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The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs

by Edward M. Brecher and the Editors of Consumer Reports Magazine, 1972

Chapter 57. America discovers marijuana

 Here are some of the results of a third of a century of anti-marijuana laws, escalated penalties, and intensive anti-marijuana propaganda.

On September 17, 1969, a spokesman for the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare–– Dr. Stanley F. Yolles, then Director of the National institute of Mental Health–– informed a Senate judiciary Subcommittee that somewhere between 8,000,000 and 12,000,000 Americans had smoked marijuana at least once. 1 This estimate was based on a wide range of surveys made among high-school students, college students, and the public at large.

Of those 8,000,000 to 12,000,000 marijuana smokers, Dr. Yolles continued, about 65 percent (5,000,000 to 8,000,000) were "experimenting, trying the drug from one to ten times, and then discontinuing its use." (Many of those who discontinued marijuana no doubt concluded that they preferred alcohol.) Another 25 percent (2,000,000 to 3,000,000 smokers) were "social users, smoking marijuana on occasion when it is available, usually in a group context." The remaining 10 percent or less (800,000 to 1,200,000 marijuana smokers) "can be considered chronic users who devote significant portions of their time to obtaining and using the drug." 2

This burgeoning of marijuana smoking can hardly be blamed on lax law enforcement. In California, where marijuana smoking was most prevalent, marijuana arrests had increased enormously between 1954 and 1968: 

Number of marijuana arrests, California 
1,156 3
50,327 4

 Marijuana arrests accounted for 27 percent of all California drug arrests in 1960; by 1968 this figure had increased to 58 percent. Comparable figures are not available for other states or for the country as a whole.*

* This is a shocking gap, indeed, in the nation's statistical resources. Although both Congress and the state legislatures have been passing anti-marijuana laws through the years, the number of people arrested under those laws, the number found guilty, the number serving prison terms, the length of terms served, and other data essential to wise legislative decisions have never been determined.

 By the spring of 1970, as additional survey data flowed in, the official United States estimates of 8,000,000 to 12,000,000 users were raised. The number of individuals who had "ever smoked" marijuana, it was reported, may be closer to 20 million." 5

Here are some of the surveys on which these estimates were based.

In May 1969, the Gallup Poll reported results of a survey of college students. "Interviews were conducted for the poll with students across the nation–– in private institutions such as Harvard University, in state supported institutions such as Ohio State University, and in denominational or church-related institutions such as Notre Dame University." Twenty-two percent of the respondents stated that they had smoked marijuana. 6 (By December 1970, the comparable Gallup Poll figure was 42 percent. 7) In contrast, only 10 percent said that they had taken a barbiturate and only 4 percent that they had tried LSD.

"Less stigma seems to be attached to the use of marijuana now than a year ago," the 1969 Gallup college report noted; "many students admit to taking marijuana as readily as they do to drinking beer." 8

In October 1969, the. Gallup Poll estimated that 10,000,000 Americansx–– half of them under twenty-one–– had smoked marijuana. Based on the same sample of 1,539 adults in 300 localities described above, the poll concluded that 4 percent of all adults over twenty-one (6 percent of men and 2 percent of women) had smoked marijuana. Smokers ranged from 2 percent of the adults sampled in the Midwest and South to 5 percent in the East and 9 percent in the West. Twelve percent of men and women twenty-one to twenty-nine years of age had smoked marijuana, 3 percent of those thirty to forty-nine, and one percent of those fifty and over. 9 The nonusers, moreover, included many who said they would smoke marijuana if it were offered them.

At the University of Maryland, Dr. James D. McKenzie, a psychologist, has for several years been polling students enrolled in psychology and business courses. In 1967, 15 percent of responding students stated that they had smoked marijuana at least once; by 1969 this figure had increased to 35.6 percent. 10 The most dramatic increase occurred among women students.

Among the 600 students polled by Dr. McKenzie in 1969, 25.4 percent stated that they had smoked marijuana in the past and intended to continue smoking it or were currently smoking it at least once every two weeks. Among students living off campus, nearly half had smoked marijuana. Forty-eight percent of all students polled, including many who did not smoke marijuana themselves, believed that marijuana should be legalized.

"All kinds of students are using it–– even the fraternity types," Dr. McKenzie was quoted as saying. "You can't talk about a drug-using type of student when you are talking about marijuana. Most of the use is very casual, like beer drinking on Saturday night." 11

In September 1966, a drug-use questionnaire was distributed to medical students enrolled at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Fourteen percent of the freshman (Class of 1970) medical students reported that they had smoked marijuana. 12 One year later, the same questionnaire was distributed again to the same Class of 1970 medical students. This time 31 percent reported that they had smoked marijuana–– indicating that 17 percent had smoked it for the first time during their first year at medical school. Among freshman (Class of 1971) medical students included in the second survey, 22 percent reported smoking marijuana, as compared with the 14 percent for the Class of 1970 at the comparable point in its medical-school career. The Albert Einstein surveys also noted a modest decrease in alcohol use among medical-school students as marijuana use increased. The proportion of Class of 19710 students who stopped using alcohol between the 1966 and 1967 questionnaires was the same as the proportion who started smoking marijuana: 17 percent. 13

In the spring of 1970, a poll was taken among 1,057 seniors at four medical schools–– two in the East, one in the Middle West, and one on the West Coast. The medical schools were not named; but the psychiatrists who undertook the study were from the Harvard Medical School, the State University of New York Medical School at Buffalo, the University of Nebraska College of Medicine, and the Stanford University Medical School.

