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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


The symbolic aspects of marihuana are the, most intangible of the items to which the Commission must address itself, and yet they may be at the heart of the marihuana problem. Use of marihuana was, and still is, age-specific. It was youth-related at a time in American history when the adult society was alarmed by the implications of the youth " movement": defiance of the established order, the adoption of new life styles, the emergence of "street people," campus unrest, drug use, communal living, protest politics, and even political radicalism. In an age characterized by the so-called generation gap, marihuana symbolizes the cultural divide.

For youth, marihuana became a convenient symbol of disaffection with traditional society, an allure which supplemented its recreational attraction. Smoking marihuana may have appealed to large numbers of youth who opposed certain policies or trends, but who maintained faith in the American system as a whole. In ;a time when symbolic speech is often preferred to the literal form, marihuana was a convenient instrument of mini-protest. It was also an agent of group solidarity, as the widely-publicized rock concerts so well illustrate.

For the adult society, the decade of the sixties was a distressing time. The net effect of racial unrest, campus disruption, political assassination, economic woes and an unpopular war was widespread uneasiness. Attending a general fear that the nation was witnessing its own disintegration was a desire to shore up our institutions and hold the line. That line was easy to define where drugs, particularly marihuana, were concerned.

Use of drugs, including marihuana, is against the law. For many, marihuana symbolized disorder in a society frustrated by increasing lawlessness. Insistence on application of the law tended also to harden views, thereby escalating still further the use of marihuana as a symbolic issue.

The social conflicts underlying the drug's symbolic status have dissipated somewhat in the past few years; and in some ways, the Commission has similarly noted a partial deflation of the marihuana problem and of the emotionalism surrounding it. We are hopeful that our attempt to clarify the scientific and normative dimensions of marihuana use will further deemphasize, the problem orientation and facilitate rational decision-making.

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