The States: The Law & LSD

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Within hours of each other last week, the Governors of California and Nevada signed bills imposing fines of as much as $1,000 and sentences of up to one year behind bars for possession of the hallucinogenic drug LSD. This week a similar measure is expected to become law in New Jersey. In the weird light of LSD's often nightmarish effects, it might seem that such a crackdown would be widely applauded. On the contrary, U.S. legislators and drug experts are actually engaged in a strenuous debate over the degree and kind of controls that should be imposed on LSD.

Dr. Timothy Leary, the ex-Harvard psychologist and psychedelic messiah, contends that the drug has "consciousness-expanding" qualities which stimulate "a religious response that is only understandable in terms of mysticism"; he believes that it should be available "for all." Other enthusiasts argue that laws banning possession of LSD would, under present circumstances, be as unenforceable as Prohibition. Though brewing the stuff is delicate and complex, requiring the skills of at least a college chemistry major, it can be concocted in any laboratory containing sufficient equipment. In New York State, which for a year has had a statute making possession of LSD a jail offense, getting the drug is as easy as it once was to buy a quart of bathtub gin.

"Be Cool, Baby." In Manhattan last week, one prospective purchaser, after approaching only four likely-looking types in Washington Square and handing over a few dollars, had a sugar cube laced with LSD. The person he bought it from had never even seen him before. Explained the buyer: "It's simple. All you do is go up to a hip-looking type and ask, 'Where can I get a cube?' More often than not, the guy knows, and if you don't look like a cop, will tell you. The usual advice from the seller is 'Be cool with this, baby.' "

Sharing the view that private possession of LSD should not be outlawed per se is, surprisingly, U.S. Food and Drug Commissioner Dr. James L. Goddard. In testimony before a Senate subcommittee, Goddard figured that an LSD ban "would automatically place maybe 10% of college students in the category of criminals" and would drive users under ground, making it more difficult to find and treat those who suffer dangerously psychotic effects. Goddard argued that present federal laws are sufficient to control the commercial manufacture and sale of LSD—the only legal supplier of which at present is the National Institute of Mental Health. And he vowed to take steps to dry up sources of lysergic acid, the basic ingredient from which LSD is made, and which is itself far more complicated to produce. Domestic production of lysergic acid is now strictly regulated, and the Government plans to stem imports.

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