(Has the World Gone to Pot?)
By Joel Fort, M.D.*
*Lecturer (Professor), School of Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley, and San Francisco State College; founder and former Director Center for Special Problems, San Francisco Health Department; former Consultant on Drug Abuse, World Health Organization and United Nations; Consultant to U.S. National Student Association, Peace Corps and Office of Economics Opportunity; co-author "Utopia" and "Problems and Prospects of LSD."
Journal of Psychedelic Drugs, volume II, issue 1,1968
Albert Camus wrote, "Let us rejoice as men because a prolonged hoax has collapsed and we see clearly what threatens us." With the title A World View of Marijuana, I choose to emphasize that much of what we think and believe about this and other complicated subjects is a product of ethnocentrism, bias, and a total lack of logic, rationality and perspective. Marijuana is much more a symbol that it is a drug, and this accounts for most of the extremism, polarization, and confusion. Along with the international communist conspiracy, the marijuana mythology is a primary religious belief, the primary source of action and attitude of many Americans. Belief systems, of course, are very difficult to change and this one is no exception.
To begin the world perspective, I want to quote the Indian Hemp Commission Report of 1893-1894. You might think from the year that this was a long outdated point or view, just as many people think that Christ and his philosophy is long outdated. The fact is that the perspective and the rationality that they brought to bear in the 3000 pages of their report including testimony from 1093 witnesses from all religions of India and Pakistan, professionals and laymen, is still a model for our time. Here are the questions that they put to the witnesses.
"What opportunities have you had of obtaining information regarding matters pertaining to Hemp drugs in regard to which your answers are framed? What classes and what proportion of people, eat, drink or smoke hemp drugs? In what localities is the use of these drugs on the increase or decrease? What proportion of the consumers are: A. Habitual moderate; B. Habitual excessive; C. Occasional moderate;
D. Occasional excessive consumers. To what extent is the consumption of each of these drugs practiced in solitude or in company? Is there a tendency for the moderate habit to develop into the excessive? If not beneficial, do you consider the moderate use to be harmless? Give reasons for your answer, (an unusual question). Does the habitual moderate use produce any noxious effects; physical, mental, or moral? Do you think that the cultivation of the hemp plant should be in any way controlled? Would this be feasible? If so, indicate the method by which such control could be exercised.
"Would it be feasible to prohibit the use of these drugs? Would the drug be consumed illicitly? How could the prohibition be enforced? Would the prohibition be followed by recourse to alcohol or other drugs?"
One should ask what there is about contemporary American Life that has substituted passion and fanaticism for the calmness and rationality that I think these questions communicate to us.
The word "drug" in the context that you read about it in the newspapers, is quite different from the true context, which includes, of course, aspirin, antibiotics, and antihistamines. The typical selective distortions of the drug issue can be illustrated as follows. I could talk to you about aspirin for about 30 minutes indicating that several thousand young people die each year from this drug; that it produces toxic reations, and allergic responses; that, in lower animals, it produces birth defects; and that after all the years of use, nobody has the slightest idea how the drug works on the brain, etc. I could then call for mandatory five year prison sentences for all users of this drug while trying to engender a blanket hysteria that would drive you out of your homes for a Mother's March or Father's March on your state capitol. This is not ana typical example of what we have done through selectively distorting information about other drugs and failing to look at drugs in the full context.
Within the mind altering drug area itself, one family of all drugs, again we have a far different picture than is commonly perceived. If we had a visitor from Mars looking at our newspapers, television, etc., he would logically conclude that marijuana and LSD are our most important problems. More important than racial conflict, poverty, disease, and crimes such as murder, rape, and theft which are increasing by more than 30% per year in our major cities. At the same time, the drug police spy upon and entrap high schools and college student possessors of marijuana or other drugs. Another one of the many hypocrisies that we see in this complicated field.
The mind-altering drug context really begins with the most widely used and abused of all mind-altering drugs by young and old alike -- alcohol -- and illegally used by those under 21. The second most extensive pattern of use and abuse including illegality involves nicotine and tobacco. Those schools which have established policies of expulsion and often arrest and imprisonment for illegal drug usage if they were being consistent and nonhypocritical, would have to expel all users of alcohol and tobacco as well as users of marijuana and LSD. Of course they and the police are not doing it. If they did, not only would it be enormously destructive, but it would for the first time eliminate over crowing in the schools.
