The Marijuana Smokers
Chapter 3 - Marijuana and the Politics of Reality
One of the mysteries of recent social research is the seemingly
contradictory conclusions about marijuana use. Perhaps no sector
of social behavior is more disputed. Empirical questions concerning
aspects of marijuana use arouse a hornet's nest of controversy.
Even the fundamental question of the effects of the drug on the
human mind and body is hotly disputed; two descriptions, both
purporting to be equally "objective," often bear no
relation to one another. Is marijuana a drug of psychic dependence?
Or is it meaningless to speak of dependency in regard to marijuana?
Does marijuana cause organic damage to the brain? Are its effects
criminogenic? How does it influence the overall output of activityin
popular terms, does it produce lethargy and sloth? Does it precipitate
"psychotic episodes"? What, specifically, is its impact
on artistic creativity? What is the drug's influence on mechanical
skills, such as the ability to drive an automobile? Does the use
of marijuana lead to heroin addiction?
These questions can be answered within the scope of empirical
sociological, psychological, and pharmacological scientific technique.
Each query can be operationalized. Indices can be constructed
and tests can be devised. Occasionally they are. Yet the zones
of widespread agreement are narrow indeed. Surely this should
puzzle the sociologist.
The Social Construction of Reality
All civilizations set rules concerning what is real and what is
not, what is true and what is false. All societies select out
of the data before them a world, one world, the world taken for
granted, and declare that the real world. Each one of these
artificially constructed worlds is to some degree idiosyncratic.
No individual views reality directly, "in the raw,"
so to speak, but our perceptions are narrowly channeled through
concepts and interpretations. What is commonly thought of as reality,
that which exists, or simply is, is a set of concepts, assumptions,
justifications, defenses, all generally collectively agreed-upon,
which guide and channel each individual's perceptions in a specific
direction. The specific rules governing the perception of the
universe which man inhabits are more or less arbitrary, a matter
of convention. Every society establishes a kind of epistemological
Meaning, then, does not automatically come about. Rather, it is
read into every situation, event, entity, object, phenomenon.
What one individual understands by a given phenomenon may be absolutely
heterogenous to what another individual understands. In a sense,
then, the reality itself is different. The only reality available
to each individual consciousness is a subjective reality. Yet
this insight poses a dilemma: we must see in a skewed manner or
not at all. For, as Berger and Luckmann point out, "To include
epistemological questions concerning the validity of sociological
knowledge is like trying to push a bus in which one is riding."
Sociologists, too, are implicated in this
same process. But unless we wish to remain huddled in the blind
cave of solipsism, the problem should not paralyze us. We leave
the problem of the validity of sociological knowledge to the metaphysical
If we wish to grasp the articulation between ideology and what
Westerners call science, we must look to fundamental cultural
beliefs that stimulate or inhibit the growth of scientific-empirical
ideas. One form of this selection process, the course of defining
the nature of the universe, involves the rules of validating
reality. A procedure is established for accepting inferential
evidence; some forms of evidence will be ruled out as irrelevant,
while others will serve to negotiate and determine what is real.
For instance, some religious systems have great faith in the validity
of the message of the senses. Other
civilizations give greater weight to mystical insight, to the
reality beyond empirical reality.
The sociologist's task starts with this vast cultural canvas.
While the "major mode" of the epistemological selection
and validation process involves the decision to accept or rule
out the data of our senses, within this tradition, minor modes
of variation will be noticed. Clearly, even societies with powerful
scientific and empirical traditions will contain subcultures which
have less faith in the logic of the senses than others have. Moreover,
all cultures have absorbed one or another mode of reasoning differentially,
so that some institutions will typify the dominant mode more characteristically
than others. Certainly, few in even the most empirical of civilizations
will apply the same rules of evidence in the theater of their
family as in their workaday world.
The more complex the society, the greater the number of competing
versions concerning reality. The positivists were in error in
assuming that greater knowledge would bring epistemological convergence.
The arenas of controversy are more far-flung than they ever have
been. Now, instead of societies differing as to how they view
the real world, subsegments of the same society differ as well.
This poses a serious problem for those members of society who
have an emotional investment in stability and the legitimacy of
their own special version of reality. The problem becomes, then,
a matter of moral hegemony, of legitimating one distinctive
view of the world and of discrediting competing views. These rules
of validating reality, and society's faith in them, may serve
as strategies in ideological struggles. Contending parties will
wish to establish veracity by means of the dominant cultural mode.
All societies invest this selection process with an air of mystification.
Using Peter Berger's phrase: "Let the institutional order
be so interpreted as to hide, as much as possible, its constructed
character.... [The] humanly constructed nomoi are given a cosmic
process must not, above all, be seen as whimsical and arbitrary;
it must be grounded in the nature of reality itself. The one selected
view of the world must be seen as the only possible view of the
world; it must be identified with the real world. All other versions
of reality must be seen as whimsical and arbitrary and, above
all, in error. At one time, this twin mystification process was
religious in character: views in competition with the dominant
one were heretical and displeasing to the godshence, Galileo's
crime. Now, of course, the style is to cloak what Berger terms
"fictitious necessities" with an aura of scientific
validity. Nothing has greater discrediting power today than the
demonstration that a given assertion has been "scientifically
disproven." Our contemporary pawnbrokers of reality are scientists.
