Schaffer Library of Drug Policy

Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding

Marihuana and the Problem of Marihuana - LEGAL 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


Perhaps the major impediment to rational decision-making is the tendency to think only in terms of the legal system in general and of the criminal justice system in particular. This thinking is certainly understandable, given the history of marihuana's involvement with the criminal law. Nonetheless, the law does not exist in a social vacuum, and legal alternatives can be evaluated only with reference to the values and policies which they are designed to implement and the social context in which they are designed to operate.

Legal fallacies are apparent on both sides of the marihuana controversy. Many of the persons opposed to marihuana use look exclusively to the law for social control. This reliance on the law is stronger today because many of our fellow citizens are uneasy about the diminishing effectiveness of our other institutions, particularly when the non-legal institutions have been relatively lax in controlling drug related behavior. Increasing reliance is placed upon the legal system to act not only as policeman, but as father confessor, disciplinarian, educator, rehabilitator and standard-bearer of our moral code. Little or no thought is given to what impact this over-reliance on the law has on the viability of other social institutions, not to mention it's effect on the legal process.

A society opposed to marihuana use need not implement that policy through the criminal law. Non-legal institutions, such as the church, the school and the family, have great potential for molding individual behavior. Accordingly, the policy-maker must delicately assess the capacity of the legal system to accomplish its task and must consider the mutual impact of legal and non-legal institutions in achieving social objectives.

We recognize the short-sightedness of an absolute assumption that the criminal law is the necessary tool for implementing a social policy opposed to marihuana use. But equally short-sighted is the opposing contention which attempts to analyze the law separately from its underlying social policy objective. This argument assumes that if the law isn't working, or if the costs of enforcing the law outweigh its benefits, the law should, therefore, be repealed.

If society feels strongly enough about the impropriety of a certain behavior, it may choose to utilize the criminal law even though the behavior is largely invisible and will be minimized only through effective operation of other agencies of social control. Laws against incest and child-beating are good examples. In weighing the costs and benefits of a particular law, one must provide a scale and a system of weights. The scale is the normative classification of behavior, and the system of weights is the largely subjective evaluation of the importance of the values breached by the behavior. This weighing process is what is open to dispute.

In sum, no law works alone. Where an unquestioned consensus exists about the undesirability of a particular behavior and all social institutions are allied in the effort to prevent it, as is the case with murder and theft, the law can be said to "work" even though some murders and thefts may still be committed. Where society is ambivalent about its attitude toward the behavior and other institutions are not committed to its discouragement, the law cannot be said to be working, even though many people may not engage in the behavior because it is against the law.

The question is whether the social policy, which the law is designed to, implement, is being achieved to a satisfactory extent. To determine the role of law regarding marihuana, we must first look to society's values and aspirations, and then define the social policy objective. If we seek to discourage certain marihuana-related behavior, we must carefully assess the role of the legal system in achieving that objective.


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