The Marijuana Smokers
Chapter 9 - Marijuana, Crime, and Violence*
If cannabis could be shown to have a criminogenic and violence-inducing
effect, the argument would shift from an issue of civil liberties
to the question of the protection of society. It would no longer
be a matter of the condemnation and criminalization of a certain
style of life, of preventing the user from "harming"
himself and prohibiting him from enjoying his own particular "vice"
in the privacy of his home, much like pornography. The issue of
the criminogenics of marijuana takes the debate out of the murky
habitat of the user. Everybody is affected if the drug produces
the will to do harm to another. This deserves investigation.
The classic presentation of the position that marijuana unleashes
violence in the user came out of the 1920s and 1930s. One such
testimony details this position:
Police officials told us that the underworld has been quick to
realize the possibilities of using this drug to prey upon human
derelicts. It is used to sweep away all restraint. They have found
that before undertaking a desperate crime, many a criminal indulges
in marihuana cigarettes in order to do away with fear and to get
the "courage" necessary for his crime. The marihuana
addict may run amuck, and wreak havoc. Amnesia often occurs during
this advanced stage, in which the subjects commit antisocial acts.
Perhaps the most marked effects of marijuana can be observed in
its attack upon the moral standards of the user. In this respect
it goes farther than alcohol. Alcohol will lower the standards
and release the inhibitions, allowing the individual to follow
his base and secret desires. Marihuana destroys the inhibitions
much more effectively and completely, abolishing the power of
censoring one's acts, and doing away with the conception of right
and wrong. It not only destroys the true conception, but sets
up in its place a totally false conception. Whereas liquor breaks
down moral standards, marihuana not only breaks them down, but
sets up in their place standards diametrically opposed. Under
alcohol it is all right to disregard that which is moral and right;
under marijuana it is not only right to do wrong, but it would
be wrong not to do wrong.... . immediately upon the loss of
moral control, the subject becomes convinced that a certain act,
from pickpocketing and theft to rape and murder, is necessary,
and is seized by an overwhelming desire to perform that act because
to him it becomes a deed born of necessity....
Intoxicated by liquor, a crime may be committed because moral
restraint is not functioning; under the spell of marihuana, the
crime must be committed because it is the right thing to
do, and it would be wrong not to do it....
A remarkable difference between opium derivatives and marijuana
lies in the strange fact that while under the influence of
marihuana the addict is frenzied and may do anything; it is only
when he is deprived of his drug that the morphinist or
the heroinist becomes frenzied and commits crimes.
Marihuana, while giving the hallucinations of cocaine, adds delusions
of impending physical attack by one's best friend or close relatives.
In addition, marihuana is intrinsically and inherently crime exciting.
It has led to some of the most revolting cases of sadistic rape
and murder of modern times...
This is the issue in its purest form. Although few participants
of the debate would accept this version literally, some do accept
its basic premisethat marijuana is inherently criminogenic.
Thus, the question of marijuana's impact on crime needs exploration.
Doctors, Policemen, and Sociologists
The position that marijuana causes crime and violence does not
have full support today. In fact, only the police and some segments
of the public are solidly behind the contention that marijuana
actually causes crime and
violence. The official stance of federal, state,
and most local law enforcement agents is that marijuana,
at the very least, plays a significant role in the commission
of crimes of violence. "Marihuana is not only an extremely
dangerous drug, it is a menace to public health, safety and welfare"
said the ex-Commissioner of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous
Drugs, Henry L. Giordano. "Every
user is a potential danger to the general public," Director
of the New York State Bureau of Narcotic Control, and Executive
Secretary of the International Narcotic Enforcement Officer's
Association, John J. Bellizzi, is quoted as saying, referring
to a federally sponsored study to be discussed shortly. The Los
Angeles Police Department, in conjunction with the Narcotic Education
Foundation of America, has written, assembled, printed, and distributed
a pamphlet entitled "Facts about Marijuana," which asserts
the criminogenic power of cannabis.
There seems little doubt that probably a majority of all law enforcement
officers believe that marijuana is instrumental in the precipitation
of criminal behavior. There are, of course, exceptions. Thorvald
T. Brown, for instance, in a textbook on drugs for policemen wrote:
... there is no more criminality in a tin of marijuana than
there is in a fifth of whiskey, gin or vodka.
Bizarre criminal cases attributable to marihuana and other drugs,
while common in newspaper stories, are rather rare in official
police files. Crimes of violence such as murder, rape, mayhem,
shootings, stabbings, pistolwhipping robberies and inane street
beatings of innocent victims, occur every day in most American
cities. Seldom is there any connection with these offenses and
Most of Brown's fellow officers would disagree. Speeches published
in the annual Conference Reports of the International Narcotic
Enforcement Officer Association are representative of the official
police ideology, and they invariably present the "hard line"
on the criminogenics of marijuana. Published statements by
the police taking anything but the hard line are extremely
rare, and are, without any doubt, exceptional.
The medical profession is almost universal in its rejection of
this position, a considerable change since the 1930S when many
doctors writing about marijuana attributed to it a distinctly
felonious character. Even today, however, we will find some physicians
taking this view. In summing up, after reviewing over a dozen
studies and opinions, Bloomquist explains the position this way:
What seems clear is that marijuana per se does not cause
crime, in the sense that anyone taking it will of necessity commit
criminal acts. But what is just as clear is that cannabis releases
inhibitions and impairs judgment with such regular predictability
that a user with criminal tendencies will readily commit crimes
under the influence of marijuana. And it is documented that many
already confirmed criminals use cannabis to buoy them [selves]
up for the commission of criminal acts. The intent, or at least
the disposition, to engage in criminal activity must exist in
the user before using cannabis. But there seems to be a high incidence
of what, at best, we must call unstable personalities who are
attracted to cannabis, and the combination no doubt results in
the frequently high correlation that law enforcement authorities
have noted between cannabis and crime.
From my review of the medical writings on marijuana, however,
the majority of physicians diverge from this moderately hardline
view. Louria, for instance, writes that "there is no statistical
evidence associating marijuana with violence in the United States.
... It would be fair to say that for the most part marijuana
increases passivity, not aggression, but it does release inhibitions,
it can produce panic or confusion and because of these effects
can on occasion indeed lead to aggressive or violent behavior." Roswell
Johnson, Director of Health Services of Brown University, qualifies
his position even less: "There is a widespread misconception
that marijuana predisposes to crimes of violence. The exact
opposite is probably closer to the facts.... reduction of
work drive leads to a negative correlation with criminality rather
than a positive one."
In a testimony before the California Public Health and Safety
Committee, Thomas Ciesla, a psychiatrist, was engaged in the following
Question: Have you ever come across a single case where somebody
has undergone, perhaps, some personality change, perhaps one of
having less personal restraint and has committed crimes because
of this? Any kind of minor crimes, even, because of his habitual
use of marijuana?
Ciesla: I have not.
Question: Do you know anyone who has?
Ciesla: No, I don't.
Duke Fisher, at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, in an unpublished
study is quoted as saying: "I have never seen an example
of an aggressive reaction to marijuana. In fact, I have found
that quite the opposite seems to be true."
It is reasonably safe to assume that of all the commentators on
marijuana, the police are likeliest to take the most stubborn
position on the drug's criminal dangers. Bloomquist suggests a
situational reason for this:
When the police hear that "only a few" users become
involved with crime they wonder how they keep meeting that few
so constantly. And in truth there is a considerable gap between
the experiences of the sociologist in his university office, or
the psychiatrist in his handsomely appointed quarters on the one
hand, and the police on the street on the other hand. It may not
be so much that one or the other is wrong as that they just move
in different circles.
To a large degree, Bloomquist is misstating the sociologist's
role. As a student of deviant or criminal behavior, the sociologist
should be at least as acquainted as the policeman with
street-level crimes, since he has access to crimes that the policeman
discovers only by accident. In fact, the sociologist is in a far
better position to see an accurate picture of the criminogenic
effects of marijuana than the policeman, because he is around
marijuana users (or should be, if he is engaged in doing research
on marijuana use) all the time, when they are engaged in activities
of all typesincluding crime.
The policeman, on the other hand is only concerned with
the criminal aspect of marijuana use, and this fact alone would
necessarily exaggerate its importance. That is, after all, the
only thing he sees; that is what he is supposed to see.
The policeman sees a visible tip of a very deep iceberg, most
of which is hidden from viewat least, hidden from the view
of the policeman. He is privileged to see only a highly biased
segment of a highly complex phenomenon. Crimes, and especially
violent crimes, are much more visible than noncriminal activity,
and the policeman sees that segment which is most visible.
They would therefore think that crime occurs among users
much more than it actually does.
