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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - Table of Contents

National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding

Chapter III

Social Impact of marihuana use

Marihuana And The Dominant Social Order

For more than 30 years it has been widely assumed that the marihuana user constitutes a threat to the well-being of the community and the nation. Originally, the users were considered to be "outsiders" or marginal citizens. Included were such people as hustlers, prostitutes, itinerant workers, merchant seamen, miners and ranchhands, water-front day laborers and drifters, many of whom were drawn from the lower socioeconomic segments of the population.

Concerns about marihuana use expressed in the 1930's related primarily to a perceived inconsistency between the life styles and values of these individuals and the social and moral order. Their potential influence on the young was especially worrisome. When marihuana was first prohibited, a recurrent fear was that use might spread among the youth. And in the late 1930's and 1940's, the attraction of young people to jazz music was thought to be in part related to marihuana use by this "outsider" population.

Throughout this early period, American society, in reaction to its fear of the unfamiliar, translated rumor about the criminality and immorality of the marihuana user into "unquestioned fact" which, in turn, was translated into social policy.

From the mid-thirties to the present, however, social perceptions have undergone significant change in response to the emergence of new and challenging social problems. As marihuana, use has spread to include the affluent, middle class, white high school and college-age youth as well as minority group members of lower socioeconomic circumstances in urban core areas, the concept of marginality has become blurred.

Also, as the use of marihuana has increased, those individuals formerly labeled as marginal and threatening have been replaced by a more middle class, white, educated and younger population of marihuana smokers. A stereotyped user no longer exists, and therefore, the question now properly focuses on who poses a threat to the dominant order.

 


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