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Written by Jerome Himmelstein   
Saturday, 04 December 2010 00:00



President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Marihuana Tax Act into law on August 2, 1937, effectively making the use and sale of marihuana federal offenses. Forty years later to the day, President Jimmy Carter officially proposed to decriminalize marihuana—to remove criminal penalties for its use and for the nonprofit transfer of small amounts of it, while maintaining penalties for trafficking.

The two events represent two major phases in the strange career of marihuana in the United States in the twentieth century. Prior to the mid-1960s, marihuana use was small and concentrated among marginal social groups—at various times Mexican laborers, poor blacks, jazz musicians, and beatniks. In the 1960s, use expanded rapidly, spreading in particular to middle-class youth in the suburbs and on college campuses. The cutting point between the two phases can be taken as 1964, the year in which this change was first publicly announced in magazine articles with titles such as "Dope Invades the Suburbs" and "The College Drug Scene."

As the pattern of marihuana use changed, the moral and legal career of marihuana took a sharp turn as well. The decades prior to the 1960s had witnessed the outlawing of the possession and sale of the drug on both state and federal levels and the progressive escalation of penalties for both offenses. These measures had been justified by a public image of marihuana as a "killer weed" that turned its users into violent criminals. During this time, marihuana use had been a minor public issue in the United States; but when people had considered it, they had agreed that the drug was indeed evil and that a policy of criminal sanctions was appropriate.

The second phase of marihuana history, from 1964 to the mid1970s, saw the crumbling of this consensus and the partial reform of the laws that were based on it. There was no longer any agreement on the dangers of the drug or the legitimacy of criminal sanctions against it. Some maintained that marihuana was indeed a public menace, while others dismissed that time-honored image of the drug as so much superstition and exaggeration. Some argued that marihuana laws needed only minor changes, while others demanded substantial, thoroughgoing reform.

Out of this conflict, a new legal direction and ideological consensus emerged. Possession of marihuana for use was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor in most places and was decriminalized in eleven states. Even the staunchest opponents of penalty reduction generally agreed that mere users, despite their lawbreaking acts, ought not to be regarded as "criminals" or subjected to actual imprisonment; those who wanted penalties kept on the books often argued for a de facto decriminalization in which the penalties were not likely to be applied.

Despite the disagreement over the danger of sustained marihuana use, the possibility of moderate, limited use with minimal ill effect was recognized widely for the first time. A new distinction arose between "social," or "experimental," users and "heavy" users. Among those who regarded marihuana as dangerous, moreover, a dramatically altered image of that danger emerged: Marihuana was no longer described as a "killer weed" that fostered aggression and violence but as a "drop-out drug" that sapped users' wills, destroyed their motivation, and turned them into passive drop-outs from reality and society.

In short, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, immense changes occurred not only in the marihuana laws but also, and more importantly, in the entire framework of assumptions within which the drug and the laws were publicly discussed. Marihuana, its users, and the laws controlling it were seen in new terms.

Since the mid-1970s, the movement for further reforms in laws on marihuana has all but died—a victim of the broader, more conservative drift of American politics. Most penalty reductions remain on the books, however, and the marihuana issue still is debated largely in the terms set down in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

We shall attempt to document and explain these changes by providing an overview of the history of marihuana control in the United States in the twentieth century. Our purpose is not to present a detailed narrative of events but to explain important features of that history, to answer the whys and hows, not the whats. We are engaged, in other words, in historical sociology, not history.

Much has been written about marihuana laws, and this ample literature has focused on two issues: the genesis of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and the tumultuous debate over marihuana since the 1960s. In each case, two major hypotheses have dominated discussions. The Marihuana Tax Act has been understood either as the product of the moralistic, expansionist activity of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the agency then responsible for enforcing America's drug laws, or as the result of political pressure based on grass-roots anti-Mexican sentiment. Growing support for marihuana law reform since the 1960s has been tied to the increase in middle-class use, while opposition to the drug has been linked to marihuana's role as a symbol of the political and cultural rebellion of youth in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Counterculture. We shall examine critically all four of these claims. We shall see how both accounts of the genesis of the Marihuana Tax Act are mistaken; we shall refine the understanding of how the changed social status of marihuana users influenced law reform; and we shall learn exactly how marihuana acted as a symbol of youthful rebellion.

