Schaffer Library of Drug Policy

Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding

Marihuana and the Problem of Marihuana - Symbolism

US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

Table of Contents
I. Marihuana and the Problem of Marihuana
Origins of the Marihuana Problem
The Need for Perspective
Formulating Marihuana Policy
The Report
II. Marihuana Use and Its Effects
The Marihuana User
Profiles of Users
Becoming a Marihuana User
Becoming a Multidrug User
Effects of Marihuana on the User
Effects Related to Pattern Use
Immediate Drug Effects
ShortTerm Effects
Long Term Effects
Very Long Term Effects
III. Social Impact of Marihuana Use
IV. Social Response to Marihuana Use
V. Marihuana and Social Policy
Drugs in a Free Society
A Social Control Policy for Marihuana
Implementing the Discouragement Policy
A Final Comment
Ancillary Recommendations
Legal and Law Enforcement Recommendations
Medical Recommendations
Other Recommendations
Letter of Transmittal
Members and Staff
History of Marihuana Use: Medical and Intoxicant
II. Biological Effects of Marihuana
Botanical and Chemical Considerations
Factors Influencing Psychopharmacological Effect
Acute Effects of Marihuana (Delta 9 THC)
Effects of Short-Term or Subacute Use
Effects of Long-Term Cannabis Use
Investigations of Very Heavy Very Long-Term Cannabis Users
III. Marihuana and Public Safety
Marihuana and Crime
Marihuana and Driving
Marihuana - Public Health and Welfare
Assessment of Perceived Risks
Preventive Public Health Concerns
Marihuana and the Dominant Social Order
The World of Youth
Why Society Feels Threatened
The Changing Social Scene
Problems in Assessing the Effects of Marihuana
Marihuana and Violence
Marihuana and (Non-Violent) Crime
Summary and Conclusions: Marihuana and Crime
Marihuana and Driving
History of Marihuana Legislation
History of Alcohol Prohibition
History of Tobacco Regulation
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The National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding

I -- marihuana and the problem of marihuana


The symbolic aspects of marihuana are the, most intangible of the items to which the Commission must address itself, and yet they may be at the heart of the marihuana problem. Use of marihuana was, and still is, age-specific. It was youth-related at a time in American history when the adult society was alarmed by the implications of the youth " movement": defiance of the established order, the adoption of new life styles, the emergence of "street people," campus unrest, drug use, communal living, protest politics, and even political radicalism. In an age characterized by the so-called generation gap, marihuana symbolizes the cultural divide.

For youth, marihuana became a convenient symbol of disaffection with traditional society, an allure which supplemented its recreational attraction. Smoking marihuana may have appealed to large numbers of youth who opposed certain policies or trends, but who maintained faith in the American system as a whole. In ;a time when symbolic speech is often preferred to the literal form, marihuana was a convenient instrument of mini-protest. It was also an agent of group solidarity, as the widely-publicized rock concerts so well illustrate.

For the adult society, the decade of the sixties was a distressing time. The net effect of racial unrest, campus disruption, political assassination, economic woes and an unpopular war was widespread uneasiness. Attending a general fear that the nation was witnessing its own disintegration was a desire to shore up our institutions and hold the line. That line was easy to define where drugs, particularly marihuana, were concerned.

Use of drugs, including marihuana, is against the law. For many, marihuana symbolized disorder in a society frustrated by increasing lawlessness. Insistence on application of the law tended also to harden views, thereby escalating still further the use of marihuana as a symbolic issue.

The social conflicts underlying the drug's symbolic status have dissipated somewhat in the past few years; and in some ways, the Commission has similarly noted a partial deflation of the marihuana problem and of the emotionalism surrounding it. We are hopeful that our attempt to clarify the scientific and normative dimensions of marihuana use will further deemphasize, the problem orientation and facilitate rational decision-making.

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