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Operation Intercept: The Multiple Consequences of Social Policy


The Multiple Consequences of Public Policy

By Lawrence A. Gooberman


 As Berger points out in Invitation to Sociology, sociological consciousness is inherently debunking. It involves the process of "seeing through the facades of social structures" ' and methodological procedures that are intended to locate "levels of reality other than those given in the official interpretations of society." ' It is debunking because it asks questions about the "givens" of "taken-for-granted reality."

In the history of social analysis, the search for alternate levels of reality has been reflected in a concern about the "latent functions" of social processes. Although Merton defined the latent function concept in Social Theory and Social Structure as those objective consequences that are neither intended nor recognized (thus diverging from the subjective aim-in-view of the social actor),' interest in the unintended consequences of social processes has characterized the field of sociology since its inception. Weber's analysis of the relationship between Protestant values and capitalism, as presented in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, serves as an example of the fruitfulness of this focus. 4

While Weber's analysis focused on the unintended and unanticipated consequences of a particular set of religious-social values, other analyses of latent functions have concentrated on the unintended and unanticipated results of "purposive social actions," defined by Merton as those actions "which involve motives ... a choice between various alternatives."5 Again, this focus is not something new to social analysis. Merton notes that the problem of the unanticipated consequences of purposive social action has been treated by Machiavelli, Vico, Adam Smith, Marx, Engels, Wundt, Pareto, Max Weber, Graham Wallas, Cooley, Sorokin, Gini, Chapin, and von Schelting.6

This concern has been reflected in the works of contemporary sociologists, particularly those interested in deviant behavior and social problems. Since on the level of widespread social problems and behavioral deviations purposive social action responses are incorporated into national public policies, students of such issues find themselves increasingly involved in the field of policy studies.

In various contexts, Erving Goffman, Robert Merton, Howard Becker, Arnold Rose, Alfred Lindesmith, John Clausen, Charles Winick, Edwin Lemert, Marshall Clinard, Frank Tannenbaum, Kai Erikson, Seymour Fiddle, C. Wright Mills, Donald Cressey, and Edwin Schur have analyzed the intimate and reciprocal relationship between public policy and the reactions and behaviors of those groups who are considered problematic at a particular historical time, underlining the unanticipated consequences of specific public policy decisions. In essence, it has become widely recognized that public policy and law enforcement decisions, intended to minimize or eradicate specific social problem situations, may in fact serve to create new problems or to expand, systematize, or otherwise exacerbate existing social problem situations. Lemert's examination of "secondary deviation" 7 and Schur's analysis of "crimes without victims" 8 are two excellent examples of the potential usefulness of this "interactionist" approach.

While the interactionist perspective has focused our attention on the latent as well as the manifest functions of public policy decisions, it has also underlined the arbitrary and generally transitory nature of the social definition of "deviance" itself. Often perceived as objectively given facts with ontological statuses above and beyond the affairs of social beings, determinations of deviance have come to be regarded as sociologically problematic phenomena.

Social deviants are persons who have been so labeled. When such labels come to be accepted by the typer, the typed, and the social audience alike, and are henceforth incorporated into future interactions, it may be said that successful typing has occurred. In other words, as stated by Rubington and Weinberg, "deviance is in the eyes of the beholder." 9 Currie's study of witchcraft and its control in Renaissance Europe, "Crimes Without Criminals," 10 and Connor's analysis of the Stalinist purges, "The Manufacture of Deviance," 11 although describing rather extreme examples of "deviance creation," underline the vast disparity between objective and politically motivated definitions of reality.

Thus, the social definition of deviance as well as public policies designed to control deviant populations and social problem situations have both become foci of sociological analysis. The issues that have been raised have done more thail add to the accumulated body of knowledge in these areas. The sociological perspective -- the interest in alternate definitions of social reality - has changed the nature of the questions that we ask.

