Schaffer Library of Drug Policy

Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding

Marihuana and the Problem of Marihuana - SOCIOLOGICAL OVERSIMPLIFICATION

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


Public debate and decision-making in our society suffer from the glorification of statistical data. After a particular social phenomenon, such as marihuana use, has been defined as a problem, armies of social scientific researchers set out to analyze and describe the problem. A sophisticated computer technology instantly translates millions of bits of data into correlations, probabilities and trends. The most striking findings are then fed to a data-hungry public. The result is data overload.

Descriptive information about the nature and scope of marihuana use as a behavior is an essential component of the policy-maker's knowledge-base. However, such information does not in itself have social policy implications. The policy-maker must define goals and evaluate means; only after he asks the right questions will statistical data suggest useful answers. Unfortunately, a tendency exists in the marihuana debate to assign prescriptive meanings to descriptive data without testing the underlying assumptions. Further, the data have often been accumulating in a fragmented way. No overall plan was devised beforehand; the result has been an ad hoc use of available data triggered by individual research interests rather than by long-term policy needs.

What does it mean that 24 million people have tried marihuana? Some have suggested that it means marihuana ought to be legalized. But does it mean the same thing if 15 million tried the drug once and have decided not to use it again? And does it mean the same thing if popular interest in the drug turns out to be a passing fancy, which wanes as suddenly as it waxed?

On the other side of the controversy, what does it mean that a substantial percentage of the public would favor increased penalties for marihuana use? The prescriptive implications of a democratic impulse may be offset by a preference for individual freedom of choice. Also, this segment of public opinion may have been influenced by incorrect information, such as unwarranted belief in marihuana's lethality or addiction potential. So, although the policy-maker must be aware of political realities, he must not allow his function to be supplanted by public opinion polls. This is an area which requires both awareness of public attitudes and willingness to assert leadership based on the best information available.


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