In addition, those users who happen to get themselves arrested
for marijuana crimes (as well as for other crimes that accidentally
happen to reveal marijuana possession) are more likely to be involved
in other criminal activity as well. They are individuals who are
likely to be less discreet about their use. They attract public
attention and sanction, making them more likely to be the kind
of person who attracts the attention and suspicion of the police
about all kinds of activities, including nondrug crimes. Thus,
the policeman, as we would suspect, thinks that the crime rate
among users is much higher than it is, because he simply isn't
in a position to see its true extent. His view is highly partial
and unrepresentative, while the sociologist, who invades the privacy
of the user and delves into any and all aspects of his life, has
the chance to develop a more balanced view.
The Blumer report, still the definitive study of drug use in
the ghetto slum, is highly skeptical of the marijuana-crime link.
The project's researchers were engaged as participants and managed
to observe every aspect of their subjects' social life. They found
that drug users in the ghetto slum fell into four more or less
distinct types: the "rowdy dude," the "pothead,"
the "mellow dude," and the "player." The first
is a delinquent type, violent and criminal with or without the
use of marijuana; the last is oriented to a life of professional
criminality, marijuana use being one of his most harmless activities.
The pothead and the mellow dude, basically, are hedonists, engaged
in drug use, marijuana smoking almost exclusively, as an adjunct
for pleasurable activities.
Far from discovering a violent influence on marijuana users,
the Blumer research revealed quite the opposite. In fact, the
use of marijuana was part of a socializing process that simultaneously
initiated the neophyte into the ritual of use and a "cool,"
non-rowdy way of life. As the youthful nonmarijuana user makes
contacts in the user world, and is accepted as a potential participant,
he realizes that a violent, rowdy way of life is looked down upon,
or "ranked." The "cool" nonviolent style accompanies
regular use. The "rowdy," on the other hand, uses marijuana
only rarely (the "cools" are unwilling to accept the
rowdy socially and to sell marijuana to him), more often using
such substances as alcohol, glue, gasoline, lighter fluid, and
sometimes the amphetamines and barbiturates. As he learns to use
marijuana, he realizes that those who are initiating him frown
on his violent style. The weed, in short, is associated, the researchers
found out, with nonviolence and a distinctly cool style.
See, people I know, after they got hip to weed, they just climbed
out of that rowdy trip. They squared off completely, you know,
wanted to jump sharp, enjoy themselves and be mellow instead of
getting all brutalized. You don't hear much about gang fights
any more. People getting hip to weed.
I can get loaded but there's a dude sitting right there I don't
like, I hate his motherfucking guts, man, and if he says anything
wrong, man, I can get up and hit him and think nothin' about it.
But mostly people don't fight when they're loaded on weed. Weed
slows you down and you don't think about fighting. You think about
tripping. It's a big hassle to you, it's a big hangup.
What happened to me was I was sniffing glue and got to smoking
weed, you know. I got busted in tenth grade behind sniffing glue.
Sitting in back of the drugstore with big old bags. Glue messes
you up, man, jerked my mind and I didn't want to sniff glue, you
know. Then I got loaded [on marijuana] and this guy started getting
me loaded and I dropped glue see. But you know, if I were to have
met somebody else that didn't smoke weed, maybe some rowdy cat,
maybe I would have went somewhere else. I don't know what would
have happened... took another course.
These quotes from three users illustrate that marijuana is associated
in this particular subculture with the movement away from a violent
way of life. As to whether this is a property of the drug, or
simply the way of life of the people who use it, is impossible
to tell. As a sociologist, my inclination is to say the latter.
It is possible that there is a certain amount of pacific potential
in marijuana, but the characteristics of the users has far
more to do with their behavior under the influence of the drug
than the pharmacological action of the drug itself. (In fact,
because of this, the term "under the influence" is misleading.)
Whichever it is, however, the Blumer study definitely pointed
to a disassociation of marijuana with serious crime, especially
Issues, Meaning, and Method
As I see it, there are a number of separate yet interpenetrating
problems associated with marijuana and crimes, all of which have
to be solved before the issue can make sense in the first place:
- What does it mean, logically and empirically, to ask:
Does marijuana "cause" crime?
- What kind of crimes are we talking about?
- What are the various reasons for the causal connection,
- Does this causal connection vary from one social group to
another, or is it the same for all?
- Does any empirical evidence exist supporting or refuting
this causal connection?
To get a meaningful understanding of the pot-crime issue, we must
break down the various kinds of arguments and modes of reasoning.
We encounter at least five methods of establishing the connection.
The presentation of evidence gives a clue to the soundness of
the argument. Some modes of presentation are crude, and the argument
may be dismissed out of hand; others are more sophisticated and
are more worthy of our attention. I will discuss the five types
of arguments in order of their level of sophistication.
ENUMERATIVE METHOD: ACCIDENTAL PSEUDO-ASSOCIATION
While many attempts have been made to show that marijuana "causes"
crime, the evidence presented to shore up the argument often only
shows that some marijuana smokers commit crimes, or that
it is possible to commit a crime under the influence of
marijuana. Not even marijuana's staunchest supporter would argue
that a crime has never been committed by a user while high. Yet,
incredible as it seems, the burden of many "proofs"
of marijuana's criminal effects has been precisely the simple
fact that it is possible to locate crimes committed in
conjunction with smoking marijuana. "Proof" by enumeration
is no proof at all. By examining an enumeration of crimes which
were committed under the influence of marijuana (even were this
definitely known), it is impossible to determine the "cause"
of the event taking place, in this case the crimeor, indeed,
that marijuana has anything whatsoever to do with its commission.
Yet "proof' by enumeration is the most common method of "demonstrating"
the causal connection between marijuana and crime. Countless works
written today rely on this method of demonstration.
In its field manual, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous
Drugs requested district supervisors to obtain from state and
local officials "reports in all cases... wherein crimes
were committed under the influence of marihuana." To illustrate
the selective process involved in this request, imagine the impressive
dossier that would result from a request that reports be conveyed
on anyone wearing a hat while committing a crime. A case
could then be made for the criminogenic effect of hat wearing.
In fact, we might very well collect not only more cases, but also
even more gruesomely violent ones, since hat wearing is more common
than marijuana smoking in connection with crime (as well as in
conjunction with noncriminal activities).
The enumerative method is the most primitive technique of proof.
It putatively links two items causally that are, in fact, sometimes
found together. No effort is made to determine whether they are
actually associated in any way other than would occur by chance.
We all use the enumerative method, at least to illustrate an argument.
Examples often dramatically pin down a stand which we take. It
is impossible to bring systematic data to bear on every point
we make. However, it is surprising that in this crucial issue,
long debated, little attention has been given to the rigor of
the method of analysis.
One thing that the enumerative method proves is that it is possible
to commit a crime under the influence of marijuana, just as it
is possible to commit crimes without marijuana. Most crimes, in
fact, are committed without drugs in a normal mental and physical
state; no one has yet submitted this as proof that being "normal"
is criminogenic. Since we "know" that being normal doesn't
induce crimes, we dismiss that argument and rightly so. But if
this method of reasoning is absurd and invalid, then equally so
is the attempt to link marijuana with crime by a case presentation,
because both were documented in precisely the same manner. It
is only because we have decided beforehand, before we have seen
the evidence, that such a method of argumentation is convincing,
because we have already been convinced. We search for a confirmation
of our views. That marijuana causes crime makes senseeven
when demonstrated by such shoddy and fallacious argumentsbecause
we already "know" it to be true. Because our mind
is already decided on the issue, we take the argument seriously.
The same argument, presented in the same way, relying on the same
methods, producing the same kind of evidence, taking the opposite
point of view, will be rejected. Wielding evidence is only a political
gambit to confirm our prejudices; we aren't too concerned about
whether arguments make any senseonly that we are proven "right,"
however absurd the method of doing so.
There is a basic question involved with a simple person-for-person,
crime-for-crime relationship to marijuana use: Are marijuana users
any more criminal than the rest of the population? Now, instead
of a "sometimes" connection, which is vague and meaningless
in the extreme, we have a comparison of the crime rate of one
population with another. We might reason that, if users are more
likely to commit crimes, the use of marijuana might very well
have something to do with it. We are on firmer and more legitimate
grounds, to be sure, but unfortunately, there is a considerable
difference between association and causality. Two items, such
as marijuana and crime, might very well be linked because of accidental
reasons. In the above type of argument, we have no idea what the
nature of the link actually is. In this type, we know that there
is a link but we don't know if it means anything. The link might
have occurred because of factors external to the two items. For
instance, crime is committed most in the fifteen to twenty-five
age range; marijuana is also used most by this group. If marijuana
users are more often lawbreakers, it is possible that it can be
accounted for simply because more users are in the most criminal
age category; it might have nothing to do with the action of the
Blind faith in a simple descriptive association between marijuana
and crime (were it to exist) would lead us to accept many related
associations which are absurd a priori in a causal sense, but
true descriptively. For instance, we would probably find that
users of aftershave lotion are more criminal, statistically and
descriptively, than those who do not use it, simply because users
of aftershave lotion are men, and men are more likely to break
the law than women. Does perfume inhibit crime? Users of perfume
are less likely to commit crime than individuals who do not use
perfume, again, simply because perfume-users are women, a group
wherein crime is less likely. If this logic holds up for these
universally agreed-upon innocuous substances, then it would violate
the logical method to deny the same procedure to marijuana.