Value and Fact in Negotiating the Marijuana Reality
Probably no area of social life reflects this selective process
more than drug use. Society has constructed the social concept
"drug" in such a way that it excludes elements which
are substantially identical to those it includes. What is seen
as the essential reality of a given drug and its use is a highly
contingent event. What society selects as crucial to perceive
about drugs, and what it ignores, tells us a great deal about
its cultural fabric.
The scientist makes a distinction between those questions that
can be answered empirically and those wholly in the realm of sentiment.
The question of whether marijuana causes crime is answerable,
but the question of whether marijuana is evil or not is
intrinsically unanswerable, within an empirical and scientific
framework. It depends completely on one's perspective. However
clear-cut this distinction is in the scientist's mind, as a tool
for understanding the disputants' positions in this controversy,
it is specious and misleading for a variety of reasons.
The strands of value and fact intersect with one another so luxuriantly
that in numerous reasoning sequences they are inseparable. What
one society or group or individual takes for granted as self-evidently
harmful, others view as obviously beneficial, even necessary.
In crucial ways, the issue of harm or danger to society as a result
of the drug pivots on moot points, totally unanswerable questions,
questions that science is unable to answer without the resolution
of certain basic issues. And for many crucially debated marijuana
questions, this modest requirement cannot be met. In other words,
before we raise the question of whether marijuana has a desirable
or a noxious effect, we must first establish the desirability
or the noxiousness to whom. We must concern ourselves with
the differential evaluations of the same objective consequences.
Many of the drug's effectsagreed-upon by friend and foe alikewill
be regarded as reprehensible by some individuals, desirable or
neutral by others. Often antimarijuana forces will argue against
the use of the drug, employing reasons which its supporters will
also employin favor of its use. We have not a disagreement
in what the effects are, but whether they are good or bad. This
is probably the most transparently ideological of all of the platforms
of debate about marijuana. Three illustrations of this orbit of
Were marijuana use more prevalent than it is today, there would
come the billowing of a distinct aesthetic. The state of marijuana
intoxication seems to be associated with, and even to touch off,
a unique and peculiar vision of the world. That the marijuana-induced
vision is distinctive seems to be beyond dispute; that
it is rewarding or fatuous is a matter for endless disputation.
Inexplicably, the drug seems to engender a mental state which
is coming into vogue in today's art forms. An extraordinarily
high proportion of today's young and avant-garde artistsfilmmakers,
poets, painters, musicians, novelists, photographers, mixed-media
specialistsuse the drug and are influenced by the marijuana
high. Some of the results seem to be the increasing irrelevance
of realism; the loss of interest in plot in films and novels;
a glorification of the irrational and the seemingly nonsensical;
an increased faith in the logic of the viscera, rather than in
the intellect; a heightened sense for the absurd; an abandonment
of traditional and "linear" reasoning sequences, and
the substitution of "mosaic" and fragmentary lines of
attack; bursts of insight rather than chains of thought; connectives
relying on internal relevance, rather than a commonly understood
and widely accepted succession of events and thoughts; love of
the paradoxical, the perverse, the contradictory, the incongruous;
an implosive inward thrust, rather than an explosive outward thrust;
instantaneous totality rather than specialization; the dynamic
rather than the static; the unique rather than the general and
universal. The parallel between the mental processes associated
with the marijuana high and the "tribal" mind typified
by McLuhan is too close to escape mention.
Those with conventional, traditional, and classic tastes in art
will view these results in a dim light. A recent antimarijuana
tract, for instance, comments on the highly unconventional and
antitraditionalist novelist William Burroughs' approval
of marijuana's influence on his creative powers: "The
irony is that Burroughs meant his remark as an endorsement." The
sociologist of knowledge seeks to understand and explain the bases
from which man's intellectual efforts spring. He will notice
the prominent place in this debate the manner in which matters
of taste, such as artistic aesthetics, are intimately and
inseparably bound with views of the empirical reality of the drug.
He who is opposed to the use of marijuana, and who believes
that it is (empirically) harmful, is very likely to dislike
contemporary art forms, and vice versa. The two are not, of course,
necessarily causally related, but rather emerge out of the same
Marijuana's reputed impact on sexual behavior is all to the good
to some who are comfortable with an unconventional view of sex.
