The marihuana problem has today become the "marihuana muddle." Few, if any, social problems have received so much attention and resulted in so little agreement about what we should do to ameliorate the situation. As the use of marihuana expands in the middle and upper classes, officials are increasingly confronted with questions concerning the effects and dangers of marihuana use. Unfortunately, the answers that can be given are limited. Perhaps the most decisive point that can be made is that the possession and sale of marihuana is against the law. The focus of the "marihuana muddle" revolves around this fact. Were it not for its illegality and the increasing number of persons who are being arrested and prosecuted, an increase in use notwithstanding, the subject would undoubtedly receive conspicuously less attention than it does today.
It should be emphasized at the outset that in today's society the question of marihuana use and control is important to everyone, affects our entire society, and the manner in which we deal with it does have far-reaching legal and ethical implications. Similarly, the "marihuana muddle" poses interesting questions for those interested in the theoretical and practical problems of social control. A few examples will point up these facts. There is an ingrained assumption in our society that marihuana use and sale can be controlled by the criminal law. Note, for example, that many of those who argue that our marihuana laws are too tough are interested in seeing marihuana possession laws reduced to a misdemeanor but not entirely eliminated. The assumption that marihuana can be controlled by criminal law continues today in spite of rapidly increasing use of marihuana and growing tolerance for it on the part of many citizens. As this use increases we increasingly have a prohibition-like condition. Examples of police purposely ignoring marihuana smokers because of the sheer impossibility of applying the law even to the extent of making an arrest, are not uncommon. This comes at a time when the problems for law enforcement agencies are increasingly magnified both in terms of their deteriorating image and their capacity to perform their traditional functions. What are the consequences of this situation for the criminal law and the system for the administration of justice?
Regardless of one's personal standards with respect to use or non-use of marihuana, one of the questions which must be addressed is what criteria should be used to determine when a given behavior circumstance is made criminally sanctionable? Can respect for the law be built and sustained in our citizens when in fact there is such a glaring disparity between what is said and what is done? Or should it be argued that the expectations as outlined by the criminal law do set the moral-ethical tone for the society whether or not we can realistically expect reasonable consistency in the enforcement of the law? After all, no code of conduct is adhered to all the time.
Professional and public opinion about marihuana, as any reader of his daily paper knows, is sharply divided. Differences are especially acute with respect to the meaning of the expansive use of marihuana and the question of what should be done about it. The readings in this volume direct themselves to these areas.
Myths and quasi-myths abound in the literature and discussions about marihuana. It is not uncommon for the exceptional case to be generalized to the entire population of persons who have had experience with marihuana. Reasoning of this sort is not, of course, unique to the marihuana problem; it is, as a matter of fact, quite commonplace in discussions and literature related to the entire drug abuse field.
Ironically, however, it is sometimes difficult to separate fact from myth and at times the entire matter takes on the form of a verbal sideshow specializing in symbolic gymnastics, characterized by charges and countercharges.
One interesting case in point is the prevalent assertion that our marihuana laws punish too severely and the accompanying claim that then response to the marihuana law violator has been increasingly punitive in recent years. Unfortunately, hard data is not available in many areas of the United States which permit an examination of these claims. Theoretically, the laws do permit relatively stiff prison sentences. Based on information from California, the only state that systematically collects and reports this type of data, it can be said that while prison sentences are indeed possible, the fact is that overall they represent an increasingly smaller and smaller proportion of the sentences generated. Most violators are placed on probation. While we do not know for certain, it is probable that similar patterns characterize other states. This disposition pattern hardly seems consistent with the assertion that we are increasingly harsh in dealing with marihuana law violators.
Any selection of materials on marihuana from the vast reservoir that is available must to some extent be arbitrary. Much of what is said waxes emotional or is a monotonous repetition of statements either favorable or opposed to marihuana. In making the selections for this volume, however, I have tried to avoid the insipid as well as the sentimental and have emphasized well-argued and clearly-presented materials which reflect the range of viewpoints that are espoused on the subject. This, of course, is a matter of judgment. Inevitably one tends to feel positive about those points of view which reflect his biases. It is the Stance one takes with respect to the control dilemma where we are most apt to find controversy. In this regard, we would only say that it is not easy to locate articulate statements that defend the status quo.
Materials have been organized around four major themes in such a way as to provide both an introduction to the subject as well as in-depth reading. Marihuana is spelled both marihuana and marijuana. In all instances we have retained the preferred spelling of each author. In the first section the nature and use of marihuana is considered. Each of the statements by experts present what they feel is known about marihuana.
The second section concerns value perspectives. Our concern here is on position papers whose major thrust is that of analyzing and understanding marihuana problems. In view of the fact that the illegality of marihuana serves as a focal point for this subject it is inevitable that legal questions are touched on here, but they are not the primary focus. A variety of papers are presented including some by medical spokesmen, some from representatives of the law enforcement segment, and a range of other viewpoints.
A similar stance is taken in the third section in which we present seven reports of research studies. Several disciplines as well as research methodologies are represented. Research reports involving marihuana offer a fertile ground for a discussion of research strategies and methodological problems. The subject is a research challenge offering all of the problems posed by deviant research and more. Depending on one's research objectives the problematical enforcement situation, the sampling problems posed by the unknown universe, the surreptitious nature of the behavior, and the variable quality and effects of marihuana itself all pose formidable problems.
The final section deals with the question of control. A variety of opinions are presented. Selections were chosen because of their concern with the problem of control, especially legal concerns. Although some of the statements also reflect a value perspective, their thrust concerns the legal question.