Compared to the considerable attention given to marihuana laws, relatively little has been said about marihuana ideology, the terms in which the drug and the laws have been publicly discussed and justified. Here "public discussion" refers not to popular opinion as recorded in survey research, for example, but rather to discourse on marihuana formally open to common or general view—in particular, what has been said about the drug in government hearings and reports and in the communications media. We shall trace how the dominant assumptions about marihuana, its users, and the law developed and changed in public discussion from the 1890s to the mid-1970s. In particular, we shall examine the evolving image of the drug itself and the changing array of arguments made about marihuana laws.

We shall also make certain broader points about marihuana ideology and about ideology in general. First, ideology is structured and selective. That is, it is organized into "persistent patterns of cognition, interpretation, and presentation, of selection, emphasis, and exclusion."2 The public discussion of marihuana at any given time has not been a haphazard collection of observations and beliefs but has been organized around a coherent set of assumptions about the drug, its users, and the law.

Second, ideology is socially determined. That is, the specific ways in which ideology is structured or framed are in turn shaped by other social factors. The assumptions framing public discussion of marihuana have been the products of a complex set of factors: the specific set of organized actors struggling to shape drug control policy, the social background of the users of the drug, and broader social conflicts.

Third, ideology places certain tacit limits on how issues are discussed and what policy alternatives appear plausible and appropriate. It thus defmes a political terrain and channels political action and social policy. The ideological framework within which marihuana has been discussed at any given time has constrained the arguments that could be raised effectively and the policies that could be forwarded plausibly. In particular, marihuana law reform resulted in part from radical changes in typical perceptions of users and in the kinds of arguments that were made about the law.

Fourth, ideology, therefore, is not a mere mask that hides the real social forces at work in a situation and must be ripped away to see what is "really" happening. It is an integral part of those forces. Explaining ideas sociologically does not mean explaining them away, or debunking them, but rather understanding their real causes and real effects. Marihuana ideology has been a crucial mediating link between marihuana law and the wider social forces that shaped the law. Changes in the organized groups seeking to shape drug control policy, in the social location of use, and in the broader conflicts within which use has been embedded have caused changes in the terms in which marihuana has been discussed. These changes in turn have affected the content of marihuana laws.

In the following chapters, we shall not only critically refine existing explanations of marihuana laws and how they have changed, but we shall also focus scholarly attention squarely on marihuana ideology, on how the public discussion of marihuana has been framed. In particular, we shall systematically compare public discussion of marihuana in two phases of the drug's history—before and after the mid-1960s.

To explore these issues, we shall rely on a systematic sample of magazine articles drawn from the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature to provide a representative picture of public discussion of marihuana as it has developed since the 1890s. This data will be put to two uses. On one level, the relative frequency of articles on marihuana in the Readers' Guide will allow us to determine the changing importance of the marihuana issue over the years, a matter that is interesting in itself and central for evaluating some of the marihuana hypotheses. The results of this "magnitude study" are reported in chapter 3. On another level, a content analysis of the Readers' Guide articles will help us to identify the changing images of the drug and its users. Each article (N = 106) in this "content study" has been examined for what, if anything, it has to say about how dangerous marihuana is, whether or not moderate (limited, safe) use is possible, what specific dangers marihuana presents, and who the typical users are. The results, which will be drawn upon throughout the following chapters, will allow us both to evaluate the various marihuana hypotheses and to trace the changing image of the drug. Above all, the content study will help us to compare rigorously public discussion of marihuana before and after the mid-1960s. The data from the magnitude and content studies will be supplemented by a variety of other primary materials, especially congressional hearings, the reports of national commissions and narcotics officials, and newspaper articles.'

The remainder of this chapter examines certain basic concepts that inform the scholarly literature on drugs and underlie our own discussion. Chapter 2 provides more historical and theoretical groundwork by summarizing the important features of marihuana history in the United States and then presenting the four marihuana hypotheses to which we have alluded. Chapters 3 through 5 examine marihuana in the period prior to the mid-1960s: Chapter 3 presents an overview of the magnitude and content of public discussion of marihuana over some six-and-a-half decades; chapter 4 traces the origins of the Marihuana Tax Act and the ideological consensus that surrounded it; and chapter 5 looks at continuities and changes in that consensus in the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s. Chapters 6 and 7 examine the path of marihuana law reform in the late 1960s and early 1970s and the concomitant transformation of marihuana from "killer weed" to "drop-out drug." Chapter 8 summarizes our various arguments and makes some general points about the role of ideas in society and history.


