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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

Youth and Radical Politics

Aside from the issue of unconventional life styles and the concerns evoked by them, the other major concern of the sixties which related to youth and drugs was radical politics.

During the latter half of the decade, youthful anti-war groups were organized on many of the nation's college campuses and high schools. These groups could be divided into two segments. The largest segment consisted of concerned, sometimes confused, frustrated and well-meaning petition signers and demonstrators. Within this large group there was a small coterie of individuals who constantly sought to turn the demonstration into a confrontation and to protest for peace by means of violence. The second segment consisted of organizations of individuals whose stated purpose was to undermine the social and political stability of the society through violent means.

What must be clearly understood, however, is that among the young people, and some not so young, who protested against the war in Vietnam, only a minority were bent on violence and manipulated and corrupted these otherwise peaceful demonstrations for their own purposes.

At the various gatherings, a number of the young people protesting in these mass groups did smoke marihuana. We will never know how many were initiated to marihuana use during the course of these peace demonstrations. The fact remains, however, that in the large campins, such as those in Washington, marihuana was involved in two ways. First, there was the "normal" use in which the smoking was part of the social experience. Individuals came together and smoked, in part, to acknowledge and strengthen group solidarity. Second, another quite different aspect of the marihuana use at these gatherings said, in effect, "we know it's illegal but go and arrest all of us for doing it. . . ." This aspect can perhaps best be characterized as a symbolic challenge to authority.

Unfortunately, however, the media, particularly television and some of the news magazines, sometimes portrayed the image of a group of young people plotting the overthrow of the nation by violent means while under the influence of marihuana. In those relatively few instances where explosives and other violent means were employed, the evidence points to a cold and calculated plan which was neither conceived nor executed under the influence of marihuana.

As a result of these protests and demonstrations, therefore, radical politics has been seen by many as a mechanism through which large numbers of young people would be introduced to marihuana as well as to other drugs. Radical political activity or mass political protest is viewed by some as a threat to the welfare of the nation and is assumed to be aided and encouraged by our enemies.

The involvement of large numbers of youth in political activism and the concomitant public concern about drug use have beclouded the issue of marihuana use and have led to a broadening of the concerns about marihuana on the part of adults.

Some of the radical movement's leaders abetted this tendency by pointing out the alleged irrationality and unfairness of the marihuana laws to recruit members to their ranks. Not surprising is the fact that 45% of the adult respondents in the National Survey felt that marihuana is often promoted by people who are enemies of the United States. Nor is it surprising that this belief is a function of age. While 22% of all young people (12-to-17 years of age) and 26% of young adults (18-to-25 years) identified marihuana with national enemies, more than one-half (58%) of those persons 50 years and older did so.

 


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