We wish to know if, with all of the extraneous factors held
constantage, sex, urbanness, class background, etc.whether
marijuana smokers are any more criminal than the rest of the population.
We wish to isolate out, or control, those variables that could
enter into the relationship which would make it look as if an
association exists, but which are actually outside the causal
chain. That they contribute to the result, but have nothing
intrinsically to do with the actual relationship between the two
items we are interested in, means that we have a much more difficult
task. We can't just look at marijuana and crime, even if we do
have a reasonable comparison between the using and nonusing populations.
We must also understand the nature of the composition of the two
populations. People in cities have a higher crime rate than people
in small townsat least it is more often detected. This is true
(at the very least) of homicide, rape, larceny, assault, burglary,
and motor vehicle theft. It
is almost universally agreed that people in cities are far more
likely to smoke marijuana. Men are more criminal than women; men
are more likely to smoke marijuana. This list could be expanded
Do marijuana users have a higher crime rate than nonusers?
Because after we have gathered together all of the factors which
could have an impact on the relationship, we would probably have
more which strengthen than weaken it. What does this mean? It
means that we can have an artificial relationship show up on paper,
but not in the real world. The fact that men, city people, young
adults, are more attracted to marijuana means that users may commit
more crimes, not necessarily because marijuana has anything to
do with it, but because of the accident of who it is that uses
What we want to know is do male marijuana users commit more
crimes (or less) than male nonusers? Do female users commit crimes
any more than female nonusers? Do middle-class, male urban
dwellers, ages fifteen to twenty-five who use marijuana,
commit crimes more frequently than middle-class, male urban dwellers,
fifteen to twenty-five, who do not smoke marijuana? (We
would then have to ask the same question of females, other age
groups, other class categories, and dwellers of communities of
a different size.)
We are still, of course, nowhere near the level of cause.
We remain in the realm of association, but a higher level
to be sure. Even after we have made this extremely complex comparison
and control, we really do not know if marijuana actually "causes"
crime or not. It could very well be that even after all of these
extraneous factors are held constant, marijuana users are still
more likely to commit crimes. And yet marijuana itself might
very well have nothing to do with it. That a person is willing
to try marijuana indicates something about the person, about his
characteristics, his way of life, attitudes, notions of right
and wrong, and so on. Marijuana users are of course, a vast and
diverse tribe, but they are not identical to nonusers. They are
more likely to have certain kinds of traits. Or, to put it a different
way, people with certain kinds of traits are more likely to try
marijuana. In a sense, some people are more predisposed to use
marijuana. Now, at the same time, we cannot ignore the role of
accident, propinquity, fortuitousness, ecology, location, and
situational features of every description that tell us very little
about the person himself. And, too, at the same time, we need
not wallow about in the morass of personality theories of "ego
inadequacy," "compensatory mechanisms," "adolescent
rebellion," "rejection of adult authority," and
so on, which obfuscate more than they clarify.
But it is difficult to deny this fundamental fact: marijuana
users are different. They are a different social animal
from the nonuser, and in specific ways. It is probably permissible
to say that the marijuana smoker is less attached to the legal
structure than is the nonuser. He is less authoritarian, less
likely to follow the rule for the rule's sake, more likely to
see many laws as being unjust. He is more experimental, more adventurous,
more daring, at least vis-à-vis the law. He is not as concerned
about the fact of legality or illegality. He is more likely to
have a code of ethics which, he feels, transcends technical law,
claiming allegiance to a "higher order." We would predict
that he would be more likely to break the law than nonusers. Among
my respondents, I asked the broad question, "How do you
feel about having broken the law?" Only five respondents
(2.5 percent) said that they were bothered, that they felt guilty
about breaking the law; 6 percent said that they had mixed feelings
about their infractions.-The rest, 91 percent of the sample, said
that it didn't bother them, that they didn't think about it, that
they didn't consider it against the law (i.e., in their own personal
creed), that it was a stupid law and ought to be ignored, etc.
The simple fact of "obeying the law,"
in and of itself, meant little or nothing, apparently, to most
Now, many will condemn this point of view; some will applaud it.
The psychologically inclined will see in it the germ of a self-destructive
motive. Others will take it as proof that users are thrill and
kicks oriented. Believers in the "letter of the law"
will castigate defenders of its "spirit" will withhold
judgment. Regardless of our feelings concerning the less strict
adherence to the rule of law and authority among marijuana users,
the fact remains, this is likely to predispose them toward
a higher crime rate, other things being equal.
It is entirely possible, then, that marijuana smokers are more
criminal than their nonusing peers, even for the same age, sex,
social class and educational groups, etc. It is possible that
they are more "predisposed" toward crime. The fact that
they are willing to break the marijuana laws might very well be
an indication of their willingness to break laws
in general. (In a moment, we will qualify this and explain which
laws are more likely to be broken.) Yet, this would be true
of any example of lawbreaking we select and may very well
have little or nothing to do with the drug that they use. Suppose
we ask the question: Are underage drinkers more likely to commit
crimes than their peers who don't drink? Or is someone who engages
in premarital intercourse (in states which have a law against
it) more likely to engage in other illegal activities, on the
whole, than someone who does not? My answer would have to be,
probably. Not so much because of the nature of the activity, but
because such breaches probably are a rough indicator of a greater
willingness to deviate from the letter of the law, to be less
concerned with public disapproval (or to accept deviant peer definitions
of what is "right"), to explore the somewhat remote,
to move away from parental and community standards. It
could even be that not to partake in such activities indicates
more about the abstainer than doing so does. That is, by now,
premarital intercourse has become a "subterranean" norm
among the young. Thus, the person who does not engage in
sexual intercourse before marriage is likely to be more authoritarian,
more religious, more tied to the conventional normative structure,
less willing to stray from the well-known, the familiar, and to
have great respect for rules. And, of course, less likely to commit
crimes of any sort.
Now, what does our analysis tell us about the criminal effect
of marijuana? Nothing really. We can know definitively that users
are more likely to commit crimes than their age, sex, etc., cohorts,
and yet know absolutely nothing about whether marijuana itself
has anything to do with crime. (Any more than premarital sex does.)
For this kind of statement, we have to move our analysis up to
another level of sophistication.
Marijuana is often cited as an agent, or a catalyst, in the commission
of crimes, without raising the issue as to whether it is actually
a direct cause. It is often attributed with an indirect role in
the breach of laws. Thus, such an argument might be crystallized
in the following kinds of questions: If those who now smoke had
never smoked marijuana, would their crime rate be lower? Here
we are moving closer to true cause. A comparison with heroin might
prove to be instructive. Heroin itself doesn't cause crimethe
drug, that is, doesn't induce a state of body and mind which induces
violence and crime in those who take itotherwise physician-narcotic
addicts, whose drug of choice, meperidine (sometimes morphine),
has effects similar to those of heroin, would be just as "criminal"
as street junkies. But no one doubts that heroin is densely implicated
in crime. Heroin itself has a soothing, soporific effect;
if we knew nothing about the kinds of people who used the drug,
we would predict that the drug would tend to reduce the likelihood
of committing a crime. We would be right about the causal effect
of the drug, but wrong about its indirect effect, and therefore,
wrong about the actual crime rates of heroin users. The notion
that marijuana "causes" crime could mean many different
things, some of which would be acceptable by one definition, but
not another, and vice versa. For instance, a pharmacologist is
likely to have a very strict definition of cause; he is talking
about the physiological action of the drug. A policeman would
have a broader definition, since he wants to know whether or
not, if there were no marijuana, the crime rate would go down.
Thus, a pharmacologist would say that heroin does not "cause"
crime, but a policeman would say that it does. It is not that
one is wrong and the other right, they just have a different concept
of what constitutes cause.
This type of argument assumes a number of guises. There are at
least two subvarieties of the "indirect" or "pseudocausal"
kind of connection between marijuana and crime. The one most acceptable
to sociologists, at least theoretically, is a version of the "differential
association" theory. By smoking marijuana, one is, willy-nilly,
forced into intimate personal association with "real"
criminals. In order to buy marijuana, it is necessary to interact
with others who habitually break the law. Over time, the user,
who was not criminal to begin with, has acquired a set of criminal
associates and friends; one becomes implicated in a lawbreaking
environment. Gradually, one comes to think of breaking the law
as acceptable, and eventually leads a "criminal" life.
