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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


Although marihuana is taken by most users for curiosity or pleasure, the non-using public still feels seriously affected by use of the drug. Several decades ago it was popularly asserted that the drug brought about a large variety of social and individual ills, including crime and insanity. As a result it was prohibited by federal law in 1937. The marihuana explosion of the mid-sixties occurred within the context of 30 years of instilled fear. Although based much more on fantasy than on proven fact, the marihuana "evils" took root in the public mind, and now continue to color the public reaction to the marihuana phenomenon. Even beyond the violation of law, the widespread use of marihuana, is seen as a threat to society in other ways. And the threats grow proportionately as the controversy swells.

It has been astutely observed that any statement frequently repeated in public assumes the status of fact. With so many people continually arguing about marihuana, the public has understandably become alarmed and confused.

On the basis of the National Survey, we have tried to identify the ways in which the public feels threatened by marihuana use. Essentially these threats fall into three general categories: threats to the public safety, threats to the public health, and threats to the dominant social order.

In terms of public safety, the concern is with the relationship between marihuana and aggressive behavior, crime and juvenile delinquency. Threats to the public health usually refer initially to the impact of marihuana on the user. Lethality, psychosis, addiction potential and effects of chronic long-term use, are major concerns. Additionally, the fear exists that marihuana leads to the use of more dangerous drugs, especially LSD and heroin.

The threat which marihuana use is thought to present to the dominant social order is a major undercurrent of the marihuana problem. Use of the drug is linked with idleness, lack of motivation, hedonism and sexual promiscuity. Many see the drug as fostering a counterculture which conflicts with basic moral precepts as well as with the operating functions of our society. The "dropping out" or rejection of the established value system is viewed with alarm. Marihuana becomes more than a drug; it becomes a symbol of the rejection of cherished values.

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