Any study of marihuana must start from the broader scholarly literature on drug controls that has mushroomed in the last two decades. The growth of this literature is in itself an interesting phenomenon that is closely related to the marihuana story. Until the early 1960s, there was little serious historical inquiry into why some drugs are illegal and others are not or why some drugs are regarded as evil and others as beneficent—the kind of questions that we readily pose about marihuana today. Such issues simply were not regarded as problematic. It was taken for granted that some drugs were inherently dangerous and hence necessarily subject to social stigma and legal controls. There seemed to be no need to pose deeper historical, social, and political questions.

To be sure, there were some exceptions. In the late nineteenth century, Edward Forbes Robinson noted a political dimension to the history of coffee in England: The coffee houses that proliferated after 1650 were often associated with Puritanism and sometimes became centers of opposition to the Stuarts. As a result, in 1675, Charles II attempted unsuccessfully to have them closed. Louis Lewin in his 1924 classic Phantastica argued that the Spanish effort in the mid-1500s to ban coca chewing among their Incan slaves in the Americas followed from a complex of "political, economic, social, and religious reasons." The debate over temperance and Prohibition in the United States generated such serious studies as Peter Odegard's account of the Anti-Saloon League, the classic work on the prototypical political pressure group.4 The historical research of Alfred Lindesmith and Rufus King on opiate controls in the United States and Great Britain also goes back several decades.

These examples, however distinguished some of them are, are few and far between. They certainly do not constitute a research tradition with shared assumptions and a coherent line of development. Until recently, moreover, work consisted primarily of descriptive historical accounts of drug controls that rarely sought theoretical explanations. Robinson's work, for example, is primarily a straightforward history of the spread of coffee use from Abyssinia to the Islamic world and ultimately to Europe. Lewin's work is a compendium of the cross-cultural array of psychoactive drug use. Similarly, Charles Terry and Mildred Pellens compiled a vast amount of materials on the history of opium in their classic 1928 volume, The Opium Problem, which is still the starting point for any serious study of the topic.' They do not, however, develop any theories of opium and opiate control. They are not primarily interested in explaining why California outlawed opium smoking in 1881 or why opiates came under federal control in the 1914 Harrison Act.

A systematic, theoretically informed tradition of work concerned precisely with the "political, economic, social, and religious reasons" for drug controls has arisen only in the last twenty years as a result of both a wider reorientation in the study of deviance as a whole and the explosive political conflict over drug controls in the United States and other Western countries. Both these factors rendered drug controls a problematic issue.

Prior to the 1960s, the study of deviance was almost exclusively concerned with behavior questions: Why are some individuals more likely than others to commit deviant acts? Why do some social groups have higher deviance rates than others? While much attention was given to the causes of deviant behavior, little time was spent on the societal reaction to that behavior. With the codification of labelling theory in the early 1960s and the subsequent development of various radical, critical, conflict, and phenomenological theories of deviance, however, attention has turned to labelling questions: How and why do certain acts and actors become defined as deviant and treated accordingly? What are the consequences of this labelling? A growing concern with the historical and social roots of drug controls has been simply one instance of this broader shift of intellectual focus.

In the 1960s, laws controlling the use of marihuana and other so-called narcotics (including heroin and cocaine) were widely attacked. Powerful movements emerged to redefine drug use as a public health problem, not a law enforcement problem, or to remove the deviant label altogether. Once drug controls became politically contentious, they were bound to become intellectually problematic as well. Once the inevitability and the legitimacy of drug controls were widely challenged, questions about their social and historical roots were quick to follow.6

Central to the recently developed drug control literature are three guiding concepts that will prove useful in our study of marihuana. These are "entrepreneurship," "social locus," and "symbolic politics." They are not the only significant ideas in work on drug controls, but they figure prominently, either individually or in various combinations, in most studies. We can examine them one by one in the works of Howard Becker, Troy Duster, and Joseph Gusfield, respectively.' Although these writers have had a significant impact on the field, their studies should be viewed primarily as ideal types, not as prototypes. They embody in particularly clear, unalloyed form ideas that other works leave implicit or combine together. In each case, we will be concerned not with the immediate empirical validity of the author's work but with the wider potential of his analytic framework.