Mind-altering drugs go on to include sedative, depressants, tranquilizers, LSD-type drugs (including mescaline, psilocycbin, STP, DMT, etc.), narcotics and then a wide range of miscellaneous substances (glue, gasoline, nutmeg, nitrous oxide, compoz, etc.). This is not only of theoretical importance, but should help us to recognize the impossibility of dealing with psychoactive drug use simply by passing criminal laws.
Americans, are perhaps more than other peoples, seekers and acceptors of oversimplification. We tend to mistakenly think that all problems are solved by passing a law or spending money. It should by now be obvious that the answers to drug usage, lie in the reasons why people want and feel that they need these substances. Any solution or pseudo-solution that ignores these roots is doomed to failure.
How we label or conceptualize something such as marijuana will often be the sole determinant of our conclusions on risk, policies, etc. Marijuana is not now, and never was, a "narcotic" in terms of the scientific definition of that word. Narcotics include opium, morphine, heroin, demerol, etc., used mainly to treat severe pain, cough, and diarrhea. Young people sought out knowledge and information on this subject that their elders were not willing to do. They found that marijuana had totally different properties than heroin and that it was false to call it a narcotic as does the law and the drug police. Then the latter invested the term "soft narcotic," differentiated from a so called "hard narcotic." Medically the term "soft narcotic" makes as much sense as "soft pregnancy." A drug is either a narcotic or it is not a narcotic.
It was one of many deliberate efforts to create fear and perpetuate a mythology about marijuana by tying it together with other drugs such as heroin (more recently LSD) about which a demonology had already been created. People now react to that fear symbolism, rather than to the actual drug and its users.
It is also somewhat misleading to describe or categorize marijuana as a psychedelic. It is sometimes talked about as a "mild" psychedelic which means consciousness or mind expanding or manifesting. It is difficult enough to define the normal boundaries of consciousness without determining to what extent these boundaries are expanded or contracted by a particular drug. Because no drug will consistently or invariably have a "psychedelic" effect and because most people who seek out and use marijuana do so for reasons other than psychedelic, it is not accurate to refer to marijuana by this term.
The concept of use needs to be broken down. For socially disapproved drugs any use is equated in the public mind with abuse or addiction, while with socially encouraged drugs such as alcohol or tobacco, almost all use including addictive and abusive use is equated with normal use. Thus we have a great paradox with marijuana use which is really defined in terms of pre-existing biases. The use of any drug can be on time, occasional or intermittent, regular, daily, heavy, or even other sub-categories. The basic pattern of use in some thirty countries where I have studied it, is much more analogous to the pattern of use of alcohol. It is sought out for euphoria, relaxation, to socialize, to conform with ones peers, and to escape rather than for many grand mystical, religious, or creative reason. Even more inaccurate and confusing is the description of the drug as a "hallucinogen" by those laws (and police) which don't lump it with "narcotics." Few users have hallucinations after using pot, perhaps more than with alcohol where "alcoholic hallucinosis" has been known for decades and perhaps less, butuhallucinogen" is a vague descriptive category anyway, unlike specific pharmacological categories such as sedative or stimulant.
Historically we first read about marijuana in 2723 B.C., where it was mentioned in a Chinese pharmacoepia. Following that, the next major historical reference occurs around 1500 B.C. in India. Other important dates include 1753 A.D. when Linneas first classified the plant as Cannabis sativa, related to the fig plant and to hops. The pattern and extent of use over the centuries has varied enormously. In some countries such as India (and Pakistan) many millions of people have used cannibis in various forms and preparations for millenia.
Millions of people continue to use marijuana or cannabis there, buying it in some states of India in shops comparable to our bars. One goes in and orders a beverage, bhang, made by mixing together some chopped up components of the plant with water, almonds, or spices and squeezing out the resulting liquid concoction into a glass. The person drinks it down perhaps exchanging a few words with the other people in the shop and the "bartender," then leaves. It has not been reported and I have not seen any of them rush out seeking heroin, committing rape, or violence, or doing the other dangerous things we have been taught occur with marijuana use.
Some 250,000,000 people are using marijuana, kif, bhang, ganja, maconha, dagga, hashish, etc. in various parts of the world.
