Letter from Salvador E. Luria to the editor of The New York Times
In this letter to the editor, Luria questioned the wisdom of pending legislation that would move the regulation of illicit
drugs to the Justice Department in light of recent comments made by Attorney General John Mitchell. The following year, on
17 June 1971, President Nixon named drug abuse as "public enemy number one in the United States," and announced the
creation of the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention. This marked the beginning of the U.S. government's "war
on drugs." A version of this letter was printed in the newspaper on 26 September 1970.
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1970-09-19 (September 19, 1970)
Luria, Salvador E.
New York Times
Original Repository: American Philosophical Society. Library. Salvador Luria Papers
Reproduced with permission of Daniel D. Luria.
Reproduced with permission of the American Philosophical Society.
The comments attributed to Attorney General Mitchell in Women's Wear Daily (N.Y. Times, Sept. 19), if correct, raise among
other questions a serious one with regard to legislation pending in Congress. I refer to bills now in conference (S. 3246
and H.R. 18583) that would place the main responsibility for regulating drug-related activities, including research, under
the Justice Department rather than the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
The Attorney General of the U.S. is quoted as having said the "the pushers are importing the cannabis plant from other
countries. The same kind of stuff that opium smokers use. It's hashish and you can really become addicted to it."
It would be difficult to pile up more erroneous statements in so few words. Marijuana is cannabis plant and so is hashish,
a stronger variety growing in some parts of the world. They have no relation, botanical or pharmacological, to opium, the
product of the opium poppy. All medical evidence concurs that cannabis products, whatever their strength, are not addictive.
It is ironical that these statements should supposedly have been made by Mr. Mitchell in the same interview in which he allegedly
referred to students and professors as "uninformed" and "stupid bastards." His alleged ominous prediction
that our country "is going so far right you are not even going to recognize it" is probably based on equally solid
But persons like myself, less concerned with comparative intelligence testing than in the administration of laws that affect
biomedical problems, feel justified in asking Congress to reject the proposed legislation and to place the responsibility
for the study and supervision of drug problems (except illegal sales) where it belongs, that is, in the H.E.W. Department.
S.E. Luria, M.D.
The writer is Professor of Biology at M.I.T. and received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1969.