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Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - Table of Contents

The National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding

I -- marihuana and the problem of marihuana

Origins of the Marihuana Problem

Marihuana has been used as an intoxicant in various parts of the world for centuries and in this country for 75 years. Yet use of the drug has been regarded as a problem of major proportions for less than a decade. We will not find the reasons for contemporary social concern in pharmacology texts or previous governmental reports, for we are dealing with two separate realities: a drug with certain pharmacologic properties and determinable, although variable, effects on man; and a pattern of human behavior, individual and group, which has, as a behavior, created fear, anger, confusion, and uncertainty among a large segment of the contemporary American public. The marihuana behavior pattern is the source of the marihuana controversy.

The most apparent feature of the behavior is that it is against the law. But inconsistency between behavior and the legal norm is not sufficient, in itself, to create a social problem. Marihuana, has been an illegal substance for several decades; and the widespread violation of laws against gambling and adultery have not excited the public to the same extent as has marihuana-smoking in recent years.

At the same time, we suspect that illegality may play an important role in problem definition where drugs are concerned. Alcohol is of proven danger to individual and societal health and the public is well aware of its dangers, yet use of this drug has not been accorded the same problem status. Marihuana's illegality may have been a necessary condition for the marihuana problem, but the increased violation of the legal proscription does not by itself explain the phenomenon.

The Commission believes that three interrelated factors have fostered the definition of marihuana as a major national problem. First, the illegal behavior is highly visible to all segments of our society. Second, use of the drug is perceived to threaten the health and morality not only of the individual but of the society itself. Third, and most important, the drug has evolved in the late sixties and early seventies, as a symbol of wider social conflicts and public issues.

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