... The youthful narcotics user, even one who "takes a
trip" only sporadically, is almost certain to make contact
with some part of the criminal community that inevitably evolves
around traffic in illegal merchandise. The boy or girl smoking
marijuana in high school, for example, isn't just running the
physiological and psychological risks, whatever they may be, attendant
upon using the drug. There's the much greater risk of becoming
inextricably tangled in an environment where regular criminal
behavior is the accepted norm.
The prospects are particularly alarming for that large segment
of the nation's juvenile society already stamped "delinquent"
because of its wayward conduct. The potential in these young people's
lives for serious encounters with the law is greatly intensified
when they turn to narcotics; they've paid some of their dues to
the criminal community. And it is in this group of youth that
patterns of narcotics use develop earliest and become most firmly
Another variety of the indirect relationship between marijuana
and crime that is often invoked is that "one crime begets
another," theme. By seeing that it is possible to get away
with breaking the law, one becomes emboldened and goes on to other,
more serious crimes. Marijuana use initiates the user into a "morass"
of lawbreaking. The habit has a way of spreading. Eventually all
laws become equally breakable, equally irrelevant. If drug laws
do not command one's respect and compliance, then, eventually,
no law does. (But, if the marijuana laws did not exist,
then neither would this problem nor the escalation.) A difficulty
with this point of view empirically is the fact that marijuana
users who do not become arrested for marijuana use are
probably less likely to commit other crimes later on, and
eventually become arrested for them. Users who are arrested
on marijuana charges are probably more likely to become
arrested later on for something else more serious. Unless these
facts are explained, the "emboldened" arguments will
have to be revised.
TRUE CAUSAL RELATIONSHIP
The question here is: Does the pharmacological action of marijuana
directly incite criminal and violent acts? An empirical test of
this proposition is extremely difficult. In fact, there are few
adequately controlled studies on the general effects of
marijuana, none of which touch on crime or violence. A test of
this sort in connection with crime is at least twenty years distant.
Moreover, no chemical dictates to the human body so complex
a behavior-syndrome as crime (or even violence). The organs of
the human body may be affected by a chemical in a specific wayor
more commonly, in a variety of waysbut what the mind tells
the body to do as a result is not a chemical matter. The chemical
imperative becomes filtered through an individual's personality,
and his group's collective experiences, and his behavior is affected
by them. The group translates what these vague bodily sensations
mean, and what kinds of activities they may represent behaviorally.
A drug may offer a bodily and behavioral potential for crime and
violence, but it cannot dictate or determine that they will inevitably
take place. Other elements must be present. Even Bloomquist admits
that marijuana's positive impact on the commission of crime is
partly dependent on whether or not the individual in question
has "criminal tendencies," whatever that might mean.
In one of the more widely circulated works putting forth the
claim of marijuana's crime-inducing effects, the following mechanisms
are asserted as the "cause" of the crimes: "(1)
use by criminals to fortify their courage prior to committing
crimes; (2) chronic use resulting in general derangement and demoralization;
(3) use resulting in the lowering of inhibition and bringing
out suppressed criminal tendencies; and (4) use resulting in panic,
confusion or anger induced in otherwise normal persons who have
not been previous users." Let us examine
some of these undocumented claims.
One of the more direct criminogenic effects claimed for marijuana
has to do with the generation of courage in the commission of
crimes. Many criminals supposedly use marijuana as a means of
either becoming relaxed or hopped updepending on who is offering
this theory and his image of what marijuana does.
The claim is that it is the professional criminals who consciously
employ the drug to commit crimes more effectively. If it is true
that marijuana is used to become hopped up and to more quickly
throw oneself into a kind of frenzied, maniacal state, this would
obviously lower one's rational ability to commit crimes competently
with a minimum of risk. Most professional crimes require stealth,
skill, deftness, and controlled courage. It would seem peculiar
indeed that the criminal would employ an agent that is reputed
by those who attribute the criminal with employing it to have
both an unreliable and a kind of exciting, even deranging effect.
If this is one of the many consequences of smoking marijuana,
professional criminals would be among the last people on earth
who would use the drug in conjunction with their "work."
In my research, I have found strong indications that this supposed
"hopping up" effect of marijuana is simply a myth.
The other accusation (a mirror image, completely contradicting
the first) is that the criminal uses pot to gain "controlled
courage." Supposedly marijuana will be used by the lawbreaker
on the verge of carrying out his crime because the drug has a
calming effect; it reduces his panicky, irrational tendencies.
It lowers his chances of "blowing" a job. It makes him
cool and rational. If this is what happens (and it is closer to
reality than the first claim), then marijuana's effect is anything
but criminogenic. It could help to calm nerves in any situation;
it could aid rationality under all crisis conditions. It could
aid the racing car driver, the nervous student taking an exam,
the job interviewee, the adolescent on his first date, the stage-struck
actor. If it is the generation of a rational courage that
gives marijuana its criminal thrust, then we discover that this
effect has nothing specifically to do with crime. Criminals wear
shoes, drive to the site of their crimes in cars, communicate
with one another by means of the English language, but no one
has thought of outlawing these crime-related agents.
Marijuana is said to "lower inhibitions." This leads
to the commission of crime. It is taken for granted in a civilization
that does not trust its innermost self that the lowering of inhibitions
(or the loss of control) will necessarily have a violent and criminal
countenance. Man, the theory goes, is protected from his animal
nature by a thin veneer of culture; when this veneer is pierced
or weakened, he becomes destructive. Man's inner being is savage,
primitive, and inherently antisocial. This model of man, given
its greatest impetus by Freud, had influenced popular criminology
for almost a century. It is completely inadequate to explain anything,
and blatantly false as a description of man and what makes him
I will conclude this topic by asking a set of questions that any
theory of lawbreaking must answer, which cast doubt on the theory
of the lowering of inhibitions as a cause of crime (and as a reason
why marijuana, specifically, is inherently criminogenic). No one
has adequately explained why or how it is that a "loss of
control" or a "release of inhibitions" will necessarilyor
everresult in violent crimes, or crimes of any sort. Why violence?
Why crime? Why, if man becomes less inhibited, does he do harm
to his fellow man? Is the internal life of man intrinsically antisocial?
Do we really have such a gloomy image of who man "really"
is, what he "really" wants to do? Are man's most fundamental
and well-hidden desires really of such a destructive nature? How
are these desires generated? Are they intrinsic in the nature
of man? Or are they socially generated? Or do they exist at all?
Why isn't man's internal life more creative, more directed toward
the good of society (however that might be interpreted)? What,
specifically, is the mechanism that translates a "loss
of control" into acts of violence and crime? Could it be
that man fears doing charitable acts toward his fellow man because
he will be thought a dupe and a fool? Perhaps any "liberating"
mechanism will bring out these philanthropic tendencies. Are charitable
acts rewarded in our society? Perhaps "inhibitions"
serve to restrain man from being generous and socially constructive.
Are acts of creativity and imagination rewarded by us? Perhaps
a release of inhibitions really serves to bring out man's inner
beingwhich is more creative, not more violent, than is apparent
in public. (The Timothy Leary camp, too, asserts that the psychedelic
drugs release inhibitions, but their image of man's essential
being is different from the antipot lobby's.)
The "fact" that marijuana releases inhibitions and,
therefore, is criminogenic, is a common accusation. But it is
built on a theory and an image of man that is essentially outdated
today. There is no evidence to support the contention that man,
disinhibited, is any more dangerous than man with his protective
cultural shield around him. He who makes the accusation assumes
automatically that inhibitions are a wholesome and protective
device that no society can do without. Man, after all, the theory
goes, is essentially evil. Therefore inhibitions are good,
because they restrain man's essential nature. This is an assumption
that many informed students of man are not willing to make. Before
we can take seriously the accusation that marijuana releases inhibitions
and therefore causes man to be violent, we will have to clear
up  the validity of many fundamental
and essential theoretical questions which remain, at this time,
speculative and unfounded.
Consider that the great majority of the most widespread and devastating
violence in the world's history has stemmed not from aggressiveness,
but from passivity and compliance. Most of the fighting personnel
of nearly all armies of the modern world has been made up of only
semiwilling young men who, basically, do not wish to kill or be
killed, but who fear the social reprisals attendant upon their
refusal to fight. The passive reaction is to go along with
acceptable social definitions and pressures (often from those
who do not themselves have to make such a decision) and commit
acts of violence on one's fellow man. The aggressive and self-assertive
reactions are to refuse to fight and kill in warfare. Thus, acceptable
social and cultural responses, that thin layer of protective civilization,
supposedly keeping man's destructive impulses in check, often
lead to violence, while to be "released from inhibitions"
sometimes means to be nonviolent. Often, by following one's inner
bent, one's selfish desires, removed from society's pressures,
one is less violent and less destructive.
