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The Beatles call for the legalisation of marijuana

A full-page advertisement appeared in The Times newspaper on this day, signed by 64 of the most prominent members of British society, which called for the legalisation of marijuana. Among the signatories were The Beatles and Brian Epstein.

Advertisement calling for the legalisation of marijuana, The Times, 24 July 1967

The advertisement was instigated as a response to the nine-month prison sentence for possession received on 1 June 1967 by John Hopkins, founder of International Times, the UFO Club and the 24 Hour Technicolour Dream. The following day an emergency meeting was held at the Indica Bookshop, during which Steve Abrams of drug-research organisation SOMA suggested bringing the issue into public debate by running a full-page advertisement.

Abrams agreed to organise the signatures, but the question of financing the advertisement proved temporarily problematic. None of The Beatles were present at the Indica, but the bookshop’s co-owner Barry Miles telephoned Paul McCartney, who agreed to finance the advertisement.

On 3 June Miles and Abrams visited McCartney’s house in Cavendish Avenue. McCartney listened to the plans, told Abrams that all The Beatles and Epstein would put their names to it, and told them how to contact the rest of the group for their signatures.

On 23 July, the day before publication, the ad was mentioned in The Sunday Times’ Atticus column, written by Philip Oates. Behind the scenes, however, The Times’ advertising manager, R Grant Davidson, nervously insisted on checking that all the people had indeed agreed for their names to be associated with the article.

Davidson also insisted on advance payment. Steve Abrams contacted Peter Brown at Brian Epstein’s office, and shortly afterwards received a personal cheque for £1,800 made out to The Times. At the time the amount was twice the average annual wage.

Although McCartney had wanted to keep the funding a secret, in fear of negative publicity, it soon proved impossible. The day after the advertisement appeared, the information appeared in the Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary.

Within a week of its appearance, the advertisement led to questions being asked in the House of Commons, and began a public debate which eventually led to liberalisation in the laws against cannabis use in Britain.

This advertisement is sponsored by SOMA*
The law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice.

“All laws which can be violated without doing anyone any injury are laughed at. Nay, so far are they from doing anything to control the desires and passions of man that, on the contrary, they direct and incite men’s thoughts toward these very objects; for we always strive toward what is forbidden and desire the things we are not allowed to have. And men of leisure are never deficient in the ingenuity needed to enable them to outwit laws framed to regulate things which cannot be entirely forbidden. …He who tries to determine everything by law will foment crime rather than lessen it.”- Spinoza

The herb Cannabis sativa, known as ‘Marihuana’ or ‘Hashish’, is prohibited under the Dangerous Drugs Act (1965). The maximum penalty for smoking cannabis is ten years’ imprisonment and a fine of £1,000. Yet informed medical opinion supports the view that cannabis is the least harmful of pleasure-giving drugs, and is, in particular, far less harmful than alcohol. Cannabis is non-addictive, and prosecutions for disorderly behaviour under its influence are unknown.

The use of cannabis is increasing, and the rate of increase is accelerating. Cannabis smoking is widespread in the universities, and the custom has been taken up by writers, teachers, doctors, businessmen, musicians, scientists, and priests. Such persons do not fit the stereotype of the unemployed criminal dope fiend. Smoking the herb also forms a traditional part of the social and religious life of hundreds of thousands of immigrants to Britain.

A leading article in The Lancet (9 November, 1963) has suggested that it is “worth considering … giving cannabis the same status as alcohol by legalising its import and consumption … Besides the undoubted attraction of reducing, for once, the number of crimes that a member of our society can commit, and of allowing the wider spread of something that can give pleasure, a greater revenue would certainly come to the State from taxation than from fines. …Additional gains might be the reduction of inter-racial tension, as well as that between generations.”

The main justification for the prohibition of cannabis has been the contention that its use leads to heroin addiction. This contention does not seem to be supported by any documented evidence, and has been specifically refuted by several authoritative studies. It is almost certainly correct to state that the risk to cannabis smokers of becoming heroin addicts is far less than the risk to drinkers of becoming alcoholics.

Cannabis is usually taken by normal persons for the purpose of enhancing sensory experience. Heroin is taken almost exclusively by weak and disturbed individuals for the purpose of withdrawing from reality. By prohibiting cannabis Parliament has created a black market where heroin could occasionally be offered to persons who would not otherwise have had access to it. Potential addicts, having found cannabis to be a poor escape route, have doubtless been tempted to try heroin; and it is probable that their experience of the harmlessness and non-addictive quality of cannabis has led them to underestimate the dangers of heroin. It is the prohibition of cannabis, and not cannabis itself, which may contribute to heroin addiction.