To the sexually traditional, the fact that marijuana could disrupt
man's (and woman's) sexuality is an out-of-hand condemnation of
the drug. While marijuana's opponents would label any imputed
increase in sexual activity as a result of drug "promiscuity" and
would roundly condemn it, the drug's apostles would cheer society's
resurgent interest in the organic, the earthy, the sensual. For
instance, a 1967 court ruling in the Court of Massachusetts, held
that sexual promiscuity was one of the undesirable consequences
of marijuana use; Justice Tauro rejected the defendants' appeal.
Strangely, Time magazine claimed that Tauro's ruling would
be judged fair by even the staunchest of marijuana supporters.
Marijuana as a mind-altering drug has discrediting power to the
one who thinks of the everyday workings of the mind as normal
and desirable. But to the explorer of unusual and exotic mental
realms, its mind-altering functions are in its favor. The ideologues
of the psychedelic movementand marijuana is considered by most
commentators as the weakest of the psychedelic or hallucinogenic
drugsclaim that every member of society is lied to, frustrated,
cheated, duped and cajoled, and so grows up totally deceived.
Barnacles of attitudes, values, beliefs, layer themselves upon
the mind, making it impossible to see things as they truly are.
This ideology maintains that far from offering an escape from
reality, the psychedelic drugs thrust man more intensely into
reality. By suspending society's illusions, the voyager is able
to see reality in the raw, with greater verisimilitude. Aldous
Huxley exclaimed, under the influence of mescaline, "This
is how one ought to see, how things really are."
The antipsychedelic stance will, of course, deny the validity
of this process. What is real is the world as the undrugged
person perceives it. Any alteration of the normal state of consciousness
is destructive and-inherently distorting. Drug use, it is claimed,
is "a way to shut out the real world or enter a world of
unreality"; the psychedelic drug user attempts to "take
a trip away from the real world and to a society of his own making."
But what is astonishing about the controversy
is that both sides presume to know precisely what reality
is. Whatever version we choose to guide our senses, we should
not fail to see the ideological character of the controversy.
Both orientations are to a large degree arbitrary, conventional.
Epistemological questions cannot be resolved by fiat or empirical
test. Even the natural sciences rest on faith, an unprovable assumption
that the senses convey valid information. Yet each side insists
that it alone has a monopoly on knowing what is true and what
false, what is real and what illusory. Both sides attempt to mask
the capricious nature of their decision with an air of legitimacy
and absolute validity. Taking a relativistic stance toward both
perspectives, we are forced to regard both as statements of a
distinctly political nature. An essential component of dominant
medical and psychological thinking about illicit drug use is that
it is undesirable, that the user should be treated in such a manner
that he discontinues use. The user is felt, rightly or wrongly,
to threaten some of the more strongly held cultural values of
In my opinion, psychopharmacologic agents may be divided into
two major categories depending on the manner in which they either
help or hinder the individual in his adaptation to society.
Drugs may be used in one of two ways to help relieve... tensions:
by sufficiently diminishing emotional tension to permit the individual
to function or by allowing the individual to totally escape from
reality. Sedatives, tranquilizers, and antidepressants... often
permit an individual to function more effectively. Psychedelic
drugs... allow the individual to escape from reality so that
he need not function at all. The first group of drugs is often
useful to society; the second group would only destroy it.
Given the basic premises on which statements such as these
are based, it is difficult to understand just what the notion
of detachment and objectivity toward the drug user might mean.
Another locus of unresolvable controversy, where value and
fact interlock inseparably, is the question of a hierarchy of
values. An impartial stance is claimed by combatants in
a multitude of pseudoscientific questions. Here, even the
value issues may be resolved. Everyone agrees that marijuana may
precipitate psychotic episodes, and that, further, psychotic episodes
are a bad thing. The issue then becomes not, does it occur,
or, is it good or bad, but does marijuana's claimed benefits outweigh
its possible dangers? Should we restrict society's right of access
to drugs so that we may minimize the potential harm to itself?
How do one set of values stack up against another? One might,
by donning a white coat, pretend to scientific objectivity in
answering this question, but it might be wise to remember that
even the emperor didn't succeed in the ruse.
The Logistics of Empirical Support
A second powerful reason why strictly empirical arguments seem
to have exerted relatively little hold in the marijuana controversy,
aside from the intricate intertwining of value and fact, seems
to be basic panhuman psychic process that leads to the need for
the confirmation of our strongly held biases; moreover, empirical
reality, being staggeringly complex, permits and even demands
factual selection. We characteristically seek support for our
views: contrary opinions and facts are generally avoided. This
opens the way for the maintenance of points of view which are
contradicted by empirical evidence. And there is invariably a
variety of facts to choose from. It is a comparatively simple
matter to find what one is looking for in any moderately complex
issue. Each individual facing an emotionally charged issue selects
the facts which agree with his own opinions, supermarket-like.
