Mike Wallace, who fronted 60 Minutes and helped bring investigative reporting to TV news, has died. Wallace's breakthrough piece on marijuana in 1968 helped open the debate on legalization at a time when the "drug" was "sometimes used in desserts."
"Marijuana is a scare word in our society," Wallace said, revealing he encountered many who refused to discuss the subject. "An increasing number of people are questioning custom and convention," he reported, "and they are willing to defy the law."
In the story, Wallace comments that marijuana use has moved "from the GI to the career girl." He interviews one woman who worked at a national magazine saying she smokes pot simply because she enjoys it. "It's not Soma from a Brave New World," she says, adding that the frenetic pace of modern life almost makes it necessary to smoke pot.
Wallace asked one medical expert, Dr. Brill, whether or not marijuana was more dangerous than alcohol. He replied, that was unknown. Brill called the old "reefer madness" myths a "gross exaggeration," while stressing that marijuana was not harmless. Dr. James Goddard, who was publicly flogged for saying alcohol was more harmful than marijuana, was shown in a congressional hearing where he opined that marijuana users were rebelling against society in ways similar to the youth of the 1920s who used alcohol in violation of the Volstead act.
Henry Giordano, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, argues in the same hearing, "You have to have a possession penalty or we can't control the traffickers." Giordano's agency was soon merged with the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control to form the BNDD, precursor of the DEA. As Douglas Valentine details in his book The Strength of the Pack, the agency has been rife with corruption since its inception.
Wallace went to Phoenix House in New York City, where, it was claimed, 398 of 400 addicts of heroin and other drugs started with marijuana. But there is no direct causative link, the story stressed, and marijuana is not physically addicting. "It is the personality of the user, not the drug itself, that leads to harder drugs," Wallace reported. The segment aired results of Dr. Leo Hollister's clinical experiment, dosing subjects with liquid THC. "I'm in a Bronicelli [sic] painting," the subject said, grinning. Dr. Stanley Yolles of the Institutes of Mental Health admitted there was only "a little" evidence marijuana was harmful, while stressing the need for further study.
In May 1999, The History Channel aired, "The 20th Century with Mike Wallace; Drugs, the Enemy Within," another well researched piece.
Another beloved US broadcaster, Walter Cronkite, called for legalization. As dramatized in the movie The Insider, 60 Minutes squashed an expose on the tobacco industry, leading to the now-better show, Frontline.