The present system of controls has strongly discouraged the use of cannabis preparations in medicine. It is arguable that claims which were formerly made for the effectiveness of cannabis in psychiatric treatment might now bear re-examination in the light of modern views on drug therapy; and a case could also be made out for further investigation of the antibiotic properties of cannabidiolic acid, one of the constituents of the herb. The possibility of alleviating suffering through the medical use of cannabis preparations should not be dismissed because of prejudice concerning the social effects of ‘drugs’.

The Government ought to welcome and encourage research into all aspects of cannabis smoking, but according to the law as it stands no one is permitted to smoke cannabis under any circumstances, and exceptions cannot be made for scientific and medical research. It is a scandal that doctors who are entitled to prescribe heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and barbiturates risk being sent to prison for personally investigating a drug which is known to be less damaging than alcohol or even tobacco.

A recent leader in The Times called attention to the great danger of the “deliberate sensationalism” which underlies the present campaign against ‘drugs’ and cautioned that: “Past cases have shown what can happen when press, police and public all join in a manhunt at a moment of national anxiety”. In recent months the persecution of cannabis smokers has been intensified. Much larger fines and an increasing proportion of unreasonable prison sentences suggest that, the crime at issue is not so much drug abuse as heresy.

The prohibition of cannabis has brought the law into disrepute and has demoralized police officers faced with the necessity of enforcing an unjust law. Uncounted thousands of frightened persons have been arbitrarily classified as criminals and threatened with arrest, victimisation and loss of livelihood. Many of them have been exposed to public contempt in the courts, insulted by uninformed magistrates and sent to suffer in prison. They have been hunted down with Alsatian dogs or stopped on the street at random and improperly searched. The National Council for Civil Liberties has called attention to instances where drugs have apparently been ‘planted’ on suspected cannabis smokers. Chief Constables have appealed to the public to inform on their neighbours and children. Yet despite these gross impositions and the threat to civil liberties which they pose the police freely admit that they have been unable to prevent the spread of cannabis smoking.

Abuse of opiates, amphetamines and barbiturates has become a serious national problem, but very little can be done about it so long as the prohibition of cannabis remains in force. The police do not have the resources or the manpower to deal with both cannabis and the dangerous drugs at the same time. Furthermore prohibition provides a potential breeding ground for many forms of drug abuse and gangsterism. Similar legislation in America in the ‘twenties brought the sale of both alcohol and heroin under the control of an immensely powerful criminal conspiracy which still thrives today. We in Britain must not lose sight of the parallel.


“There are no lasting ill-effects from the acute use of marihuana and no fatalities have ever been recorded. … The causal relationship between these two events (marihuana smoking and heroin addiction) has never been substantiated. In spite of the once heated interchanges among members of the medical profession and between the medical profession and law enforcement officers there seems to be a growing agreement within the medical community, at least, that marihuana does not directly cause criminal behaviour, juvenile delinquency, sexual excitement, or addiction.”
Dr. J. H. Jaffe, in The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, L. Goodman and A. Gillman, Eds., 3rd Ed. 1965

“Certain specific myths require objective confrontation since otherwise they recurrently confuse the issue, and incidentally divert the energy and attention of police and customs and immigration authorities in directions which have very little to do with the facts and much more to do with prejudiced beliefs. The relative innocence of marijuana by comparison with alcohol is one such fact, its social denial a comparable myth.”
Dr. David Stafford-Clark, Director of Psychological Medicine, Guy’s Hospital. The Times, 12 April 1967.

“Marijuana is not a drug of addiction and is, medically speaking, far less harmful than alcohol or tobacco … It is generally smoked in the company of others and its chief effect seems to be an enhanced appreciation of music and colour and together with a feeling of relaxation and peace. A mystical experience of being at one with the universe is common, which is why the drug has been highly valued in Eastern religions. Unlike alcohol, marijuana does not lead to aggressive behaviour, nor is it aphrodisiac. There is no hangover, nor, so far as it is known, any deleterious physical effect.”
Dr. Anthony Storr, Sunday Times, 5 February 1967

“The available evidence shows that marijuana is not a drug of addiction and has no harmful effects … (the problem of marijuana) has been created by an ill-informed society rather than the drug itself.”
Guy’s Hospital Gazette, 17, 1965