This involves many different countries on all continents: Brazil, all regions of Africa (North, South East and West), Mexico and Central America, the West Indies, Europe, the middle East, the United States, and Canada, and a number of Asian countries, particularly India, Pakistan, Iran, and Nepal-Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. This is a general outline of the world epidemology of marijuana or cannabis use.
The United States of America
In this country, we have a much different situation. The pattern of use here has shifted fairly rapidly over the past 5 to 10 years from relatively small numbers of people to very large numbers somewhere in excess of six million. Naturally you cannot do a U.S. Census study of marijuana users, and only with some difficulty can you do reliable sociological surveys, but if the surveys that have been done are extrapolated to the broader population the six million figure would be a conservative estimate of the present pattern.
I think more important than the absolute number involved is the pervasiveness of use through all socioeconomic and occupational classes. It is used by lawyers, doctors, judges, policemen, journalists, artists, housewives, students, hippies, businessmen, Mexican-Americans, Negroes, Hollywood movie stars, Peace Corpsmen abroad, divorcees in Miami beach, Viet-Nam soldiers, California based sailors, New Left, Old Right, and every other category that you might think of. Simply because vast numbers of people do, or believe something, of course does not make it desirable, necessary, or beneficial. Millions of people have done all kinds of things in human history that were not "right," or "best," or "good." The belief that the world was flat is one example of that. Direct and indirect world wide participation in the annihilation of particular peoples, black, Jewish, Armenian, etc, is another example. In any case, the reality of marijuana use indicates a quite different situation from what we are told, and shows the ineffectiveness and hypocrisy of our policies.
One survey found that 10% of a broad cross section of the San Francisco adult population had used marijuana at one time or other.
A national college survey indicated that 15% of male students in both rural and urban areas of the country have used marijuana at one time or another. Half that number were regular users (not necessarily daily or heavy use, but simply any pattern of regularity). In urban areas as many as 30 to 50% of high school and college students experiment with the drug at one time or another.
As long as marijuana use was a matter of out-groups in American society, as in the 1930's, it was much easier politically to pass and enforce extreme and irrational laws, the outgroups, of course, being Negroes, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, jazz musicians, and intellectuals. As the pattern of use has shifted and broadened it is ironic and another reflection of the hypocrisy of American society, that only now is concern being expressed about these laws. "Respectable" people are involved in marijuana usage, and for the first time many wonder whether the best interests of society and of the individual are served by making criminals out of all these people giving them arrest records, and sending them to jail or prison to learn real crime and homosexuality, and to become dehumanized. Any society that considers this progress, rational, and meaningful is a sick society indeed.
Some ancient polarities regarding marijuana are still with us. The Chinese referred to cannibis variously as the "giver of delight" or the "Liberator of sin," and these concepts still dominate much of our thinking. The liberator of sin concept was applied to cannibis because some people said that they were happier or felt better after taking it. Obviously this kind of view long antedates the American Puritan tradition or Victorian morality. The best thing that can be said about this concept is what H. L. Menchken said of Puritanism: "The haunting fear that someone somewhere may be happy." The (Asian) Indians later described cannabis as the "heavingly guide" or "soother of grief," emphasizing some of the reasons why it was used then, and why it is used presently.
How did we arrive at our present beliefs regarding marijuana? lt has long been known that there are certain individuals in any society that function as moral entrepreneurs. They define for us what is a problem and what is not a problem; what is evil and what is good; what should be dealt with by criminal law and what should be ignored. From such moral entrepreneurship on the part of certain individuals (Anslinger and company), agencies (Federal Bureau of Narcotics and its local carbon copies; United Nations) and politicians comes our present belief.
I will now dissect one by one some of the major planks of the marijuana demonology. One of the hoariest involves the drug as a cause of violence, crime, and assassination.The assassination component is the oldest, starting in the 12th century. We are told by such authorities as the Federal Bureau of Narcotics presumably after extensive philosophical, historical, and anthropological study that people were taught to be assassins by consuming the vicious substance, hashish, which they equate with marijuana. In one sense there is
not a significant distinction because hashish is simply the more concentrated form of the plant's resin and its active principal tetrahydrocannabinol. The parellel would be equating 12 ounces of vodka and 12 ounces of beer ignoring the different concentrations of the drug, alcohol. If you take a small amount of vodka or hashish, you get the same effective dosage as a large amount of beer or a large amount of crude marijuana. The first step in the chain of reasoning linking marijuana to assassination is the alleged derivation of the word assassin from the Arabic for hashish. The leader of the sect that committed assassinations for political and religious reasons was Hussan and assassin was probably derived from this name. The actual drugs that were used in connection with the killings were wine and opium. Marijuana or cannabis wasn't even involved according to the more reliable historical accounts.
