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

The Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

Chapter IV

social response to marihuana use

The Schools

Marihuana use continues to increase among high school and college students. The National Survey reveals that 30% of the high school juniors and seniors have used marihuana. The National Survey also reveals that 44% of those currently attending college at the graduate or undergraduate levels have used it, while other surveys indicate this figure is significantly higher in some major universities.

Not surprisingly, there has been, during the last two years, ail appreciable change in the attitudes of school administrators, faculty and even of the boards of education and trustees toward marihuana use, Administrators at the secondary and college levels are generally more relaxed and tolerant toward marihuana, use than they were during the mid-1960's, when support for a punitive response was common. After the initial shock of widespread use dissipated, many school officials came to believe that strong disciplinary action, including suspension and arrest, was counterproductive. In addition, as the evidence accumulated that marihuana, was not as dangerous as had once been thought, parental and community pressures were sometimes brought to bear on school administrators to be less punitive and more understanding of marihuana use.

At the secondary level, the policies very somewhat from state to state and even within states. Nevertheless, school boards generally seem to have become less enthusiastic about suspension and arrest as an appropriate response to marihuana use. One school administrator in Philadelphia noted sarcastically that if all users were suspended or arrested, the high schools would become empty cells, with their entire clientele turned out onto the streets.

A West Coast official emphasized that student alcohol use was a much more serious problem than marihuana use; he even suggested that legalization of marihuana might reduce alcohol use among the young. The Commission ascertained that no suspensions for marihuana use had occurred during 1971 in the entire school system of a southern metropolitan area. Although security officers in that system did make 20 arrests, they were all for selling marihuana and other drugs.

At the secondary level, then, increased reliance is being placed on persuasion rather than discipline, as a means of discouraging marihuana use. Drug education programs, now being instituted in almost every school system, often include information about alcohol and tobacco. We will explore the various pedagogical techniques employed in such programs and will attempt to evaluate them in our next Report.

At the college level, the response is even more lenient. In many cases official neutrality or even protection against police intervention substitutes for the restraint common at the secondary level. Under formal or informal arrangements with local law enforcement officials, many schools bar on-campus arrests for marihuana use. Apparently they have concluded that enforcement of the marihuana laws causes more harm. than does use of the drug. In some cases, college authorities have substituted their own policy for society's official policy. The Commission learned at one of its hearings in Chicago, for example, that a major Midwestern university explicitly declared that students would be subject to university disciplinary action if they were found in possession of more than one week's supply of marihuana.

Control at the college level is usually considered a medical Concern and is handled either through the university health centers or free clinics. The trend toward leniency is also apparent in the policy responses of the representative sample of university health service and free clinic physicians. whose profession presumably brings them into contact with the population most it risk from marihuana. Among personnel of the free clinics, 62% of the respondents favor legalization; 5% would continue the present policy, and the remainder would either reduce penalties (11%) or await further research (22%).

Even among the "establishment-oriented" health service personnel, similar attitudes prevail. Nineteen percent would continue the present policy, and 16% would legalize. Of the remaining 55% (10% did not respond), 38% would reduce, penalties and 17% would await further research. This pattern of views bears a striking resemblance to that of the prosecuting attorneys, and indeed of the public at large. The large majority indicates uneasiness with the present system and opposition to legalization, but is uncertain about exactly what to do.


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