Since the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, the application of the deviant label to the marihuana user and public policies that mandate the criminal treatment of marihuana use have both been continuously called into question. Although Becker and Dickson have emphasized different motivations behind the Federal Bureau of Narcotics' enthusiasm for the Tax Act - Becker focusing on "moral entrepreneurism" ' ' and Dickson underlining "bureaucratic responses to environmental pressures" ' ' implicit in both analyses is the concept of "deviance creation." Further, several scholars, including Becker, Goode, Solomou, and Lindesmith, have attempted to define the many unanticipated consequences that have directly resulted from public policies and law enforcement decisions that have been based on that original social determination of deviance.

In spite of our history of increasingly harsh anti-marihuana legislation, the "drug abuse problem" and related "youthful deviations" have not come under control. This development has led to heightened concern in all quarters of society over the unintended, unanticipated and undesirable consequences of such public policy decisions. The marihuana issue has been subjected to elaborate social cost-social benefit analysis, as in Kaplan's recent work, Marijuana The New Prohibition, 14 in which many of the issues are clearly summarized. The focus has shifted from the "deviants" to the definitions, from the act of using marihuana to the consequences of policies allegedly intended to curb this proscribed activity.

In this spirit of critical sociology, this work will analyze the taken-for-granted soundness of the present search-and-destroy antimarihuana strategy, a strategy that has won the support of both the critics and the defenders of our present marihuana laws.


1 - Peter L. Berger, Invitation to Sociology (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1963), p. 31.

2 Ibid., p. 38.

3 Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 19 5 7), p. 51.

4 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. by Talcott Parsons (London: Allen and Unwin, 1930).

5 Robert K. Merton, "The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action," American Sociological Review, Vol. 1, No. 6 (December 1936), p. 895.

6 Ibid., p. 894.

7 Edwin M. Lemert, Human Deviance, Social Problems, and Social Control (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967), Chapter 3.

8 Edwin M. Schur, Crimes Without Victims (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: PrenticeHall, 1965).

9 Earl Rubington and Martin S. Weinberg, Deviance - The Interactionist Perspective (New York: Macmillan, 1968), p. v.

10 Elliot P. Currie, "Crimes Without Criminals," Law and Society Review, Vol. 3, No. I (August 1968), pp. 7-32.

11 Walter D. Connor, "The Manufacture of Deviance: The Case of the Soviet Purge, 1936-1938," American Sociological Review, Vol. 37 (August 1972), pp. 403-413.

12 Howard S. Becker, Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance (New York: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1963).

13 Donald T. Dickson, "Bureaucracy and Morality," Social Problems, Vol. 16 (Fall 1968), pp. 143-156.

14 John Kaplan, Marijuana - The New Prohibition. Copyright @ 1970 by John Kaplan. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., Inc.)



It is not possible to thank all of those to whom I am most grateful for the assistance and cooperation I received in the preparation of this book. During the past five years, I spoke to many journalists, scholars and drug rehabilitation workers who unselfishly shared their insights and observations with me. I also contacted a great many drug users and drug dealers who took me into their confidence.

In the early stages of the project Judith Kramer, Tuli Kupferberg, Richard Gooberman and Phyllis Riegler were most helpful. The representatives to the New York Association of Voluntary Agencies on Narcotics Addiction and Substance Abuse, especially Seymour Fiddle of Exodus House and Al Lippman and Joan Liebmann, both formerly of Greenwich House, offered materials, contacts and valuable information.

For able technical assistance I wish to thank Donna Rutulante, Nancy Munsell, Stephen Skye, Janet Black and Beatrice Gooberman. Edwin Schur, Patricia Kendall, Abraham Blumberg, Benjamin Ringer, Egon Bittner, Troy Duster and Ira Black offered keen criticisms and valuable suggestions on the late drafts. I am most grateful to Sylvia M. Halpern and Gerald Deegan for their generous editorial aid.

My wife, Susan, maintained her patience and sense of humor throughout the long days of this endeavor. The support, encouragement and guidance of Charles Winick were invaluable in helping me to see the project through to its completion.

I thank all publishers who granted me permission to use extracts from their publications. Although in some cases more than one extract (for which permissions have been received) is used, acknowledgment is made only once to avoid repetition.

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