Individuals do not judge marijuana to be harmful or beneficial
as a result of objective evidence, rationally weighed and judiciously
considered. The process, rather, works in the opposite direction:
the drug is considered harmfulas a result of customs that articulate
or clash with the use and the effect of the drug, as a result
of the kinds of people who use it, the nature of the "reading"
process society applies to these individuals, and as a result
of campaigns conducted by moral entrepreneurs, as well as innumerable
other processesand then positive and negative traits
are attributed to the drug. The explanation for perceiving the
drug in a specific manner follows the attitudes about it. A man
is not opposed to the use or the legalization of marijuana because
(he thinks) it leads to the use of more dangerous drugs, because
it causes crime, because it produces insanity and brain damage,
because it makes a person unsafe behind the wheel, because it
creates an unwillingness to work. He believes these things because
he thinks the drug is evil. The negative consequences of the use
of marijuana are superadded to support a basically value position.
But everyone, Pareto says, seeks to cloak his prejudices in the
garb of reason, especially in an empirical age, so that evidence
to support them is dragged in post hoc to provide rational and
concrete proof. Clearly, not many interested participants in a
given controversy are aware of the rules of the scientific method.
They may feel that they are empirically proving a point by submitting
concrete evidence, yet the mode of reasoning merely confirms their
ideological biases. "Proof" by enumeration exemplifies
this principle. The criminogenic effects of marijuana are demonstrated
by listing individuals who smoke marijuana who also, either under
the influence or not, committed a crime. Munch
and Anslinger and Tompkins
exemplify this line of reasoning. (We will
elaborate on this point in the chapter on marijuana's supposed
effects on crime.)
Conceptions of true and false are extravagantly refracted through
social and cultural lenses to such an extent that the entire notion
of empirical truth becomes irrelevant. True and false become,
in fact, what dominant groups define as true and false; its very
collectivity establishes legitimacy. A pro-or antimarijuana stance
reflects a basic underlying attitudinal syndrome, ideological
in character, that is consonant with its drug component. Prior
to being exposed to attitudes or "facts" about marijuana,
the individual has come to accept or reject fundamental points
of view which already lead him to apprehend the reality of marijuana
in a definite manner. These ideological slants are not merely
correlates of related and parallel attitudes. They are also perceptual
screens through which a person views empirically grounded facts.
In other words, marijuana provides an occasion for ideological
Perceptions of the very empirical reality of the drug are largely
determined by prior ideological considerations. Almost everyone
facing the issue already has an answer concerning its various
aspects, because of his attitudes about related and prior issues.
He finds facts to suit his predilectionswhether supportive
or hypercriticaland commandeers them to suit his biases. The
essential meaning of the marijuana issue is the meaning
which each individual brings to it. The marijuana "reality"
going on before us is a vast turmoil of events which, like all
realities, demands factual selection. Yet the selection of facts
is never random. It is always systematic; it always obeys a specific
logic. Any message can be read into the impact of the drug; anything
you wish to see is there. We support our predilections by only
seeing in the dung that which supports them. If the critic
wants to see in the drug and its use violence, sadism, rape and
murder, they are there, buried in the reality of marijuana. If
the drug supporter wishes to see peace and serenity, they are
not difficult to find either.
This is not to say, of course, that no research has ever been
conducted which approaches scientific objectivity. (Scientific
objectivity is, as we pointed out above, one form of bias, but
since on most issues all participants in the dispute pay their
respects to it, this axiom is apolitical in its import.) It is
to say, however, that not all participants in the marijuana controversy
have been trained as scientists, nor do they reason as scientists.
Interpretations of the marijuana studies are more important
to us here than the studies' findings themselves. Out of a multitude
of findings a diversity of mutually exclusive conclusions can
be reached. The multitude of results from the many marijuana reports
forms a sea of ambiguity into which nearly any message may be
read. The researcher's findings do not make themselves clear to
the reader. Any opinion may be verified by the scientific literature
on marijuana. Mayor LaGuardia's Report rivals the Bible
in the diversity of the many conclusions that have been drawn
Marijuana's proponents take heart in its conclusions,
and nearly all of the entire report has been
reprinted in The Marihuana Papers, a decidedly promarijuana
anthology. Yet at the same time antimarijuana forces find in the
study solid evidence for the damaging effects of the drug.
Our point, then, is that drawing conclusions
from even the most careful and parsimonious scientific study is
itself a highly selective process. The welter of findings are
subject to a systematic sifting process. Often the researcher
finds it necessary to disassociate himself from the conclusions
which others have drawn from his own work. For instance, a sensationalistic
popular article on LSD was denounced as a distortion and an atrocity
by the very scientists whose research it cited.
More attention ought to be paid, therefore,
to the "reading" process of drawing conclusions from
scientific work, rather than the findings themselves. In fact,
specifically what might be meant by "the findings themselves"
is unclear, since they can be made to say many different and contradictory
If a tactician were surveying the marijuana controversy, he would
be struck by the ideological advantage of the antipot lobby in
at least one respect: the single negative case is considerably
more powerful than the single positive caseor, indeed, many
positive cases. Harmfulness is far easier to prove than harmlessness.