“I think we can now say that marijuana does not lead to degeneration, does not affect the brain cells, is not habit-forming, and does not lead to heroin addiction.”
Dr James H. Fox, Director of the Bureau of Drug abuse Control, U.S. Food and Drug administration. Quoted Champaign, Illinois News-Gazette, 25 August 1966

“Cannabis is taken for euphoria, reduction of fatigue, and relief from tension, … (it) is a valuable pleasure-giving drug, probably much safer than alcohol.”
Dr. Joel Fort, Consultant on Drug Addiction to the World Health Organisation, Lecturer in School of Criminology, University of California. From Blum, Richard Ed., Utopiates 1965

“(Smoking cannabis) only occasionally is followed by heroin use, probably in those who would have become heroin addicts as readily without the marijuana.”
Dr L. Bender, Comprehens. Psychiat. 1963, 4, 181-94

The signatories to this petition suggest to the Home Secretary that he implement a five point programme of cannabis reform:

  1. Jonathan Aitken
  2. Tariq Ali
  3. David Bailey
  4. Humphrey Berkeley
  5. Anthony Blond
  6. Derek Boshier
  7. Sidney Briskin
  8. Peter Brook
  9. Dr. David Cooper
  10. Dr. Francis Crick, F.R.S.
  11. David Dimbleby
  12. Tom Driberg, M.P.
  13. Dr. Ian Dunbar
  14. Brian Epstein
  15. Dr. Aaron Esterson
  16. Peter Fryer
  17. John Furnival
  18. Tony Garnett
  19. Clive Goodwin
  20. Graham Greene
  21. Richard Hamilton
  22. George Harrison, M.B.E.
  23. Michael Hastings
  24. Dr. J.M. Heaton
  25. David Hockney
  26. Jeremy Hornsby
  27. Dr. S. Hutt
  28. Francis Huxley
  29. Dr. Brian Inglis
  30. The Revd. Dr. Victor E.S. Kenna, O.B.E.
  31. George Kiloh
  32. Herbert Kretzmer
  33. Dr. R.D. Laing
  34. Dr. Calvin Mark Lee
  35. John Lennon, M.B.E.
  36. Dr. D.M. Lewis
  37. Paul McCartney, M.B.E.
  38. David McEwen
  39. Alasdair MacIntyre
  40. Dr. O.D. Macrae-Gibson
  41. Tom Mashler
  42. Michael Abul Malik
  43. George Melly
  44. Dr. Jonathan Miller
  45. Adrian Mitchell
  46. Dr. Ann Mully
  47. P.H. Nowell-Smith
  48. Dr. Christopher Pallis
  49. John Piper
  50. Patrick Procktor
  51. John Pudney
  52. Alastair Reid
  53. L. Jeffrey Selznick
  54. Nathan Silver
  55. Tony Smythe
  56. Michael Schofield
  57. Dr. David Stafford-Clark
  58. Richard Starkey, M.B.E.
  59. Dr. Anthony Storr
  60. Kenneth Tynan
  61. Dr. W. Grey Walter
  62. Brian Walden, M.P.
  63. Michael White
  64. Pat Williams

DISCLAIMER – Signatures should in no way be taken to imply affiliation to SOMA or support of its aims or objectives.

*SOMA is applying for recognition as a company limited by guarantee with Charitable Trusts. It is being formed to examine without prejudice the scientific, medical, legal, moral, social, and philosophical aspects of heightened mental awareness, with special reference to the effects of pleasure-giving drugs. SOMA will sponsor research and discussion on the mechanisms, potentialities and dangers of heightened mental awareness and will publish its findings. Contributions can now be accepted. Cheques and postal orders should be made payable to SOMA, and sent to Michael Henshaw, Accountant, 20, Fitzroy Square, W.1.

Riding So High – The Beatles and Drugs

If you’re enjoying this feature, read the full story! Riding So High – The Beatles and Drugs charts the Beatles’ extraordinary odyssey from teenage drinking and pill-popping, to cannabis, LSD, the psychedelic Summer of Love and the darkness beyond.

The only full-length study of the Beatles and drugs, Riding So High tells of getting stoned, kaleidoscope eyes, excess, loss and redemption, with a far-out cast including speeding Beatniks, a rogue dentist, a script-happy aristocratic doctor, corrupt police officers and Hollywood Vampires.

Available as an ebook and paperback (364 pages). By the creator of the Beatles Bible. Click on the image below for more information or to order.

Riding So High: The Beatles and Drugs ebook and paperback

Last updated: 4 July 2022
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The Beatles go sightseeing in Greece
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