Furthermore according to Marco Polo and other contemporary sources, the men were taken to a garden paradise where they were surrounded by beautiful women who were made available to them for recreation. They were then taken away from the beautiful women and the drugs, alcohol and opium, and they were told that if they hoped to return to this they would have to adhere to their religious belief that assassination of their enemies was desirable. Therefore if anything has a causal relationship to this it was exposure to and then separation from beautiful women. Perhaps we should make them illegal and create a mythology about their vast dangers to society, which may perhaps be true but in a different sense.
Then we have the stepping stone theory. The idea that one who uses marijuana inevitably steps up to "hard drugs." The stepping stone theory has as much validity as the domino theory in our foreign policy, both being deliberate creations of those who want to perpetuate policies that are otherwise untenable by adding to fear and hysteria.
The first step was in 1937, in a situation where completely anecdotal and fraudulent testimony was being presented to Congress by Anslinger when he was asked if there was any relationship between marijuana and heroin users. Even in the context where one could say anything and have it accepted as gospel he stated there was no relationship. Any association that later developed was a direct effect and consequence of the laws that were enacted and of our system of implementing them. As it was driven underground, the traffic in marijuana was brought together with heroin as the same dealers began to supply both, and as ghetto dwellers who sought one learned about the other. lt thus came to be that when you inquired of heroin addicts in recent years whether they had used marijuana before, 50% to 70% would indicate that they had used marijuana before becoming addicted to heroin.
Among other things this points out a serious defect in American education. David Hume pointed out 200 years ago that when things occur in sequence it does not necessarily prove causality. The fact that somebody drank milk in infancy as did all heroin addicts, does not prove that milk caused the later phenomena. At about this point in the demonology if you were asked about the full context of mind-altering usage you would find that 95% of heroin addicts had used alcohol and tobacco as their first mind-altering drug and illegally in their teens, then moved up, or down, or sideways to marijuana. If we were to be consistent in our illogic and irrationality we would therefore not only make Ito crime to possess alcohol or tobacco but actually arrest and send to prison all people possessing them in order to "prevent" gravitation to marijuana or later to heroin. Our education should also teach us that a statement about heroin addicts who previously used grass tells us nothing about those users who do not use heroin. Such marijuana users were always in the majority and now they are astronomically in excess of that small number who do go on to use heroin.
It has been stated by drug police in testimony, before the federal and California Legislature, that marijuana is more dangerous than the hydrogen bomb. This would mean literally that smoking one marijuana cigarette has the same effect on the individual and on society as the total destruction of the population of San Francisco from blast, fire, and radiation damage. Strikingly the legislators who respond with praise and bigger budgets fail to express much concern or urgency about actual nuclear warfare.
In regard to psychosis or mental illness from pot, in the United States, mental hospital records do not show people admitted as the sole result of marijuana usage, and the scattered reports from abroad lack psychiatric examinations of the alleged cannabis psychotics or even elementary use of statistics and scientific method. There have been occasional panic reactions or actute psychotic reactions occurring spontaneously and in one experiment with some twenty heroin addicts, all cleared up within hours. These reactions emphasize the importance of personality or character structure in any mind-altering drug reaction, and indicates, of course, that no potent mind-altering drug is either totally harmless, or always harmful. Probably some reports incorrectly lump together perceptual changes, illusions, hallucinations, and "psychosis". Essentially then there is no problem of mental illness directly caused by marijuana use, but if there were it would be pale by comparison with that brought about by abuses of amphetamines, LSD, and most of all, alcohol. The selective distortions fail to mention that 20% of the people in our state mental hospitals are there for chronic psychoses from alcoholic brain damage, that millions of acute psychoses from D.T.'s (delerium tremens) have occurred, and in terms of crime 1/3 to 1/2 of all arrests are for drunkenness, and more than half the people in prison committed their crimes (murder, rape, theft, etc.) after alcohol consumption.