In order to demonstrate that marijuana is not damaging at all,
it would be necessary to produce evidence that all cases
of marijuana use did not result in damageall individuals at
all timesan obvious impossibility. Whereas to show that it
is damaging in any degree, only a few scattered cases need be
produced. (Even assuming that the "damage" can be traced
to the marijuana, a question which is, itself, problematic.) Consequently,
there is no conceivable evidence which can be presented
to someone with a strong antimarijuana position which he will
accept as a demonstration of the drug's comparative harmlessness.
Strategies of Discreditation
Labeling has political implications. By devising a linguistic
category with specific connotations, one is designing armaments
for a battle; by having it accepted and used, one has scored a
major victory. For instance, the term "psychedelic"
has a clear prodrug bias: it says that the mind works best when
under the influence of this type of drug. (Moreover, one of the
psychedelic drug proselytizers, in search of a term which would
describe the impact of these drugs, rejected "psychodelic"
as having negative overtones of psychosis.) The term "hallucinogen"
is equally biased since an hallucination is, in our civilization
at least, unreal, illusory, and therefore undesirable; the same
holds for the term "psychotomimetic," capable of producing
a madness-like state. The semantics and linguistics of the drug
issue form an essential component of the ideological skirmishes.
As an example of how labeling influences
one's posture toward a phenomenon, note that the Bureau of Narcotics
and Dangerous Drugs has jurisdiction over "addicting"
drugs, which supposedly includes marijuana, while the Food
and Drug Administration handles "habit-forming"
drugs. Because of this jurisdictional division, the Bureau is
forced into the absurd position of having to classify marijuana
as an addicting drug, and to support this contention, it supplies
drug categorizations that follow jurisdictional lines,
as if they had some sort of correspondence
in the real world. However, the Bureau seems not to take its own
classifications seriously, since whenever the issue is discussed
by its members, it is emphasized that marijuana is not addicting
in the classical sense, but it produces a "psychological
"Drug abuse" is such a linguistic device. It is often
used by physicians and by those in medically related fields. Encountering
the use of the term, one has the impression that something quite
measurable is being referred to, something very much like a disease,
an undesirable condition which is in need of remedy. The term,
thus, simultaneously serves two functions: it claims clinical
objectivity and it discredits the action that it categorizes.
In fact, there is no such objectivity in the term; its use is
baldly political. Drug abuse is the use of a drug that influential
persons with legitimacy condemn. Their objections are on moral,
not medical, grounds, although their argument will be cast in
medical language. Nonmedical drug use is, in the medical view,
by definition abuse.
A linguistic category both crystallizes and influences responses
to, and postures toward, a phenomenon. The term "abuse"
illustrates this axiom. It announces that nonmedical drug-taking
is undesirable, that the benefits which the drug-using subculture
proclaims for drug use are outweighed by the hard rock of medical
damage. Yet, since the weighing of values is a moral, not a medical
process, we are full-face against an ideological resolution of
the issue, yet one couched in a scientific and empirical exoskeleton.
Furthermore, the linguistic category demands verification. By
labeling a phenomenon "abuse," one is willy-nilly under
pressure to prove that the label is valid. The term so structures
our perceptions of the phenomenon that it is possible to see only
abusive aspects in drug use. Therefore, data must be collected
to discredit the beneficial claims of drug use.
Another strategy of disconfirming the marijuanaists' claims to
legitimacy is the notion, closely interconnected with drug use
as abuse, that marijuana use is the manifestation of medical pathology.
This thrust bears two prongs: (1) the etiology of marijuana
use as an expression of, or an "acting out" of, a personality
disturbance; and (2) the effects of the drug as a precipitator
of temporary but potent psychotic episodes. By assigning marijuana
use to the twilight world of psychic pathology, its moral and
willful character has been neutralized. The labeled behavior has
been removed from the arena of free will; its compulsive character
effectively denies that it can be a viable alternative, freely
chosen. A recent discussion argues that assigning the status of
medical pathology is an effective device for neutralizing the
legitimacy of a political opponent's ideology.
An act reduced to both symptom and cause
of pathology has had its claims to moral rectitude neutralized
and discredited. As a manifestation of illness, it calls for treatment,
not serious debate. In a sense, then, physicians and psychiatrists
have partially replaced policemen as preservers of the social
order, since attempts at internal controls have replaced external
sanctions. Both presume to know for the subject how he "ought"
to act. Yet the new sanctions, based on an ideology which the
deviant partially believes inscientific treatment of a medical
illnessbecomes a new and more powerful form of authoritarianism.
Generally, some sort of explanation, particularly one involving
compulsion and pathology, is needed wherever it is not rationally
understandable to the observer, that is, when it doesn't make
sense. An anomalous and bizarre form of behavior demands an explanation.
