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Anti-Pot Crusader Passes On

Dr. Gabriel Nahas, who first proclaimed weed "the gateway drug," leaves a hotly-disputed legacy.


Dr. Nahas has passed through the golden
gateway. Photo via

By May Wilkerson


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The man who first dubbed marijuana "the gateway drug" passed away on June 28—leaving a controversial legacy. Gabriel Georges Nahas developed his anti-cannabis stance while growing up in Egypt in the 1920s: noticing lethargic, intoxicated people on the streets, he found out they were addicted to hashish. He went on to become a medical researcher, a professor at Columbia University and an author of several books on pot policy—including 1976's Keep Off the Grass, in which he wrote: "It appears that the biochemical changes induced by marijuana in the brain result in drug-seeking, drug-taking behavior, which in many instances will lead the user to experiment with other pleasurable substances. The risk of progression from marijuana to cocaine and heroin is now well-documented." His theory that pot was a "gateway" to other drugs was instrumental in the US government's refusal to back down on marijuana-law reform. 

Dr. Nahas also blamed weed for causing cancer, brain damage, infertility, and weakening of the immune system. A supporter of Nancy Regan's "Just Say No" campaign of the '80s, he received praise from the anti-drug movement; 1970s US drug czar Robert L. DuPont called him “the Paul Revere of drug abuse,” and said, “He alone lit the beacon warning of the threat of the modern drug abuse epidemic.” But for those in favor of decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana, Nahas was seen as a villain. The New England Journal of Medicine once described his work as “psychopharmacological McCarthyism that compels him to use half-truths, innuendo and unverifiable assertions." So his death may not be universally mourned—one obit on declares,  "Nahas, who was 92, will not be missed."

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