When asked whether they had ever used marijuana, only 16 percent of the seniors at one medical school said yes. At the other three medical schools, the replies were 46 percent, 68 percent, and 70 percent affirmative. 14

Dr. Samuel G. Benson, the Stanford University psychiatrist who reported these figures at the 1971 meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, added this comment: "The large numbers of respondents indicating experience with marijuana (over two-thirds at Schools A and C) place medical students among the greatest users of cannabis yet reported. Only University of California law students and Vietnam combat soldiers were reported to have equivalent usage. No other survey published in medical literature reports comparable figures." 15 Of 466 medical students in the four-school study who had smoked marijuana, more than 275 reported that they were current marijuana smokers, and 114 reported that they had smoked marijuana more than a hundred times. 16 

Among 491 prospective lawyers enrolled in the Columbia University Law School who filled out a 1969 questionnaire, 69 percent said that they had smoked marijuana at least once. Fewer than 7 percent had smoked it only once. Among the marijuana smokers, 40 percent said that they smoked it "infrequently"; 53 percent said that they smoked it once or twice a month; and 7 percent said that they smoked it daily. * 17

* When it is recalled that the possession of marijuana was a felony in most states, the willingness of so many students and adults alike including doctors-to-be and lawyers-to-be-to admit to marijuana smoking is particularly impressive.

It is commonly supposed that marijuana smoking is particularly prevalent among students, but a study of 1,104 San Francisco residents aged eighteen and over, conducted in 1967-1968 by Dean I. Manheimer, Glen D. Mellinger, and Mitchell B. Balter, casts doubt on that supposition. One-half of the men and one-third of the women aged eighteen to twenty-four in the sample had smoked marijuana at least once; but "the proportion of students who report using marijuana does not differ markedly from the corresponding proportion among non-students" in the same age brackets. For all ages, 13 percent reported using marijuana18 percent of the men and 9 percent of the women; no doubt these percentages have increased since the years 1967-1968. One-fifth of the marijuana smokers in the San Francisco sample were over thirty-five. 18

The Manheimer-Mellinger-Balter survey also showed interesting correlations between marijuana smoking and cigarette smoking. Among those aged eighteen to thirty-four who smoked a pack or more of cigarettes daily, 51 percent of the men and 42 percent of the women had smoked marijuana; among those in the same age bracket who did not smoke cigarettes, only 17 percent of the men and 8 percent of the women had smoked marijuana. 

Polls taken among American servicemen in Vietnam indicated high levels of marijuana smoking there.

A study made in February 1970 by Major John J. Treanor, chief medical officer of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, for example, showed that of 1,064 soldiers questioned, 32 percent stated that they had not smoked marijuana; 37 percent said that they had tried it once or twice, 15 percent said they used it one or more times a week, and 16 percent said that they used it "about every day" or "more often than once a day." 19

"Contrary to a widely held opinion that most marijuana smoking is done among soldiers in large rear-base camps," the New York Times reported, "the [Treanor] study found that nearly two-thirds of the soldiers who had admitted smoking marijuana were stationed at forward base camps and had spent most of their time on 'field duty' or combat and pacification operations in the countryside." 20

The Associated Press reported corroborative details from Detroit under a June 22, 1971, dateline: 

A Congressional Medal of Honor winner says he was "stoned" on marijuana the night he fought off two waves of Vietcong soldiers and won America's highest military honor....

It was April 1, 1970, when Mr. [Peter] Lemon, an Army Specialist 4, used his rifle, machine gun and hand grenades to smash a large attack on his position.

He fought the enemy single-handed and dragged a wounded comrade to the rear before collapsing from exhaustion and three wounds. At a medical center, he refused treatment until more seriously injured men had been cared for. 

The dispatch quoted the injured hero as explaining: "It was the only time I ever went into combat stoned.

"You get really alert when you're stoned because you have to be. We were all partying the night before. We weren't expecting any action because we were in a support group."

Mr. Lemon continued: "All the guys were heads [confirmed marijuana smokers]. We'd sit around smoking grass and getting stoned and talking about when we'd get to go home." 21

New York Times correspondent B. Drummond Ayres reported in March 1970, after a year in Vietnam: 

The first American combat unit bad not been in Vietnam very long before it was noted locally that the big, fair-skinned soldiers had an affinity not only for chewing gum but also for a weed that grew wild. Quickly, the entrepreneur that lurks in every Vietnamese took over, and almost overnight there were places in the fertile Mekong delta where peasants were row-cropping marijuana.

When the United States command learned of this agricultural brazenry, it immediately imported Federal narcotics agents to direct a crackdown. They came on very strong, with pot-sniffing police dogs, a series of surprise barracks inspections, television and radio commercials and a program for training Vietnamese law officers in narcotics suppression. Even helicopters were enlisted in the struggle. 22 

The explosive increase in marijuana smoking in Vietnam, as in the United States, followed rather than preceded such intensive law-enforcement and public-relations efforts.