We can understand repeated dosages of poetry, because we all approve
of poetry, so that no special examination is necessitated. It
is only where the behavior violates our value biases that we feel
it necessary to construct an interpretation. There is the built-in
assumption that the individual should be able to do without
recreational drugs, that their use is unnecessary, and a life
without them is the normal state of affairs. Violation of our
expectations requires an explanation. No explanation for abstinence
from drugs is necessary, since our biases tell us that that is
the way one ought to live.
Looking at all of the actions of which society disapprovesdeviant
behaviorwe notice that they share fundamental similarities.
However, these similarities inhere not so much in the acts themselves
as in the way society responds to them. One of the more interesting
responses is the tendency to impute psychological abnormality
to their authors. The issue of whether such judgments are "correct"
or not is less relevant to us as is the nexus between the kinds
of acts that attract such judgments, and the nature of
the society in which they are made. It is said that Freud once
had a patient who believed that the center of the earth was
filled with jam. Freud was not concerned with the truth or
falsity of that statement but with the kind of man who
made it. Similarly, the sociologist of knowledge concerns himself
with the kinds of explanations a society fabricates about behavior
in its midst, and what those explanations reveal about
that society. It should be regarded as extremely significant that
deviant behavior seems to have attracted explanations which activate
a principle of psychological abnormality. The sociologist legitimately
raises the question as to what it is about American society which
begets a personality abnormality explanation for marijuana smokers,
as well as heroin addicts, homosexuals, unwed mothers, criminals,
juvenile delinquents, and prostitutes, in addition to a host of
other deviant groups and activities.
The fact that each of these social categoriesand
the activities associated with themare severely condemned by
American society makes the nature of the process of constructing
pathology interpretations of deviance at least as interesting
as the etiology of the deviant behavior itself. In all of these
cases, adopting a medical approach to the deviant and his behavior
effectively neutralizes his moral legitimacy, as well as the viability
of his behavior. In this sense, the constructors of such theories
serve to mirror the basic values of American society.
It is incredible that so many participants of this debate feel
that the issues can be decided rationallyand in favor of their
own side, naturally, which is, of course, how they decide what
is rational. In reality, the marijuana debate is simply not an
issue that permits rationality Some questions are inherently unanswerable,
while others, although ideally subject to empirical demonstration,
are so heavily mired in sentiment that no amount of tugging is
going to get them out. Only the naive think that "proof"
proceeds in the manner of the scientific ideal. "Proof"
involves gathering information, however dubious, which suits one's
own biases, and suppressing that which threatens them. Actually,
"facts" are instruments designed for the support of
one's biases. These facts may actually be true, but truth is complex
and elusive, and even seemingly contradictory facts may be "true."
Anyone who thinks of marijuana use as evil wishes to attribute
"evil" causes to it, as well as "evil" consequences
( especially ).
No one likes violence, crime, heroin addiction, or "psychological
dependence," so marijuana is charged with generating them.
Actually, these are all code words. The allegation that
marijuana causes violence is code for "marijuana use is evil."
Today's allegations have, of course, been retranslated into contemporary
scientific metaphors, because religious imagery does not speak
with much practical authority today, but their meaning is identical.
Consider the following quotes ( the emphasis is mine ):
... marihuana is addicting in the sense that it is a
dangerous intoxicating drug...
So far as I can see, I do not think it is irrational to legally
define marihuana as a "narcotic drug."
Although cannabism does not lead to an addiction in
the classic sense of morphinism, the subjection to the drug is
fairly serious. To a considerable extent, it decreases the social
value of the individual and leads him to manifest physical
and mental decadence. The tendency to an unsocial conduct
of relaxed morals, of listlessness, with an aversion
to work or the inclination to develop psychotic phenomena,
is greatly intensified by marihuana.
In each case, the reader thinks that he understands the distinction
being made while, in fact, the writer is actually making a very
different one: a logical sleight of hand, in a sense. Notice the
transition; we think we know what addicting means, and we feel
assured that marijuana is not addicting. But we know that addicting
is bad, and such labels are useful for persuasion purposes. So,
marijuana must be labeled addicting, making it bad. We know that
narcotics are bad, and that narcotic refers to an analgesic, a
pain-killer. By defining marijuana as a narcotic, one quality
of the narcotic is isolated out (its image in the popular mind
as evil), and its actual pharmacologic property ( pain-killing
), which marijuana doesn't share, is ignored. Thus, we have narcotic-evil-marijuana.
Although this procedure might seem strange to the logician, the
methodologist, the scientist, it should come as no surprise to
the student of primitive tribes. On such processes major elements
of whole civilizations are built. Consider the uproar a generation
ago in a tiny Indian village in Mexico following the discovery
that an inoculation serum contained horse blood; no one wanted
this substance injected into his body. Inoculation, as a consequence,
had to be postponed until a more enlightened age and the population
of the village exposed itself to the threat of lethal disease.
What Westerners consider the major characteristic of the serum
(disease prevention) was ignored; the minor characteristic (horse
blood) was emphasized. To the Indian, the attribution of importance
was reversed. Such are the powers of conceptualization.