When the "narks" talk about sexual "excesses" from marijuana, the main thing to remember is that mind-altering drugs, whether marijuana, alcohol, or barbiturates do not have a uniform and consistent effect on sexuality or any other type of behavior. Marijuana cannot be said to be an aphrodisiac nor can it be said to produce impotence as other "narks" claim in other statements. There would be as many people that have their sexual enthusiasm dampened by use of any of the drugs as there would be people that find these feelings intensified.
Who have been the main sources of information and "knowledge" about marijuana, leading us to falsehood and fear? The drug police for decades have taken the demon story to schools and to the public using it to successfully aggrandize the power at their agencies, increase their appropriations year by year, and gain publicity and status. They have been joined by a variety of health bureaucrats and medical politicians from the remote worlds of administration, bacteriology, or anesthesiology who have found it rewarding to associate themselves with this established position while consigning tens of thousands of Americans to a living death in prisons. Included among the mythmakers are a number of Republican and Democratic politicians who have been successfully elected and re-elected on a "hard on drugs" platform, so to speak, where they have made stamping out the drug traffic (not including the ones they extensively use) the major issue of their campaign. Then there has been the sensationalizing of the mass media that has taken this issue totally out of context, made it seem much more important than it actually is, more important than racism, poverty, disease, real crime, or war. With no other subject do you see the front page and back page coverage given to marijuana or LSD use and arrests. When a burglar or rapist is apprehended, press releases from the responsible police are not sent out or published in the newspaper. But with marijuana they are, and this accounts for the glorification, the sensationalizing and the stimulation of interest and curiosity that we have experienced.
There is a Chinese fable I would like to cite to illuminate what is happening. It is the story of an advisor toon Emperor who said to his ruler, "suppose one man reported a tiger in the city. Would you believe the story?" The Emporer said, "no". The Advisor said, "suppose two men independently reported a tiger in the city, would you then believe the story?" The Emperor said, "no, I would still be inclined to doubt it." Then the advisor said, "well, what if three persons brought the some news?" "Yes, then I would believe it to be true," replied the Emperor. The Advisor said, "Ah, it is clear then that even though no tiger roams loose in the city, yet the reports of three men bring one into existence." That is the situation that we are faced with in terms of the marijuana mythology. People entirely without training or experience in pharmacology, psychiatry, law, medicine, public health, sociology, or anthropology, all of the professional fields of knowledge necessary for understanding the drug scene, have formulated erroneous concepts, made ineffective and harmful rules, and condemned the few who tried to do better. Knowledge and intellect are dismissed as irrelevant and unnecessary.
Now I want to examine some of the socio-cultural causes of drug use in this country. First we have the massive advertising. One to two million dollars a day is spent by the alcoholic beverage industry and the same amount by the tobacco industry to create images of sexual pleasure, happiness, and eternal youthfulness supposedly to be achieved by using these drugs at the earliest possible age and in the greatest possible amounts. This advertising is particularly beamed to television and radio programs watched by large proportions of young people such as sports championship games. In addition we have the multimillion dollar advertising of the over-the-counter sedative preparations. We are told that all we need in life to be successful are gentle little blue pills like Compoz, which are really combinations of anti-histamines, aspirin, and belladonna - which may occasionally and inconsistently induce sleep.
Second are the role models of the society. Parents and other adults often ask themselves why so many young people are using "drugs". Actually, we live in a drug-ridden or drug-saturated society, where there is very widespread use of a whole range of mind-altering drugs by acceptable, respectable, conventional people. The average American adult consumes three to five of these mind-altering drugs daily, including caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, tranquilizers, often a sleeping pill at night, and not uncommonly a stimulant the next morning to overcome the side effects of the night before.
The same pattern is communicated in the motion picture and TV programs that young people see. They see that everytime somebody seeks pleasure or recreation, everytime they socialize whether at a wedding or funeral, they must use one or more mind-altering drugs, a drink, a cigarette, or a pill. These are the role models of our youth who have learned "better living through chemistry" and "drugs are good business."
Specifically in regard to marijuana smoking, one of the causes, very much analogous to the introduction of the hypodermic needle and syringe in connection with morphine and heroin addiction, is tobacco cigarette smoking. Had not over the past few decades the campaign of the tobacco industry been successful in teaching people that it is somehow desirable, harmless, and beneficial to put a dried plant substance in their mouth, put it on fire, inhale the fumes, and then exhale them into the atmosphere to further pollute the air, we would not have the wide spread marijuana smoking that we have now. Howard Becker has clearly shown that smoking is learned behavior. One has to learn the technique, then how to interpret what happens as being due to the drug and pleasurable or desirable, before one will continue on to regular use of the substance.
