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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 Changing Social Scene

The present confusion about the effects of youthful marihuana use upon the dominant social order is caused by a variety of interrelated social concerns, many of them emotionally charged issues, including anti-war demonstrations, campus riots, hippie life styles, the rising incidence of crime and delinquency and the increased usage of all illicit drugs. The focus of concern about marihuana is aggravated by the data overload mentioned in Chapter 1, by the outpouring of incidental information about the drug and its effects in a form and volume far beyond the capacity of the readers or listeners to assimilate or interpret. Rather than informing the public, much of the data disseminated has produced frustration and misinterpretation of the information presented.

Adult society, including parents and policy-makers, finds it difficult to comprehend and account for many of the attitudes and behavior of the young, including the use of marihuana. In many cases the adults are still influenced by the myths of an earlier period which overstated the dangers of the drug. At a time of great social change and turbulence, the tendency to depend on the "traditional wisdom," and its moral justification, is a strong one.

Just as youth must try to understand and appreciate the strengths of the institutions of our society, adults must try to understand the times through the eyes of their children. Where marihuana is concerned, society must try to understand its role in the lives of those who use it. The key to such understanding lies in the changes which have taken place in society within recent years and the effects these changes have had on succeeding generations of youth. The increased use of marihuana is only one of these effects.

One focal point in discussion between generations is the contrast between the use of marihuana and the use of alcohol. Many young people perceive that marihuana is less dangerous than alcohol in terms of its addiction potential and long-term physical and psychological consequences. Many believe also that marihuana - and other psychoactive drugs make it possible to expand their perceptions and see this as a perfectly legitimate objective.

Viewed against the background of the profound changes of recent years in the fields of economics, politics, religion, family life, housing patterns, civil rights, employment and recreation, the use of marihuana by the nation's youth must be seen as a relatively minor change in social patterns of conduct and as more of a consequence of than a contributor to these major changes.

When the issue of marihuana use is placed in this context of society's larger concerns, marihuana does not emerge as a major issue or threat to the social order. Rather, it is most appropriately viewed as a part of the whole of society's concerns about the growth and development of its young people.

In view of the magnitude and nature of change which our society has experienced during the past 25 years, the thoughtful observer is not likely to attribute any of the major social problems resulting from this change to marihuana use. Similarly, it is unlikely that marihuana will affect the future strength, stability or vitality of our social and political institutions. The fundamental principles and values upon which the society rests are far too enduring to -go up in the smoke of a marihuana cigarette.


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