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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

The Young Marihuana User

The widespread use of marihuana by millions of young people of college and high school age has been viewed by many as a direct threat to the stability and future of the social order.

Many parents, adults in general, and government officials have expressed concern that young people who use marihuana often reject the essential values and traditions upon which the society is founded. Some have suggested that youthful marihuana use is, in itself, an indication of the rejection of responsibility and a sign of reckless hedonism which may well interfere with an orderly maturation process. Others see youthful marihuana use as part of a pattern of conduct which produces dropping out, underachievement and dependency.

In short, the mass character of youthful marihuana use has been frequently interpreted as a rejection of the institutionalized principles of law and a lack of concern for individual social responsibility, which threatens the social and political institutions.

Implicit in this view is the assumption that a young person who uses marihuana in spite of the law cannot be expected to assume an individually and socially responsible, adult role. The strength of this fear is drawn largely from the vocal and visible "counterculture" to which marihuana is often tied. Not surprisingly, the concerns posed by an alternate youthful life style are extended to the drug itself.

Threats to the social order are often seen, for example, in the character of youthful leisure time activities, such as attendance at rock concerts, occasioned by the high mobility and affluence of today's youth. They are also seen in the new modes of speech and dress and in the seemingly casual manner of their day-to-day living. Equally troublesome for many, however, is the idea of intentional intoxication for purposes of recreation.

Such conduct and the more casual attitude toward sexual relationships as well as participation in radical politics have provoked increasing concern throughout the adult society. The National Survey illustrates the extent to which the older adult perceives youthful marihuana use as part of a much larger pattern of behavior which bodes ill for the future of the nation.

First, the older the adult respondent, the more likely he was to picture the marihuana user as leading an abnormal life. Only 9% of the over-50 generation agreed with the statement that "most people who use marihuana lead a normal life." Nineteen percent of the 35to-49 age group and 29% of the 26-to-34-year-olds were of the same belief. Conversely, half of the young adults (18-to-25) considered most marihuana users normal. This fact is not surprising since many of their contemporaries are marihuana users.

Second, the marihuana user, as envisioned by adults, is typically a youthful dropout from society. He doesn't like to be with other people, is uninterested in the world around him, is usually lazy and has an above-average number of personal problems.

Third, the less optimistic the adult respondent was about the nation's youth, the more likely he was to oppose alteration of the marihuana laws and to envision major social dislocations if the laws were changed. Fifty-seven percent of the adult population in general agreed with the statement, "if marihuana were legal, it would lead to teenagers becoming irresponsible and wild." Among those adults who most disapproved of youthful behavior in general, 74% agreed with the quoted statement. Similarly, 84% of the non-approving adults favored stricter laws on marihuana.

As we discussed in Chapter I, marihuana's symbolic role in a perceived generational conflict has brought marihuana use into the Category of a social problem. Today's youthful marihuana user is seen as a greater threat to the social order than either the marginal user of earlier times or the adult user of the present. Since the concerns about marihuana today relate mostly to youth, the remainder of this section will focus on these youth-related issues.

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