One way of understanding drug controls is to study the formal processes through which they were created. That is, we can pay attention to who took the initiative to procure a particular drug law and how and why they did so. This is the general approach underlying Becker's concept of "moral entrepreneurship."

Moral rules, Becker reminds us, are not automatically created and enforced. Although we often colloquially refer to "society" per se as the force that labels and punishes deviance, the agency is rarely so impersonal or amorphous. Rule creation and rule enforcement require "moral enterprise," the specific effort by a formally constituted agent to transform established social values into specific rules and then to see to it that these rules are applied. Such an agent is a "moral entrepreneur."

Deviance—in the sense I have been using it, of publicly labeled wrong-doing—is always the result of enterprise. Before any act can be viewed as deviant, and before any class of people can be labeled and treated as outsiders for committing the act, someone must have made the rule which defmes the act as deviant. Rules are not made automatically.8

To procure a new moral rule, the moral entrepreneur must go through a characteristic process: The agent must make public the relevant area of wrongdoing, enlist the support of other interested organizations, develop a favorable public attitude toward the new rule through use of the media, and resolve possible conflicts of interests and values.9 Becker traces this process in the case of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the Marihuana Tax Act, which we shall say much more about later.

Becker's analysis thus focuses on who makes the rules and how they make them. He is less concerned with the question of why, the motives and interests of the moral entrepreneur. Contrary to the almost universal interpretation of his work, although he identifies the "crusading reformer" who seeks to eradicate "evil" as a major variety of moral entrepreneur, he never says that all moral entrepreneurs are motivated by moral concerns. Indeed he explicitly argues that the entrepreneurial motive or interest may vary and does not give the matter a central place in his analysis.10

To adapt the concept of entrepreneurship as a general analytic tool, we must make several corrections to Becker's analysis. First, just as rules are not automatically created, so individuals and groups do not automatically become moral entrepreneurs. They may be moral entrepreneurs only at some times and with regard to some issues. As we shall see, for example, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was morally enterprising with regard to marihuana in 1937 but not in 1932; it provided the enterprise to tighten controls over marihuana and heroin in the 1950s but refused to play the same role with barbiturates. Moral entrepreneurship also must be explained, and to do so, we must address the question of motives and interests that Becker skirts. What motivates a particular group to seek the creation of a particular rule at a particular time?

Second, the world of enterprise is seldom as sparsely populated as Becker seems to imply. There is rarely just one moral entrepreneur, one organized force seeking a moral rule. There are usually several moral entrepreneurs seeking different rules on the same issue and a few "immoral entrepreneurs," who attempt to oppose or rescind a rule. In the case of America's original narcotics legislation, the Harrison Act of 1914, drug manufacturers and states's rights interests opposed all federal controls; medical and pharmacist associations supported professional controls; and law enforcement officials in the Treasury Department ultimately pushed for total criminali7ation. Similarly variegated groups of entrepreneurs attempted to influence international alcohol controls in the late 1800s and early 1900s." An adequate entrepreneurial analysis, therefore, must recognize the plurality of organizations and organized interests that may shape a moral rule and must identify their various conflicts and alliances.

Third, in such a complicated world the process of rule creation must be far more complex than Becker pictures it. The would-be moral entrepreneur must not only publicize issues, enlist support, and cultivate public opinion but also fight other enterprising groups. Power thus becomes an issue in a way that Becker's model does not anticipate. An entrepreneurial analysis, therefore, must identify and explain the power differentials among the various groups involved in the rule-creation process.