The final accusation concerning marijuana's criminogenic impact
has to do with "panic reactions." Marijuana causes crime,
especially violence, because the drug has a psychotomimetic effect
that deranges the mind, causing the user to run amok, wreaking
incalculable damage to his fellow man. I have never seen a reaction
of this type, and a number of physicians who specialize in psychoactive
drugs have never seen it either with marijuana. (This does not
mean that they do not exist; it probably means, however, that
they are rare.) Panic reactions are more common with some other
drugs, LSD, for instance. During the interviewing I gained the
confidence of a number of users to such an extent that two called
me while they were experiencing such a panic state under the influence
of LSD. It took no psychiatrist to see that the reaction was fear
and helplessness, not violence. The drug panic state is more generative
of passive fright, withdrawn incapacitya desire to flee threats
and danger from others. If this occurs with any frequency with
marijuana (I have never seen evidence that it does), it is without
a doubt not a cause for violence and crime among users.
We will have to search elsewhere for marijuana's criminogenics.
Studies and Surveys
We commonly read that a "study" has "proven"
a causal connection between marijuana use and crime, particularly
violent crime. Giordano, the former Associate Director of the
Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, wrote as follows: "The
Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs recently conducted its
own study. It revealed a definite pattern between marihuana usage
and crime. City and state police agencies were surveyed to gather
and assemble a volume of well-documented instances where criminal
behavior was directly related to the use of marihuana."
As no statistics were cited in this particular article wherein
the claim was madeonly isolated cases were enumeratedI wrote
to the Bureau of Narcotics asking about this "study."
Louise G. Richards, research social psychologist for the Division
of Drug Sciences of the Bureau, replied: "The study mentioned
by Mr. Giordano... was not a research project of this Division.
I have never seen it referred to except in the cited article.
As far as I know, it did not result in either a published or an
unpublished report" (personal communication, June 3, 1969).
In fact, no such systematic study was actually done by the Bureaunor
has there ever been a study that adequately and definitively demonstrated
the reputed link between marijuana and crime. Systematic data
have never been brought to bear on the question.
In 1968 (no date appears on the publication), the Los Angeles
Police Department distributed a pamphlet, "Facts About Marijuana,"
which included sections entitled, "Does Marijuana Incite
Crimes of Violence?" and "Marijuana Crimes." The
latter enumerated fourteen cases where marijuana was presumed
to have been causal in the commission of crimes. It contains the
introductory remarks: "In 1966 the Los Angeles Police Department
conducted a survey into the relationship between marijuana and
criminal behavior. Hundreds of cases were documented during a
one-year period in which marijuana was involved as a factor of
criminal behavior. The next several pages contain a few criminal
cases selected from the survey to illustrate this relationship."
I wrote to the Los Angeles Police Department about this study
made on the relationship between marijuana and criminal behavior.
I received a reply from Clifford J. Shannon, Captain, and Commander
of the LAPD's Public Affairs Division, which stated: "All
available information from the 1966 survey on the relationship
between marijuana and criminal behavior is contained in...
the Los Angeles Police Department booklet, 'Facts About Marijuana.'
The survey has not been published as a separate document."
In other words, what was called a "survey" and a "study"
was the collection of scattered cases wherein marijuana was supposedly
connected in some way or another with the commission of crime.
Needless to say, as a descriptive or scientific document, this
"survey" is worthless. All "studies" which
claim to establish the causal link, upon close scrutiny, simply
do not observe even the most elementary rules of rigorous empirical
proof. All the restrictions of logic and adequate documentation
seem to be magically dissolved when it comes to this question;
emotion, rather than disinterested inquiry, reigns supreme. The
"proofs" which have been submitted on this issue are
perfect illustrations of our earlier axiom concerning the need
to shore up propaganda with pseudoscientific accoutrements. Probably
no area of endeavor better illustrates our principle concerning
the "politics of reality" than this, the connection
between marijuana and crime. The causal connection between marijuana
and crime exists only in the minds of men. Paper, as Stalin so
cynically observedand, indeed, put into practicecan be made
to print anything.
The studies most often cited to prove that marijuana causes crime
are those by Munch ("Marihuana and Crime"), Wolff (Marihuana
in Latin America), Gardikas ("Hashish and Crime"),
an unpublished manuscript by Victor Vogel, and several works by
the Indian Chopras. We will examine these reports.
Half of Munch's eight-page article on marijuana and crime
is taken up with enumeration of crimes committed,
supposedly, under the influence of marijuana. ( Or so the caption
indicates. There is no indication of how the police detected marijuana
intoxication. During the entire period when all of the enumerated
crimes were committed, there was no known method for detecting
the presence of marijuana in the human body. In some of the cases,
clues were mentioned, but most of them omit references to the
drug.) Sixty-nine cases are included, going back to the 1930S
(in one case, back to 1921, before the existence of marijuana
laws). A typical case might be "Smoked marijuana for years;
held up three taxi-cabs," or "Negro, shot and killed
while attempting to holdup grocer in Harlem; plea guilty."
Only a glance back at the discussion of the enumerative method
of reasoning illuminates the worth of this procedure.
Another section of Munch's article is an enumeration of "references"
which lists works, most of which assert the connection between
marijuana and crime without empirical documentation. A table presents,
supposedly, effects of marijuana on the human mind and body. Several
of these effects have been empirically demonstrated to be false:
hypoglycemia (decrease in blood sugar), a decrease in the rate
of respiration, and mydriasis (marked dilation of the pupils),
for instance. Other effects are merely asserted and are, by all
known accounts, highly improbable: "chronic exposure produces
brain lesions," "death by cardiac failure some individuals
after l00 to 200 times therapeutic dose,"
"hypersensitivity sensation of ants
running over skin" (not one of my 200 respondents described
this particular sensation), "diarrhea or constipation,"
etc. One wonders, after this inventory of effects, why anyone
would ever try the drug; if one believed that these effects ever
took place, the fact that millions of people in this country have
tried it would be puzzling.
Another study commonly cited by police in an effort to demonstrate
the criminal tendencies inherent in marijuana is Pablo Osvaldo
Wolff's Marihuana in Latin America: The Threat It Constitutes.
Although this opus was published over two
decades ago, it is still cited with approval by the antimarijuana
propagandists. Rather than a study, it is another enumeration
of crimes supposedly caused by marijuana, along with extravagant
declarations as to marijuana's baleful effect: "With every
reason, marihuana... has been closely associated since the
most remote time with insanity, with crime, with violence, and
with brutality." Again, one searches in vain for a systematic
analysis of the criminogenic effect of this supposedly deadly
drug. Instead, we are greeted with a barrage of rumor, distortions,
blatant falsehoods, and dogmatic assertions. Although we have
been assured by Anslinger in the foreword that the author is "impartial,"
and the monograph, "painstaking... erudite, well-documented
... comprehensive... accurate... extensive... well-rounded
... convincing," we are perplexed by the bombastic and
otiose language which casts considerable doubt on its author as
a reliable, impartial observer. We are assured that "this
weed... changes thousands of persons into nothing more than
human scum," and that "this vice... should be suppressed
at any cost." Marijuana is labeled "weed of the brutal
crime and of the burning hell," an "exterminating demon
which is now attacking our country"; users are referred to
as "addicts" (passim) whose "motive belongs to
a strain which is pure viciousness."
Wolff's work should be considered a relic of a benighted age,
but it is taken seriously today by those who require confirmation
of the dangers of this drug, as well as for the fact that this
slim volume has provided a fertile seedbed of concepts, ideas,
and distinctions which are very much alive today. Although it
will be the job of later intellectual historians to trace the
elaborate interconnections and influences of today's drug ideologists,
both pro and con, many antecedents (on the contra side) may be
discerned in Pablo Osvaldo Wolff; some may not have originated
with him, but he gave them all propulsion. For instance, this
work is very clear on the distinction between "an addiction
in the classic sense of morphinism" and what Wolff (and physicians
today) call "psychic addiction," or "habituation."
Needless to say, this distinction is crucial
in today's medical writings; the similarity between the two use-syndromes
is emphasized rather than their differences. (See the chapter
on the physician's point of view toward marijuana for an elaboration
of this distinction.) Second, Wolff distinctly presaged another
dominant current theme:
... the use of marihuana is always an abuse and a vice in the
strictest sense of the word. So far as this drug is concerned,
there is no medical indication whatsoever that will justify its
use in the present day and age.... at the present time there
is no scientific therapeutic indication whatever still recognized
in which cannabis has any part.... marijuana...has no sublime
characteristics, but only inflicts blows upon its addicts, renders
them depraved, degrades them physically and morally. I repeat
my initial warning there is not, as is the case with the opiates,
any reason, any excuse, any indication for its use. It is always
abuse, dangerous to the individual and to the race.