When the law, such as in New York State, defines marijuana as
a narcotic, it is actually using the definition as a codea
kind of cryptographfor unprovable assumptions about the drug's
properties, the moral nature of its use, and the character of
its clientele. The fact that in a pharmacological sense, the legal
definition is erroneous and absurd, should not trouble us unduly.
Actually, the pharmacological property of the drug has been suppressed
in favor of a moral and evaluative properties. Narcotic
is a code word for evil and (putatively) dangerous. The evaluation
of marijuana as dangerous contains both moral and empirical judgments,
as we pointed out earlier. It involves two processes: deciding
what may be defined as dangerous, which is a value judgment, and
how the evidence concerning marijuana's dangers may be evaluated.
The law does not purport to make a scientific evaluation of the
drug's characteristics; it is making a moral and conjectural judgment;
by labeling the phenomenon it is criminalizing, the coupling is
made powerful, and the elements are almost inseparable.
In fact, the entire marijuana controversy could be viewed as a
series of semantic constructs. We could make generalizations about
the position of one or another combatant on the basis of specific
key wordseven without examining his argument. These words could
serve as linguistic devices or symbols for a whole line of reasoning.
We know, for instance, that if Oriental studies are cited, the
author thinks that marijuana is harmful. Or that if the alcohol-marijuana
comparison is made, that the person presenting the argument feels
that alcohol is more harmful than marijuana, and that pot should
be legalized Thus, the words, "India" or "alcohol"
serve as a symbol for a position taken. Arguments are invoked;
linguistic symbols are manipulated It is a form of shorthand for
an ideological position. Similarly, in many cultural forms, such
as film, there are popularly understood and taken-for-granted
summing-up devices which represent larger universes of discourse.
At one time, in Westerns, the villain had to be dressed in black
and ride a black horse: the hero was symbolized by white. We know
today that sexual intercourse takes place when accompanied by
the appropriate symbol referents, even without viewing the action;
a musical crescendo and a fadeout tell us as much as an explicit
rendition about what actually happened. (Sexual explicitness,
however, is coming into style. All this means is that different
cryptograms are utilized.) By examining the marijuana controversy
as such a cultural fragment, we are able to see with crystal clarity
the humanly fabricated nature of the issues and the ideological
character of the arguments invoked.
It is the sociologist's job to discover and explicate patterns
in social life. One side of a protracted and apparently insoluble
controversy activates arguments that involve such putatively repugnant
components as "socially irresponsible," "vagabond
existence," "outlandish fashions," "long hair,"
"lack of cleanliness," and "disdain for conventional
other side emphasizes factors that it deems beneficial: "discovery,"
"optical and aural aesthetic perceptions," "self-awareness,"
"insight," and "minute engagement."
So we are led to the conclusion that the
controversy is a matter of taste and style of life, that it revolves
about basically unanswerable issues, and its adjudication will
take place on the basis of power and legitimacy, not on the basis
of scientific truth. In fact, given the nature of the disputation,
it is difficult to know exactly what is meant by scientific truth.
The problem becomes one of getting support for one or another
bias, rather than the empirical testing of specific propositions,
whatever that might entail.
The American Medical Association urges educational programs as
an effective "deterrent" to marijuana use.
It is not, however, the sheer accumulation
of information about marijuana which the AMA is referring to,
since the marijuana user knows more than the average nonuser about
the effects of the drug. Attitudes toward the drug are
referred to, not factual information:
... district officials are so fired up, they'd interrupt the
routine of the whole district just to make sure our kids hear
a good speaker or see a movie that will teach them the basic fact:
stay away from drugs.
In order to know exactly what it is that they should stay away
from students must know the nature of drugs... they're
provided with basic facts. These facts aren't given "objectively"they're
slanted, so there's not the slightest doubt that students
understand just how dangerous drugs can be.
You can call it brainwashing if you want to. We don't care what
you call itas long as these youngsters get the point.
Not only is the "meaning in the response," but both
meaning and response are structured by power and legitimacy hierarchies.
Society calls upon certain status occupants to verify what we
wish to hear. These statuses are protective in nature, especially
designated to respond to certain issues in a predetermined manner.
Threats to society's security must be discredited. An elaborate
charade is played out; debater's points are scoredwith no acknowledgment
from the other sideand no one is converted. Inexorably, American
society undergoes massive social change, and the surface froth
of marijuana use and the marijuana controversy changes with it.