Making the adjustments suggested in the three foregoing criticisms of Becker yields a more sophisticated entrepreneurial model of drug controls, which views the creation of drug laws as the outcome of the interaction of various would-be moral entrepreneurs, each with its distinctive material and moral resources, interests, and ideology. The result is something akin to the general model for analyzing social problems presented by Robert Ross and Graham L. Staines.' 2

This model is still incomplete, however, and this leads to our fourth and final criticism of Becker's analysis. An entrepreneurial analysis, even a very sophisticated one, looks exclusively at the explicit efforts of formally organized groups to shape drug laws. It pays no attention to the wider social context in which specific moral enterprising occurs and thus often ignores broader structural determinants. Within this approach, society itself disappears. In fact, however, the political process of defining a drug problem and establishing drug laws does not occur in a vacuum. The moral enterprise of the Women's Christian Temperance Union against alcohol—one of Becker's two examples—developed out of the crisis of the middle classes in a rapidly changing capitalist society. The successful effort to outlaw opium smoking in California in 1881 arose from broader economic conflict between Anglo and Chinese laborers. The different entrepreneurial roles played by the medical profession in the development of narcotics control in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain resulted from cross-national differences in patterns of opiate use and the social status of the profession. In each case, the wider context of entrepreneurial action proved crucial."

Fortified with these corrective insights, the concept of entrepreneurship can provide a viable basis for an analysis of drug controls that pays particular attention to the rule-creating actions of organizations and organized interest groups and to the role of power and interests therein.

Social Locus

The concept of "social locus" posits a relationship between the moral status of a particular kind of drug use and the social position of the groups identified as the primary users. The lower the social position of the user, the more likely that use will be regarded as deviant. As the social location of use changes, so does its moral status. Thus in contrast to the focus of entrepreneurship on who creates the rules, social locus turns our attention to who uses a drug.

The argument here is based on the assumption that the deviant label is "totalizing." Drawing on the work of Everett Hughes and Becker, Duster argues that most labelling or status attribution is partial: We view others as being a certain way only in a limited respect. The deviant label is different, however. Once we regard someone as deviant in one respect, we tend to generalize our judgment to the whole person. We believe that the deviant status is, in Duster's phrase, "thoroughly indicative of the person." Or, to use Hughes's language, deviance is a "master status-determining trait" that "tends to overpower, in most crucial situations, any other characteristic which runs counter to it." According to Duster's logic, then, labelling someone a "dope fiend" places a moral judgment not only on his drug use but also on his entire being. He is thoroughly "disreputable." '4

Because the deviant label is totalizing and negative, a "status contradiction" develops anytime it is placed on the actions of someone whose other master statuses (for example, class or race) imply a general respectability. No such contradiction arises, however, if these other statuses imply disreputability. Thus, it is easier to label as deviant the actions characteristic of the lower classes and low-status racial groups than those of the upper and middle classes and of high-status racial groups. The moral status of a category of acts, therefore, may depend on the social position of those perceived as the typical perpetrators. As Duster puts it:

Certain classes of persons in any society are more susceptible to being charged with moral inferiority than other classes of persons. The behavior in which persons indulge is often less important than the social category from which they come. . . . When it is part of the public view that the predominant perpetrators of the act come from the moral center, the act cannot long remain "immoral" or deviant; it can become deviant again only under circumstances where the public conception is that the "morally susceptible" classes are those who are the primary indulgers.13

Duster cites the moral career of opiate use as an example. In the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when opiate (primarily morphine) users were predominantly upper- and middle-class (as well as middle-aged and female), opiate addiction was not regarded as deviant. It was seen as an unfortunate physical malady, but it was not taken as a sign that the addict was essentially morally depraved or psychologically unbalanced. In other words, it carried no stigma. With the ban on over-the-counter opiate sales embodied in the 1914 Harrison Act and the limitations on physician prescriptions imposed by subsequent judicial interpretations of the act, however, major changes occurred in the public perceptions of the opiate user's social position. Upper- and middle-class users faded from public view as they made clandestine, quasi-legal arrangements with their physicians; and users of a new kind became visible—lower-class persons who procured their drugs illegally or who resorted to the few freely prescribing "script" physicians or to the official narcotic clinics. The opiate user now appeared as an otherwise disreputable person, and the moral status of opiate addiction changed accordingly: It was now taken as a clear sign of psychopathology, immorality, or both.