This definition of "abuse" forms the cornerstone of
contemporary medical thinking concerning intoxicating drugs, especially
marijuana. Aside from these two powerful and much used concepts,
the evidence of Wolff's handiwork may be seen in dozens of conceptual
and supposedly factual edifices. "All civilized countries
have included in their protective legislation a prohibition of
the use of cannabis for enjoyment purposes...
Wolff intones; the echo of this pontification
is heard today: "... why is it that marijuana is the only
drug that is outlawed in every civilized country in the world?"
(It is difficult to fathom what is meant
by "civilized," however; America, it is to be assumed,
is civilized, while less enlightened countries are not.) Wolff's
assertion that marijuana, with prolonged and "excessive"
use, tends to produce an "irreparable brain lesion"
has its contemporary reverberation today
in Munch's "chronic exposure produces brain lesions."
Naturally, we find in Wolff that marijuana
influences violence, as for example, in the followers of Hasan
and Pancho Villa; produces automobile accidents ("especially
of buses"!); incites the "aggressive instinct";
activates "delinquency and criminality"; causes "episodic
states of mental confusion, psychoses of short duration...,
and chronic prolonged psychoses"; marijuana, we are told,
is especially dangerous because "the effect that will be
produced on each individual cannot be foreseen," and because
the drug seems to stimulate a proselytization among its habitués.
In short, the complete antimarijuana propagandist's
litany is present, intact, in Wolff. Many of us have learned nothing
in the past generation.
Law-enforcement officers in an effort to document the criminogenic
impact of marijuana also cite Victor H. Vogel's "Excerpts
from Statements Regarding Marihuana Use Made by One-Hundred Consecutive
Heroin Addicts Interviewed by Dr. Victor H. Vogel at the California
Rehabilitation Center During Release Hearings Beginning August
18, 1967." It is an unpublished manuscript of six pages containing
a collection of statements by 100 addicts in one or two-sentence
form, statements such as: "We used to get into gang fights
when we were high on marihuana"; "Makes me silly; everything
I do or say or hear is funny"; "It exaggerates all feelings,
including sex"; "It slowed me down so much I had to
drop out of school."
Since these statements were made before a release hearing, it
is apparent that the addict knew that any indication of remorse
on his part would be judged favorably, and would, therefore, make
statements which he knew would help to secure his release. This
alone makes these statements suspect. We would expect statements
of conventional morality under these circumstances, expressions
the judge wanted to hear. In a sense, then, these statements make
up a kind of miniature morality play, where we learn not
so much the nature of reality, but what the society staging it
thinks about the nature of reality. Any addict knows that he will
be treated more leniently if he expresses a conventional view
of the dangers of marijuana, so that his statements correspond
more to his perceptions of what the judge wants to hear rather
than what the drug actually did for or to him.
In addition, heroin addicts are extremely atypical marijuana users.
They are far more criminal than any other single group of drug
users. The kind of person who becomes an addict is likely to have
had committed a number of crimes (although addiction, obviously,
increases their seriousness and extent) and therefore to have
smoked marijuana at some time or another during the commission
of a given crime. But this tells us nothing about whether marijuana
had anything to do with the crime committed. It certainly tells
us nothing about the effects of marijuana on crime, in general,
on the nonaddict population. These statements simply do not apply
beyond the addict population who uttered them.
It seems peculiar that antimarijuana ideologists will accept the
statements of addicts in a situation where it is to their advantage
to present the criminogenic argument, and will reject the statements
of marijuana smokers made in a situation where no such advantage
accrues to them. Nonincarcerated marijuana users, when interviewed
in their living room by a stranger they will never see again,
are far more likely to express a favorable view of the effects
of the drug and to deny most of its negative effects. Their motives
for lying are certainly far less powerful than those which faced
In an effort to forge a link between crime and marijuana, some
commentators have used the research of the Chopras, three physicians
who have written on cannabis use in India for over thirty years.
To use the Chopras in support of the criminal impact of this drug,
one must be extremely selective, because they not only underplay
this aspect, they often deny it altogether. Bloomquist, Miller,
Munch, and Haslip, all
cite the Chopras' research as confirming marijuana's criminogenic
effect. Most of these quotes use the statement that sometimes
users are subject to "fits of aggressive mania." Yet
the Chopras' most recent statement, largely a summary of their
previous work, asserts that, "With regard to premeditated
crime, in some cases, the drugs [bhang, ganja and charas] not
only do not lead to it, but actually act as deterrents. One of
the most important actions of cannabis is to quiet and stupefy
the individual so that there is no tendency to violence..."
A Canadian physician, H. B. M. Murphy, is
quoted by Chopra as a summary on marijuana and crime, saying,
"Most serious observers agree that cannabis does not, per
se, induce aggressive or criminal activities, and that the reduction
of the work drive leads to a negative correlation with criminality
rather than a positive one." The
Chopras seem to provide thin fodder for the argument of the criminal
inducement of cannabis.
The same cannot be said for the work of Gardikas ("Hashish
and Crime"). A
police officer and head of the Greek Criminal Service in Athens,
Gardikas reviewed 379 cases of individuals who were arrested for
publicly using cannabis between 1919 and 1950. In the sample,
117 cases were first arrested for cannabis offenses and, after
their release, became "confirmed criminals," having
been arrested for a total of 420 offenses in the period studied.
The fact that they became criminal only after their involvement
with hashish demonstrates to Gardikas as well as to law enforcement
officers and to various other commentators that hashish causes
crime. Over 200 cases in the sample were already criminal
prior to starting the use of hashish, and the remaining fifty-three,
after their arrest for cannabis, did not commit any nonhashish
We are not told how these cases were selected. Are they the only
cannabis offense cases that came to Gardikas' attention? Were
they gathered more or less by accident? Were they a result of
random selection? Or were they selected for the very fact that
their crime rate was so high? We have no way of knowing. And what
social universe does this group represent: All hashish smokers
in Greece? Not having this information, the methodology seems
It is a certainty that arrested cannabis smokers are different
from nonarrested ones, just as arrested violators of any law are
radically different from those who also commit the same crimes,
but who do not get arrested. The class factor operates here powerfully,
just to mention a single source of variation. The middle-class
violator is far more able to avoid detection through a combination
of bias and caution, as well as a number of other factors, such
as police saturation in poorer areas. Working-class patterns of
crime, particularly certain kinds of crime, such as violent ones,
are very different from those of the middle-class user. To use
arrested hashish smokers as an indication of the criminal
potential inherent in the drug is fallacious.
Also, it might very well be necessary to raise the question of
the criminogenic effect of the Greek penal system. Anyone arrested
once becomes subject to greater scrutiny, and therefore, almost
of necessity, his crime rate will be higher. The police simply
"being around" accounts for much of the differential
in crime rates. A crime undetected is, from an official point
of view, a crime uncommitted. In addition, many criminologists
think that having been exposed to prison gives a person criminal
are the most effective spawning grounds of criminals known to
man. Anyone who has served some time in prison is more likely
to come out a potential professional criminal than he is to be
In addition, Gardikas assumes that the crimes for which the 117
offenders were arrested were the result of having been involved
with hashish, since they followed the hashish arrest. This is
a good example of the post hoc fallacy. We have no idea why these
420 offenses were committed, let alone can we be sure that they
were caused by the hashish. Nor do we know that the arrested individuals
were not involved in a life of crime before the hashish
arrest. Merely because they had not been arrested until then is
no indication that they did not commit nonhashish crimes. They
might very well have been criminals all along and picked up hashish
along the way, and been merely unfortunate enough to get arrested
first for the hashish.
All we really know from the Gardikas study is that arrested hashish
smokers are involved in a good deal of crime. We have no idea
whether hashish "causes" the violations, or was associated
with them in any way. We know nothing about whether the nonarrested
smoker is also as criminal, or whether he ever commits crimes.
We do not know how representative the sample even is of arrested
users, let alone users in general. As a demonstration of the criminogenic
effect of cannabis, this study is of extremely dubious value at
Our Two Hundred Interviews
In our interview study, we asked the respondents to enumerate
any and all arrests which they might have experienced. It is almost
impossible to make a systematic, rigorous, and meaningful comparison
with the general population with the aim of determining whether
marijuana users are "more criminal" or "less criminal"
than nonusers. Our sample is not representative. (But no sample
of lawbreakers ever is a true cross-section.) It is a different
average age than the American populationa median of twenty-two
as opposed to twenty-seven, with almost no very young or very
old. It is entirely urbannearly all reside in New York City.