Peer group pressures are another major socio-cultural cause of drug use, including marijuana use. This exists both among adults and young people, where conformity and over-conformity are the rule, even among those who rightly question the extent of this phenomenon in American society. Many young people like their parents go along with the crowds to be in, and to be accepted by their peers for the same reasons that people feel uncomfortabre—at cocktail parties when they don't drink alcohol. They are different, people will talk about them, criticize them, and distruct or avoid them. We all know that in the great society, the worst crime of all is to be a non-conformist.
Still another cause are the lies, misrepresentations, and out of context statements such as "marijuana will destroy your brain" or "marijuana will make you a junkie." When people have been lied to for a long period of time and discover that they have been lied to, when "wolf" has been cried too often, the most common reaction is to disbelieve anything and everything that has been told to them, even the things that are true. They conclude that the drug in question is harmless or even beneficial. We are now paying the penalty for this falsehood over so many years by the drug police and their collaborators, and for our default as individual professionals (and our organizations) who should have participated in education, treatment, and policy formulation, and are still not doing so despite the urgency.
The criminogenic effect of the laws themselves is an important cause of marijuana use. Paradoxically to label something as illegal or forbidden, makes it more attractive to some rather than deterring them from using it. This is especially true with those who are disaffiliated from or in revolt against the broader society as are many young people. Spinoza pointed this out long ago when he said, "He who determines everything by law, foments crime rather than lessens it." With "crimes without victims," crimes involving the state of being or doing something privately such as most sexual behavior, drug usage, or gambling, we see that many people are attracted to it and likely to do it when it is made criminal. We have seen this most clearly and extensively with the illegal use of alcohol by those under 21, and by practically everyone during Prohibition between 1919-1933, Marijuana has now joined alcohol and tobacco as a highly desired symbol and substance by the young.
Finally, among the major causative factors of drug use and abuse is the alienation of large segments of our society. The phenomenon of "dropping out" is very much talked about by certain bureaucrats and in our press. lt is associated with people that are labeled as disreputable, or as carriers of plague as the San Francisco Health and Police Departments have said about the "hippie." Again the reality is far different than that limited sterotype. "Dropping out" would, if properly defined, include millions of very conventional Americans who daily go home tense, frustrated, dissatisfied, bored with their vocational and leisure time pursuits, and immediately turn on with alcohol, tobacco, or tranquilizers. They fail to attack the roots of their alienation and dissatisfaction in the same manner as those they have condemned in connection with other patterns of drug usage. Indeed many millions of Americans, particularly the adult society, have dropped out of meaningful participation in life. For many in America, life is one vast emptiness. That is the essential tragedy, and that is why so many find that drugs are important or necessary for them.
The Real Drug Problems
The effects of the system of drug "control" are certainly one of the major tragedies that we need to review as they represent the most serious drug problem. In 1967 California alone accounted for more than 47,000 adult arrests and almost 15,000 juvenile arrests, most of them for marijuana law violations. Throughout the country hundreds of thousands of young people are being and will be hounded, harrassed, and arrested with their lives ruined in terms of blocking future educational and vocational opportunities. The figures are only one dimension of what is happening. Thinking about one particular individual human being whose spirit is killed and whose life is ruined by the barbarism of this system, gives an even more profound meaning to the implications and effects of our present policies. Between the draft law and the drug laws, we are decimating the youthful population of the U.S. We will have to pay the price for that in coming years.
We have eliminated the therapeutic medical use of marijuana despite its potential value and we have brought research to a standstill. Such suppression has been a deliberate practice of the Federal, state, and local narcotics police whose main interest has been in perpetuating their mythology, status, and power. Research could have been easily done 30 years ago, ten years ago, and even one year ago, and fairly quickly.
But then it would have become clear that marijuana was not the combination of the H-bomb and arsenic that it had been claimed to be. However, some risks or dangers not presently perceived might have been discovered, and thus the drug police policies have defeated their own expressed goal of showing the dangers.
