L. Beard (R-Tenn.), who also began circulating copies of "High Times," a drug culture magazine.
Stroup had been quoted by the magazine as saying he favored liberalizing marijuana laws, the same thing he told the panel yesterday. But he also told the panel he would like to discourage young people from using all drugs, including alcohol.
"But I don't really see any discouragement in this drug-oriented magazine," Beard said. "I don't see anything at all discouraging the use of drugs."
Nearly all of yesterday's witnesses advocated decriminalizing the possession of a small amount of marijuana, defined as one ounce or less.
Besides Stroup, they included Reps. Edward I. Koch (D-N.Y.) and Yvonne B. Burke (D-Calif.); Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R-N.Y.); Jerome Hornblass, director of the Addiction Services Agency of New York City; Brooksley Landau, representing the American Bar Association; Burton Joseph, a lawyer for Playboy magazine's Playboy Foundation, Inc., and Jay Miller of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Dr. Lester Grinspoon, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School described the psychological effects of smoking marijuana. He said there is little evidence to prove that the drug does major harm, but added: "I would never make a point that any drug is harmless."