It is more middle-class than the nation as a whole. We know that
all of the sample, to be included in the study, have engaged in
criminal behaviormarijuana use, possession, and saleand
on that basis alone, be expected to be arrested more times than
the average member of American society. We might isolate out at
least a dozen such factors which make the two "populations"
incomparable. Some of these factors would tend to inflate our
sample's lawbreaking tendencies, while others might decrease them.
Taken together, the methodological problems with such a comparison
are insurmountable, if we wish to test this question scrupulously
However, if we wish to use our sample's arrest data as a very
loose indication of their degree of criminal involvement and make
a casual comparison with the overall arrest figures for the United
States, not as an attempt at a conclusive demonstration, but as
a crude approximation which at least poses this question, then
perhaps light might be shed on the issue. One qualification we
must keep in mind concerns the adequacy of arrest figures to measure
criminal activity. Recall that all of the marijuana-related activity
of our sample resulted in a total of only nine marijuana arrests.
Most of these were the consequence of an accident of some sort.
Thus, people who are not arrested are not necessarily noncriminal
but often merely lucky or evasive enough to be undetected. Is
the nonapprehended population less criminal than the arrestees?
We have no way of knowing. We do know that nonarrestees commit
a very large number of crimes. Of course, it varies by the nature
of the crime; murder is very often detected, and the offender
arrested, while crimes without victims usually go undetected.
At any rate, our 204 respondents admitted arrest a total of fifty-five
times, for all nontraffic, nonmarijuana offenses. As a parallel,
keep in mind that in 1965, the arrest rate for the American population
was 3.7 arrests per 100 in the population.
One difficulty we have in comparing these
two figures is that our figure is the number of arrests which
ever took place, while the U.S. figure is the recorded
rate for that one year only. Since the median age of our respondents
is twenty-two, let us assume that the age range during which an
arrest is possible and likely is seven yearsage fifteen to
twenty-two, even though the earliest arrest in our sample took
place at age ten. Therefore, we might divide the fifty-five arrests
figure by seven, yielding a yearly rate of about 3.9 arrests per
100 individuals. (Even if we include the nine marijuana arrests,
the figure is 4.5 per 100.) The fact that this is almost identical
with the national rate is surprising.
If we examine the types of crimes our respondents were
arrested for, however, we find ourselves looking at a pattern
totally unlike the national picture. Drunkeness accounts for by
far the most arrests nationally; in fact one-third of all
the arrests recorded in the United States in 1965 were for the
single infraction of public drunkenness. Disorderly conduct, a
vague rubric, garnered about a tenth of all arrests. Larceny,
driving under the influence of alcohol, simple assault, burglary,
violation of the liquor laws, vagrancy, gambling, and motor vehicle
theft, constituted the eight next most frequent offenses.
No single crime among my respondents on the
other hand attracted more than a few scattered arrests, except
for participation in political demonstrations. Over a third of
their arrests (nineteen out of fifty-five) were for protesting,
picketing, or demonstratingnonviolently. We only reveal our
political biases if we conceive of these "crimes" as
criminal in the conventional sense. If we wish to hold that by
smoking marijuana, our sense of ideological involvement will be
heightened, we will please the proclivities of the marijuana-smoking
subculture, and probably proponents of the "far right"
as well, who oppose both marijuana and political demonstrations.
But to call this activity a crime in any but the formal sense
makes us a part of the ideological machinery which structures
the "politics of reality" by giving a discrediting label
to anything that opposes its definition of the truth.
If we search the remaining arrests, a few do not fall within our
conception of a "conventional" crime. One interviewee,
an artist, dancer, jewelry designer, and mime performer, was arrested
for wearing a painted mime face, illegal under an obscure local
ordinance. Thus, a "crime" was committed, and an arrest
made. Can we say, therefore, that the marijuana subculture had
anything to do with this particular respondent's "criminal
tendencies"? Twelve of the fifty-five arrests took place
before the respondent was "turned on" to marijuana.
(A policeman scrutinizing this would conclude that it is a "criminal
type" who eventually turns to drugs.)
In view of the police supposition that marijuana causes crime,
particularly crimes of violence, it might be instructive to look
at the relationship, if any, that exists between the rate of crime
and the amount of marijuana the respondent smokes. The
reasoning would be that, if it is true that the drug stimulates
a physical and mental state which is dangerous and criminogenic,
then the more the person experiences this state, the greater his
likelihood of committing crimes, and the greater his chances of
being arrested. We would expect the daily smoker, who is
high from two to possibly eighteen hours every day, highly likely
to be arrested, because he is in a "criminal" state
of mind for such long periods of time. To test this proposition
(an informal test, neither rigorous nor conclusive) we excluded
all the "political" crimes (arrests for nonviolent demonstrations).
(Interestingly enough, these were by far most common among the
least frequent smokers, and least common among the most
frequent smokers.) We are then left with twenty-one arrests for
"serious" crimes committed by fifteen respondents. These
crimes include nonmarijuana narcotics possession, disorderly conduct,
drunkenness, burglary, assault, auto theft, serving liquor to
a minor, and larceny. Do heavy marijuana smokers commit these
crimes more frequently than infrequent smokers? We are surprised
to discover that according to our study, they do not commit crimes
any more frequently. Furthermore, there appears to be no relationship
whatsoever between the amount the respondent smokes and his likelihood
of arrest. Three of our daily smokers had been arrested for "serious"
crimes; three of those who smoked three to six times a week were
arrested for these crimes; three of our one to two times weekly
smokers were so arrested, three of the respondents who smoked
one to four times monthly were arrested, and three of the less
than monthly users were arrested for these crimes. Although these
numbers are extremely small, the fact of their perfect dispersal
is perhaps indicative of the lack of a crime-inducing effect of
the drug. It is, at any rate, a proposition which ought to be
tested more systematically in the future with more complete data.
For the moment, there are indications that point to the fact that
the marijuana smoker is no more criminal than the rest of the
A Note on the Sociology of Crime
The typical smoker's attitude toward the law cannot be thought
of simply as a general "disrespect for law," that is,
any and all laws. Law is not thought of as evil by users simply
because it is law. Certain laws are thought of as good and
others as evil. Obviously, the marijuana laws are rejected as
unjust. (Among our respondents, 95 percent wanted to do away with
the marijuana laws.) But simply because "the law is the law"
does not make it just. There is a selectivity accorded
to laws. Therefore, this inclination toward greater deviance in
general actually predisposes users to disobey only certain
laws. Users do not question the justice of many laws, particularly
laws connected with violencearmed robbery, rape, mayhem, murder,
assault. Others of a political character will be more readily
rejected. As I pointed out, my interviewees were far more likely
to commit and be arrested for crimes connected with political
demonstrations than any other type of crime. Marijuana users are
also probably more likely to commit sex crimes than nonusers.
Not sex crimes connected with violence or coercion, such as rape,
child molestation, or exhibitionism; probably not even sexual
crimes that result in arrest. But many sexual activities are criminal:
fellatio, cunnilingus, premarital intercourse, adultery, pornography,
abortion, sodomy, homosexuality. There is no doubt in my mind
that users are far more likely to commit these "harmless"
sex crimes than nonusers. Their greater willingness to deviate,
to experiment, to disregard conventional sexual mores, probably
indicates a more general unconcern for norms that, they think,
The word "criminal" conjures up in the mind a definite
stereotype. When we think of crime, we generally think of violent
crimes. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that marijuana
users probably commit violent crimes no more than, and possibly
less than, the population at large. But violent crimes are only
a small fraction of all crimes. Many activities have become criminalized.
The designation "criminal" is social, not legal. A person
who has technically breached the law is technically a "criminal."
Yet society has decided which of these breaches will qualify its
transgressor for the title of criminal, and which will not. Our
conception of what is criminal is not governed by the laws, but
by the norms.
The conventionally inclined will bridle at the thought of the
tendency of so many marijuana users picking and choosing which
laws they will obey and which they will ignore. Actually, we all
do this. We are all lawbreakers in one way or another. The landlord
with inspection violations, the dubious and illegal business practices
of many ghetto merchants, the monopolistic and price-fixing tendencies
of some large corporations, the employer who pays wages under
the minimum wageall are breaking the law (although these laws
are not generally covered by the umbrella of "criminal"
law). But when we think of "law and order," we do not
include these infractions; we think of them merely as sharp business
practices. The policeman who uses illegal and overly violent methods
to arrest a suspect  is
violating the law, but our very selective perception of this phenomenonwhat
is law and order, and what is illegal and disorderlyexcludes
the violent policeman. If any of the perpetrators of such acts
is ever prosecuted for their infractions and actually serves a
prison sentencesuch as happened with General Electric's executives
a few years agomany of us are outraged, because the price-fixing
executive does not conform to our stereotype of a criminal and
his crime does not fit our notion of what crime is.