The two to ten year sentence is fairly standard for marijuana possession, with one to ten years in some states for the first offense. Five to life penalties for sale are fairly common in state and federal laws about the first offense. Less well known is that judicial discretion has been taken away in a manner not done for any crimes except first degree murder. This means that in marijuana and narcotic offenses, judges throughout the country under state and Federal laws are unable to give probation or suspended sentences The individual often must serve a mandatory minimum sentence in prison with nopossibility of parole. Thus individualized sentencing and "correction," the things that are taken for granted in the general administration of "justice" in this country have been, for drug offenders, destroyed by the fanaticism of the drug police. Information suppression and dissemination of false information have been going on for years; as have attacks on individuals who have sought to bring rationality and humanity to bear, including efforts to suppress critical books and articles and eliminate opponents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Tactics. Professor Alfred Lindsmith, who pioneered in the study of opium addiction and long ago called for reform of our present system of dealing with drugs, had attempts made to stop publication of one of his books and the showing of a movie which treated drug abuse as a medical rather than a police problem. Basic reference work on cannabis such as the Indian Hemp Commission Report, the Mayor's Committee (La Guardia) Report, many other articles and books that could have shed light on this issue were unavailable and obscure until the book, The Marijuana Papers came out in 1965.
Even if marijuana did "lead to heroin" the heroin mythology needs to be questioned as do the social policies we apply to the "dope fiend" or "pot head." One good way of reexamining and understanding this subject is by means of the concept of a "hard" drug. Any meaningful definition of "hardness" of a drug must be in terms of social, vocational or health damage as with the concept of drug abuse. A "hard" drug would be one definitely impairing or destroying a person.
Let's look at a few examples of "hardness" to put this matter into proper context. Heroin which is talked about by drug police as a prototype of "hard stuff" has a high potential for producing physical dependency or addiction as to all narcotics (morphine, Demerol, etc.) Tobacco (nicotine and coal tars) has a very high potential for destroying lung tissue, for constricting coronary arteries and other blood vessels, and thus for bringing about death and disability from lung cancer, emphysema, bronchitis, and heart disease. That is certainly hardness by any rational definition, and might even be accepted as such by both the John Bircn Society and the American Communist Party.
Alcohol in excessive amounts taken over a long period of time is the hardest of all drugs. It produces irreversible damage to the liver (cirrhosis), brain, and peripheral nervous system, and accounts for millions of deaths and disabilities as does tobacco. Heroin with chronic heavy use paradoxically produces no permanent damage to the body and is therefore "softer" than alcohol in dimension. Alcohol is also "hard" in that it is a causative agent in 50-70% of the 53,000 deaths and 3,000,000 serious injuries from traffic accidents each year. Also involved in death are barbiturates and other sedatives, responsible for 15,000 suicides yearly. Mental illness, particularly psychosis, from a drug would be still another dimension of "hardness" beginning with the fact that 20% of the patients in mental hospitals are there for alcoholic brain disease. Amphetamine psychoses and LSD psychotic reactions would also be in this category.
The heroin mythology is without foundation to start with. Heroin as a depressant drug will usually produce quietude. The heroin user's criminality comes from his withdrawal symptons after he has become physically dependent, when he is forced to seek out sufficient funds through property crimes to support the habit in the illegal traffic. Projects such as the methadone maintenance program by Doctors Dole and Nyswander in New York (where the addict is maintained on the long acting narcotic methadone) have shown despite opposition of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics that the person can be taken out of the life of criminality when they no longer need heroin, 85% return to school or to a vocation of some kind. Crime is not an inherent effect of the drug at all, but rather one more effect of the American system of dealing with the drug problem.
It is not particularly rational or humane to concern oneself only with the marijuana laws. Why neglect heroin addicts simply because there may be only 100,000 or because they are mostly Negroes, Mexican-Americans, and Puerto Ricans. We should be equally concerned about making criminals out of any user or possessor of an illegal drug, including alcohol and tobacco for those under 21. Marijuana or other mind-altering drug use is not a proper police concern, it is a public health and sociological matter, and only sometimes a problem. The criminal law should be focused entirely on anti-social behavior and when necessary on drug traffickers. We would then avoid the massive manufacturing of criminals through arrest and imprisonment; avoid the sensationalizing and glorification of drugs; and avoid deploying our police in ineffective and harmful ways. If we can reduce the drug policemen's psychological dependence on marijuana and turn them toward dealing more effectively with the rapidly increasing real crimes, murder, rape, theft, etc., we will also increase respect for law and its enforcement by ending one of the many things that breeds injustice and hypocrisy.