N O T E S
1. Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The
Social Construction of Reality (Garden City, N. Y.:
Doubleday, 1966), p. 13. (back)
2. Robert K. Merton, "Puritanism, Pietism,
and Science," in Social Theory and Social Structure, 3rd
ed. (New York: Free Press, 1968), and Robert E. Kennedy, "The
Protestant Ethic and the Parsis," The American Journal
of Sociology 68 (July 1962): 11-20. (back)
3. Joseph Needham, "Buddhism and Chinese
Science," in Science and Civilization in China (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1956), 2: 417-422, 430-431. (back)
4. Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy (Garden
City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1967), pp. 33, 36, 90-91, 203. (back)
5. Peter Ludlow, "In Defence of Pot:
Confessions of a Canadian Marijuana Smoker," Saturday
Night, October 1965, pp. 2832; Allen Ginsberg, "The
Great Marijuana Hoax: First Manifesto to End the Bringdown,"
Atlantic Monthly, November 1966, pp. 106 112; Renata Adler,
"The Screen: Head, Monkees Movie for a Turned-on Audience,"
The New York Times, November 7 1968; Anonymous, "Thoughts
on Marijuana and the Artist," in Erich Goode, ed., Marijuana
(New York: Atherton Press, 1969), pp. 177-183. (back)
6. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964). (back)
7. Edward R. Bloomquist, Marijuana (Beverly
Hills, Calif.: Glencoe Press, 1968), p.189. (back)
8. G. Joseph Tauro, "A Judicial Opinion:
Commonwealth v. Joseph D. Leis and Ivan Weiss," Suffolk
University Law Review 3 (Fall 1968): 23-41. (back)
9. Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception,
bound with Heaven and Hell (New York: Harper Colophon,
1963), p.34. (back)
10. American Medical Association, "The
Crutch That Cripples: Drug Dependence," a leaflet (Chicago:
AMA, 1968), pp. 1, 4. (back)
11. Benjamin Kissin, "On Marijuana,"
Downstate Medical Center Reporter 7, no. 2 (April 1967):
p. 2. (back)
12. James Munch, "Marihuana and Crime,"
United Nations Bulletin on Narcotics 18 (April-June
1966): 15-22. (back)
13. Harry J. Anslinger and W. G. Tomkins,
The Traffic in Narcotics (New York: Funk and Wagnalls,
1953), pp. 23-35. (back)
14. John Rosevear, Pot: A Handbook of
Marihuana (New Hyde Park, N. Y.: University Books, 1967),
pp. 111-112. (back)
15. Bloomquist, op. cit., p. 122-126; Henry
Brill, "Why Not Pot Now? Some Questions and Answers About
Marijuana," Psychiatric Opinion 5, no. 5 (October
1968): 2021; Donald B. Louria, "The Great Marijuana Debate,"
in The Drug Scene (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968), p. 105.
16. Bill Davidson, "The Hidden Evils
of LSD," The Saturday Evening Post, August 12, 1967,
pp. 19 23. (back)
17. Joel Fort, "The Semantics and Logic
of the Drug Scene," in Charles Hollander, ed., Background
Papers on Student Drug Involvement (Washington: National Student
Association, 1967), p. 88. (back)
18. "A Schoolman's Guide to Illicit
Drugs," School Management, June 1966, pp. 100101.
19. Henry L. Giordano, "MarihuanaA
Calling Card to Narcotic Addiction," FBI Law Enforcement
Bulletin 37 (November 1968): 3. (back)
20. Gregory P. Stone and Harvey A. Farberman,
Social Psychology Through Symbolic Interaction (Waltham,
Mass.: Blaisdell, 1970). (back)
21. Isidore Chein et al., The Road to
H (New York: Basic Books, 1964); Irving Bieber et al., Homosexuality
(New York: Basic Books, 1962); New York Academy of Medicine,
"Homosexuality," Bulletin of the New York Academy
of Medicine 40 (July 1964): 576-580; Leontyne R. Young, Out
of Wedlock (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1954), and "Personality
Patterns in Unmarried Mothers," The Family 26 (December
1945): 296-303; David Abrahamsen, The Psychology of Crime (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1960); Hyman Grossbard, "Ego
Deficiency in Delinquents," Social Casework 43 (April
1962): 171-178; Harold Greenwald, The Call Girl (New York:
Ballantine Books, 1960). (back)
22. David W. Maurer and Victor H. Vogel,
Narcotics and Narcotic Addiction, 3rd ed. (Springfield,
III.: Charles C Thomas, 1967), p. 119. (back)
23. Donald E. Miller, "What Policemen
Should Know About the Marihuana Controversy," International
Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association, Eighth Annual Conference
Report (Louisville, Ky., October 22-26, 1967), p. 55. (back)
24. Pablo Oswaldo Wolff, Marihuana in
Latin America: The Threat It Constitutes (Washington: Linacre
Press, 1949), p. 47. (back)
25. Dana Farnsworth, "The Drug Problem
Among Young People," West Virginia Medical Journal 63
(December 1967): 433-437. (back)
26. Ginsberg, op. cit. (back)
27. American Medical Association, "Marihuana
and Society," Journal of the American Medical Association
204 (June 24, 1968): 1181-1182. (back)
28. "How One District Combats the Drug
Problem," School Management, June 1966 p. 103. The
interview is with Dr. Sidney Birnbach, director of school health,
physical education, and safety, in the Yonkers, New York, school