Thus, in the strict sense, the question of the greater "criminal"
activity of marijuana users is meaningless. Crime is not a unitary
phenomenon. We would not expect anything to have a systematic
relationship with all kinds of crime, since some types of crime
will be found to vary inversely with other types. For instance,
violators of price-fixing statutes will certainly have a lower
crime rate compared with other types of crimeviolent crime,
for instancethan the population at large.
Thus, it is impossible to give a meaningful answer to the simple
question as to the greater criminality of marijuana smokers, because
the concept of crime is so vague. It would, of course, be possible
to devise an overall crime rate for both groups, or for user and
nonuser matched samples. But such a figure would not be very useful
or indicative of anything in general; because in order to answer
the question intelligibly, it would be necessary to know the reasons
for which the question was asked. Crimes vary in nature. What
is it that we are trying to determine by asking the question?
The overall fact of having technically breached this or that law?
This might be useful for propaganda purposesto say that users
are a highly "criminal" population, if that is true,
in order to cast doubt on them, as well as on the use of marijuanabut
not if we are trying to understand the nature of society and what
makes it work as it does. At the very least, we would have to
separate out the various kinds of crimes which we are interested
* I would like to thank Professor John Kaplan for giving me the
idea for writing this chapter, which is heavily indebted to his
"Marijuana and Aggression," a chapter in Marijuana:
The New Prohibition, forthcoming. (back)
N O T E S
1. Earle Albert Rowell and Robert Rowell, On the Trail of Marihuana:
The Weed of Madness (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press
Publishing Association, 1939), pp. 13, 46,48, 67. (back)
2. We must keep in mind the fact that possession of marijuana
is itself a crime, so that by definition any marijuana
user is a "criminal." Obviously, we must exclude marijuana
use from our concept of crime, otherwise our discussion would
be a tautologyit would be true by definition. Thus, when we
refer to crime, we assume that it means nonmarijuana crimes. (back)
3. The federal position may in flux. Under Henry L. Giordano,
Harry Anslinger's hand-picked successor, the Bureau of Narcotics
took the position that marijuana caused crime. The present director,
John E. Ingersoll, appears to be in the process of re-evaluating
the Bureau's past policies. In a recent speech to the National
Academy of Science, he said that "established positions,
where no longer valid, will no longer be maintained." It
is too early to discern what direction this policy will take.
However, the fact that Ingersoll has asked Congress recently to
lower the federal penalties on marijuana possession may very well
indicate that the Bureau's position on the criminogenics of marijuana
has softened considerably. (back)
4. Henry L. Giordano, "MarihuanaA Calling Card to Narcotic
Addiction," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 37, no. 1l
(November 1968): 2. (back)
5. New York State Department of Health, "Violence Direct
Result of Marijuana, Says Bellizzi, State Health Official Cites
27 Murders by Drug Users, New York State Department of Health
Weekly Bulletin 20, no. 26 (June 26, 1967): 101. (back)
6. Thorvald T. Brown, The Enigma of
Drug Addiction (Springfield, III.: Charles C Thomas, 1961),
pp. 61, 62. (back)
7. Edward R. Bloomquist, Marijuana (Beverly Hills, Calif.:
Glencoe Press, 1968), p 97 (back)
8. Louria The Drug Scene, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968),
p. 110. (back)
9. Rosweil D. Johnson, "Medico-Social Aspects of Marijuana,
The Rhode Island Medical Journal 51 (March 1968): 176,
10. Thomas Ciesla, Testimony, in Hearings on Marijuana Laws
Before the California Public Health and Safety Committee (Los
Angeles, October 18, 1967, morning session), transcript, pp. 110-l
l 1. (back)
11. Bloomquist, op. cit., p. 93. (back)
12. Herbert Blumer et al., The World
of Youthful Drug Use (Berkeley: University of California,
School of Criminology, January 1967), p. 30. (back)
13. James C. Munch, "Marihuana and
Crime," United Nations Bulletin on Narcotics 18, no.
2 ( April-June 1966): 15-22; Bloomquist, op. cit., pp.
4-5; New York Department of Health, op. cit., p. 101; Giordano,
op. cit., pp. 4-5; Donald E. Miller, Marihuana: The Law
and Its Enforcement," Suffolk University Law Review 3
(Fall 1968): 86 87; Los Angeles Police Department, "Facts
About Marijuana," pamphlet (Los Angeles: Narcotic Educational
Foundation of America, n.d. [circa 1968]), pp. 7-8; Martin Lordi,
"The Truth about Marijuana: Stepping Stone to Destruction,'
leaflet 1, No. 5 (Newark, New Jersey: The Essex County Youth and
Economic Rehabilitation Commission, June 967), n-p (back)
14. The President's Commission on Law
Enforcement and Administration of Justice, "Crime in America,"
in The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society (Washington:
U.S. Government Printing Office, lg67), Table 8. (back)
15. This fact does not contradict the
fact that users often fear arrest. But they typically think in
terms of "don't get caught"i.e., in largely tactical
terms. They do not feel guilty about having broken the law
because they do not feel that the law is just. But regardless
of whether it is just or not, users cannot ignore it. (back)
16. Robert Osterman, A Report in Depth
on Crime in America (Silver Spring, Md.: The National Observer,
1966), p. 94.
It is a curious irony of this position that the most effective
means of reducing the putative link between marijuana and crime
is to decriminalize marijuana. If it were not illegal to use,
own, buy, and sell marijuana, then not only criminals would use
it, and one need not associate with criminals to buy it. So that
the user is not seduced into a life of crime. No adherent of this
position, however, would be willing to accept its conclusions.
17. Gene R. Haslip, "Current Issues
in the Prevention and Control of the Marihuana Abuse" (Paper
presented to the First National Conference on Student Drug Involvement
sponsored by the United States National Student Association at
the University of Maryland, August 16,1967), pp. 4-6. (back)
18. Giordano, op. cit., p. 4. Some of
the crimes gathered in this pseudo-study are presented in Louis
C. Wyman, "Examples of Marihuana and Crime,' Congressional
Record, April 4, 1968, pp. E2753-E2754. I would like to thank
Dr. Richards for her assistance on these facts, in spite of my
disagreement with the Bureau's policies. (back)
19. Los Angeles Police Department, op.
cit., pp. 6-8. (back)
20. Munch, op. cit. (back)
21. The question of a "lethal dose"
is debatable. Since marijuana is not toxic in the same way that
alcohol is there is no known lethal dosage. However, any agent,
including water, has some level at which it may be fatal, if only
for the fact that it obstructs normal and vital bodily processes.
It is probably impossible to smoke a lethal dose of marijuanathe
smoker would have passed out long before his intake reached a
level of danger to his bodybut one can probably ingest a fatal
amount by eating, simply because the effects will be felt long
after intake occurs; the same could be said for any substance,
however inert. (back)
22. Published by the Linacre Press, in
Washington, in 1949. (back)
23. Wolff, op. cit., pp. 52, 53, 50, 45. (back)
24. Ibid., pp. 46, 47. (back)
25. Ibid., p. 53. (back)
26. Ibid., p. 49. (back)
27. Martin Lordi, "The Truth about Marijuana" Letter
to the Editor, Playboy, June 68, p. 163. (back)
28. Wolff, op. cit., p. 22. (back)
29. Munch, op. cit., p. 17. (back)
30. Wolff, op. cit., pp. 13, 23-27, 31, 33-36, 37, 39.
31. Vogel, op. cit., pp. 1, 3, 5, 6. (back)
32. Bloomquist, Marijuana, p. 95; Miller, op. cit.,
p. 85; Munch, op. cit., pp. 15, 22; Haslip, op.
cit., p. 5. (back)
33. Gurbakhsh Singh Chopra, "Man and Marijuana," The
International Journal of the Addictions 4 (June 1969): 240.
34. H. B. M. Murphy, "The Cannabis Habit," United Nations
Bulletin on Narcotics, no. 1 (January-March 1963): 13-23;
cited at Chopra, op. cit., pt 240. (back)
35. C. G. Gardikas, "Hashish and Crime," Enkephalos
2, no. 3 (1950): 201-211. (back)
36. For a first-person account of the horrors of Greek prisons
written by an American arrested and sentenced for selling hashish
in Greece, see the essay by Neal Phillips, "Notes From Tartaros,"
in George Andrews and Simon Vinkenoog, eds., The Book of Grass
(London: Peter Owen, 1967), pp. 230-234. (back)
37. The President's Commission, op. cit., Table 2, p. 20.
38. Ibid. (back)
39. For three excellent essays discussing illegal police practicesmost
of which are generally considered within the profession good police
work and are never viewed by society as "criminal",
see Paul Chevigny, Police Power (New York: Pantheon, 1969);
Jerome Skolnick, Justice Without Trial (New York: Wiley,
1966), and The Politics of Protest (New York: Ballantine,