The Times Are Changing?
Professionals are slowly becoming more involved in changing the status quo. More doctors and more academic people are now speaking up about the excesses of the policies and police in an attempt to bring rationality to bear. The Department of Pharmacology at the University of California Medical Center deserves particular credit in that connection with the community activities on behalf of drug abusers by Dr. Frederick Meyers, Dr. David Smith, and others. More factual information is becoming available to the public, more efforts are being made to provide treatment, and legislative and court attempts to reform the marijuana laws are taking place.
In San Francisco we have seen as drug use and abuse increased an official governmental response of repression and punishment, part of which has been the successful war on the hippie. Along with this negative approach came the attempted destruction of the Health Department's Center for Special Problems, the first program in the country to provide comprehensive treatment education and research on all forms of drug abuse in one setting, and the first to work constructively with the hip community and other minorities. Then there was the blocking of a million dollar anti-poverty grant which would have funded a special facility to treat narcotic addiction among the poor. Next was the dismantling of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Screening Branch of the Center for Special Problems which had been providing emergency treatment. Finally was the financial starvation of the Haight-Ashbury Medical Clinic.
Much more than its drug effect, marijuana represents a major smoke-screen in American society. What could be more convenient than the marijuana issue for an ambitious politician or a newspaper publisher neither of whom wants to offend powerful political or financial interests. The more marijuana is talked about and reacted to, the less one has to talk about real health, social, and criminal problems in American society.
Another symbolic value is a scapegoating function, a part of which involves the generation gap. Attacking the young has always been popular, and as Margaret Mead once pointed out, to do so is good for the digestion of adults. There are many people in our society who would if they could make it illegal to be young. Being unable to do that because of such unfortunate restrictions (from their point of view) as the Bill of Rights, what they do is seize upon certain practices of young people such as political dissent, nonconfirmity in dress or hair style, and marijuana use, and this becomes a way of scapegoating youth. The drug policies clearly plan an important anti-intellectual function in American society. We give great lip service to education, but we fail to utilize the knowledge and thinking that can be gained in schools and colleges, making almost no use in solving our complicated social problems.
The most important part of all, is that despite the provocation and injustices we move beyond marijuana. There are many more important things than marijuana (or other mind-altering drugs). The most important thing that we need to do in regard to marijuana itself is to bring about the kind of reform mentioned above, taking drug use or simple possession out of the criminal law. Our main concern should be about human beings, not drugs. I fail to see the logic of the constant arguments between the polarized viewpoints, legalization or criminalization. Worrying first about people, we see that they do a wide variety of things which some disapprove and some approve. Selective, intelligent, and individualized policies are needed which stop criminalizing users and deal with the full context of drug use and abuse rather than ignoring the massive abuses of alcohol, tobacco, pills, etc,, permitting massive advertising and subsidizing the industries. Most people don't know where they want to go as individuals. Drug usage is encouraged and promoted, positive alternatives are rarely available, and it should not be surprising that there is so much drug usage in the mediocre (not "great") society. The solution lies in reducing interest in and demand for drugs; decreasing their availability (not turning them over a Madison Avenue mentality to exploit like alcohol and tobacco), and stressing education, prevention, and treatment rather than punishment and destruction.
T. S. Eliot said in his poem The Rock, "And the wind shall say, these were decent people; their only monument the asphaltr-7c-)7-1d and a thousand lost golf balls." One might modify that to say, "their only monument the asphalt road, lost golf balls, alcohol, and marijuana." Surely there are more important things and higher values in life than this preoccupation with drugs. I have the "strange" belief that people can lead meaningful and purposeful lives, socialize with others, and be happy without depending on mind-altering chemicals. As people turn more and more to drugs, the less likely they are to attack the roots of our social problems that are being produced at a much faster rate than we are solving them. It is high time (no pun intended) that people move beyond marijuana, and beyond alcohol to dropping into changing and improving their society. So let us certainly reform the laws, but let us bring to bear some concept of humanity and rationalism at the same time so that we are not a nation of sheep riding on a ship of fools. Said Edmund Spenser, the British poet, "A foggy mist had covered all the land, and underneath their feet, all scattered lay dead souls and bones of men, whose lives had gone astray." Let us not continue to go astray in dealing with marijuana.
a. Editors Note: In the State of California recent legislation has given the judge discretion on a first offense marijuana possession.