The same conclusion, Duster adds, can be drawn from the history of alcohol in the United States. In the early 1900s, alcohol use was associated with the lower classes and thus was regarded as deviant. With the advent of Prohibition, which left no loopholes for the middle and upper classes, the illicit alcohol use of more respectable elements of society became publicly visible, "producing the conditions for a public reappraisal of the moral status of alcohol consumption."' 6

We can transform Duster's "social locus" analysis into a general conceptual tool if we are mindful of two caveats. First, Duster's social distinctions are often vague. While he refers to the "moral center," the "decent and respectable elements" of society, and to "unrespectable elements," it is unclear where the "line of respectability" is drawn and which social groups fit where. At some points, the "unrespectable elements" appear to include simply the criminal strata of society; at other points, the working class as well. Although some imprecision creeps into any set of social distinctions, an effective social locus concept requires a bit more clarity.
Second, we ought not to reduce the complexity of social position to the simple notion of status honor in the Weberian sense, of respectability and disrespectability. There are other features of social position that may affect how readily the acts of a group are labelled deviant. Some social groups may be more prone to deviant labelling because they lack the power to organize and to affect the process of morality creation. Power, in this sense, consists of many components of which status honor, or moral repute, is only one. Effective use of a social locus concept requires a more variegated notion of how a group's social position may influence the moral judgment placed on its action.

Symbolic Politics

The "symbolic politics" concept understands drug controls as symbolic counters in wider social conflicts. At times of social conflict or stress, the drug use of a socially subordinate group may become a symbol of the threat that this group poses to a relatively dominant social group or to the dominant social order. Legislation against drug use thus may become a way of reasserting the legitimacy of the existing social hierarchy and the hegemony of dominant social groups by symbolically condemning those groups that threaten that hierarchy and hegemony. Unlike entrepreneurship, which studies the rule makers, and social locus, which attends to the drug user, the concept of symbolic politics focuses on the wider structural conflicts between drug-using groups and legislation-seeking groups.

We can understand this notion by looking at Gusfield's analysis of the prohibitionist phase of the Temperance Movement in the United States. Gusfield distinguishes two kinds of politics—class politics and status politics:

In our usage class politics is political conflict over the allocation of material resources. Status politics is political conflict over the allocation of prestige.

In class politics. . . we have conflict between the material goals and aspirations of different social groups such as is found in the traditional right and left. In status politics the conflict arises from status aspirations and discontents. '7

Class politics, in other words, seeks to procure state policies that provide direct material advantages to particular social groups, for example, protective tariffs, minimum wage laws, welfare legislation, subsidies for farmers. Status politics seeks policies that reflect and affirm the culture, lifestyle, and thus the status position of particular social groups. According to Gusfield, "moral reform" movements are one variety of status politics.

Issues of moral reform . . . are one way through which a cultural group acts to preserve, defend, or enhance the dominance and prestige of its own style of living within the total society."

Even if not enforced, moral reform legislation stands as a symbolic affirmation of a particular group's morality and thus of their prestige: "The public support of one conception of morality at the expense of another enhances the prestige and self-esteem of the victors and degrades the culture of the losers." 9
The movement to prohibit alcohol use, Gusfield continues, is the prime example of status politics in American history. In the late nineteenth century, the Temperance Movement turned from "assimilative reform," an attempt to reform individual drunkards, to "coercive reform," an effort to procure state and ultimately national legislation against the production and sale of alcohol. The new emphasis, Gusfield argues, reflected the effort of a predominantly Protestant, native-born, rural, old middle class to reassert its status position in the face of a rising urban, corporate capitalist, industrial society and a growing non-Protestant, immigrant working class. Prohibition was a symbolic assertion of the dominance of abstemious old middle-class norms concerning alcohol use and of the old middle-class society in general over more permissive alcohol norms and the new society and new classes that these norms symbolized.

Prohibition, in short, was a form of symbolic action taken by the old middle class in response to threats to its status from an emerging new society. Symbolism enters here on two levels. First, alcohol use was a symbol of the general threat that this emerging society posed to the old middle class: The conflict over alcohol stood for a wider conflict between two social worlds. Second, the impact of antialcohol legislation was symbolic: What mattered was not its enforcement but simply its existence as a public statement of morality.

Gusfield thus exemplifies the analysis of drug controls as symbolic politics—as symbolic action in the context of social conflict. Before this concept can be rendered generally useful, however, it must be freed from the notions of class and status politics with which Gus-field shackles it.

The distinction between class politics and status politics in itself is unsatisfactory as a way of conceptuali7ing the varieties of political conflict. It simply leaves out too much. Many political issues cannot be reduced to struggles over the allocation of either material resources or prestige. Consider the classic issues of nineteenth-century European politics—parliamentary democracy, capitalism, the relationship between church and state—or some of the major movements in American history—antislavery, populism, civil rights, feminism. None of these is class politics, status politics, or some simple combination of the two. They all involve controversy over some fundamental features of society, while both class politics and status politics refer to conflict over the distribution of valued things within a generally accepted societal framework."

More importantly, not all symbolic politics is necessarily status politics. That is, social conflict of many kinds, not just status conflict, may give rise to symbolic political action. Patricia Morgan, for example, argues that California's 1881 law against opium smoking NN as a response to economic conflict between Anglo and Chinese workers.n Indeed, the social conflict in which Gusfield situates Prohibition in his work appears to be much more than a status conflict. It is a struggle between entirely divergent social worlds and thus has many components. Furthermore, if symbolic politics may be based in conflicts of various kinds, it may also affirm domination of various kinds—economic, political, and ideological, as well as status domination.22 In short, the important idea from Gusfield for the study of drug controls is "symbolic action in the context of social conflict," not "status politics."

Entrepreneurship, social locus, and symbolic politics will all prove helpful to our discussion of marihuana laws and ideoloy. They underlie the marihuana hypotheses to be presented in the next chapter and provide the basis for understanding the transformation of marihuana from a "killer weed" to a "drop-out drug."


1. Robert Goldman, "Dope Invades the Suburbs," The Saturday Evening Post, 4 April 1964, pp. 19-25; "Narcotics: Slum to Suburb," Newsweek, 22 February 1965, pp. 68A-68C; "Pot Problem," Time, 12 March 1965, p. 49; Jeremy Lamer, "The College Drug Scene," The Atlantic Monthly, November 1965, pp. 127-130.

2. Todd Gitlin, The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left (Berkeley: University of California, 1980), p. 7.

3. See the Methodological Appendix for a detailed discussion of the research methods used in this study.

4. Edward Forbes Robinson, The Early History of Coffee Houses in England (London: Kegan Paul, 1893); Louis Lewin, Phantastica (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1964), pp. 75-76; and Peter Odegard, Pressure Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1928).

5. Charles Terry and Mildred Pellens, The Opium Problem (1928; reprint ed., Montclair, N.J.: Patterson, Smith, 1970).

6. For a more detailed discussion of the intellectual and political antecedents of drug control theory, see Jerome L. Himmelstein, "Drug Politics Theory: Analysis and Critique," Journal of Drug Issues 8 (1978):37-52.

7. Howard S. Becker, Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance (New York: Free Press, 1963); Troy Duster, The Legislation of Morality (New York: Free Press, 1970); Joseph R. Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1963).

8. Becker, Outsiders, p. 162.

9. Ibid., pp. 122, 132, 138-139.

10. Ibid., pp. 122, 138, 147-148.

11. David F. Musto, The American Disease (New Haven: Yale University, 1973); Lynn Pan, Alcohol in Colonial Africa (Helsinki: Finnish Foundation for Alcohol Studies, 1975).

12. Robert Ross and Graham L. Staines, "The Politics of Analyzing Social Problems," Social Problems 20 (1972):18-40.

13. Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade; Patricia A. Morgan, "The Legislation of Drug Laws," Journal of Drug Issues 8 (1978):53-62; Shirley J. Cook, Variations in Response to Illegal Drug Use (Toronto: Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Research Foundation, 1970).

14. Everett C. Hughes, "Dilemmas and Contradictions of Status," American Journal of Sociology 50 (1945):353-359; Becker, Outsiders, pp. 32-34.

15. Duster, Legislation of Morality, p. 247.

16. Ibid., P. 248.

17. Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade, pp. 18, 17.

18. Ibid., p. 3.

19. Ibid., p. 5.

20. Gusfield effectively admits this limitation since he situates his concepts in American society, where, he argues, there has generally been a "consensus about fundamentals" (ibid., p. 2).

21. Morgan, "Legislation of Drug Laws."

22. Any discussion of symbolic politics should mention the seminal work of Murray Edelman. See Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1964) and Politics as Symbolic Action (Chicago: Markham, 1971).

Last Updated on Friday, 07 January 2011 11:48

Our valuable member Jerome Himmelstein has been with us since Thursday, 06 January 2011.

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