The military campaign against marijuana eased in 1971, when it was discovered that an estimated 15 or 20 percent of United States military personnel in Vietnam had at least sampled heroin, and that many thousands were smoking or sniffing heroin daily. Thereafter, primary military emphasis shifted to a campaign against heroin, and marijuana again became regularly available. The drive against marijuana in Vietnam, as noted in Chapter 20, was an important factor in the sudden rise in heroin use. 

One of the most significant yet rarely cited marijuana surveys was that made in 1967 for the Special House Committee on Narcotics of the Michigan House of Representatives, with Representative Dale Warner of Lansing as chairman. The Committee's fact-finding task force decided for several reasons to concentrate on drug use among high-school seniors; and in December 1968, its findings were reported to the committee by Richard A. Bogg of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, Dr. Roy G. Smith, a physician representing the Michigan State Department of Public Health, and Susan D. Russell, research assistant. 23

The task force had great difficulty in finding schools that would permit their students to be surveyed on drugs; but eleven schools eventually agreed. These included a distinguished private coeducational preparatory school sending its graduates to the country's leading colleges and universities, two urban slum schools, three suburban schools, and several schools in remote rural areas. Data were collected from most schools in May 1968.

Marijuana use varied widely from school to school. No marijuana smoking whatever was reported from two rural high schools, while 33.7 percent of the 89 respondents in the private preparatory school reported that they had smoked marijuana at least once.

Unlike most drug-use studies, the Bogg-Smith-Russell Michigan survey then went on to ask about alcohol use. Alcohol, it should be noted, was also illegal for those tinder twenty-one years of age. Here the figures were much higher, varying from 49 percent to 81 percent. The marijuana vs.alcohol comparisons, school by school, are shown in Table 5.

As in other surveys, a higher proportion of male than of female respondents reported smoking marijuana–– except at the private preparatory school, where 18 of the 30 marijuana smokers were female.

Much more detailed questions about drug use were asked at six of the eleven schools. ne relation between marijuana smoking and alcohol drinking, for example, was explored in sonic detail. It turned out that among the 535 respondents who drank alcoholic beverages, 107 (20 percent) had also smoked marijuana at least once. Among the 322 who did not drink alcohol, only 5 (1.6 percent) had ever smoked marijuana. These figures suggest a close relationship between alcohol drinking and marijuana: there was a negligible likelihood that a Michigan high-school senior who did not drink alcohol would smoke marijuana.

 Type of High School
Percentage Who Have Smoked Marijuana One or More Times  Percentage Who Consume Alcoholic Beverages
Central City A
Central City B
Urban Community A
Urban Community B
Small Town
Upper Peninsula
Small Town
Lower Peninsula
Rural Community A
Lower Peninsula
Rural Community B
Lower Peninsula
Rural Community
Upper Peninsula

Table 5. Marijuana and Alcohol Usage in High Schools 24

Many of the high-school drinkers, moreover, didn't just try a beer occasionally. Among the 525 respondents who reported drinking alcoholic beverages, nearly half (258) reported that on at least one occasion they bad drunk enough to cause vomiting. Thirty-seven percent reported that they had drunk enough to produce "blackout" (inability to remember the next day what had happened during the drinking) One-fifth said that they had drunk enough to lose consciousness (pass out). 25 These data suggest that, even in schools where marijuana use is widespread, alcohol remains the major drug problem among high school seniors.

In general, the marijuana smokers in the sample were somewhat more likely than the nonsmokers to have experienced vomiting, blackout, or unconsciousness following excessive alcohol consumption. Whether their unpleasant experiences with alcohol were among their motives for trying marijuana was not determined, but is an obvious possibility.

An association was found between tobacco smoking and marijuana smoking; among 351 respondents who smoked tobacco, 24 percent also smoked marijuana; among 507 respondents who did not smoke tobacco, only 5 percent smoked marijuana. The associations among alcohol drinking, cigarette smoking, and marijuana smoking were the strongest statistical associations found in the entire study.

The use of marijuana among adults in business and the professions is, of course, more difficult to document. In the New York Times Magazine for August 23, 1970, however, Sam Blum did supply some anecdotal evidence of increasing use among such groups. 26 "Undoubtedly, the most important reason for the sudden outbreak of marijuana use in the adult working world is that young people have grown older," Mr. Blum explains. "The pot-smoking art student of 1965 is the pot-smoking art director of 1970. The pot-smoking coed of last year is today's pot-smoking 'assistant buyer of better dresses.' "

Mr. Blum then goes on to quote one of these assistant buyers: "You go into a [garment district] showroom, and there's a straight set of salesmen for the old ladies, and they offer the old ladies a drink, but there are also hip salesmen, guys with real long hair and groovy clothes–– and they just take you in the back and turn you on [with marijuana]. in some of the houses the designer, the models, everybody is spaced out of his mind [high on marijuana]...."

Then Mr. Blum continued: "Statistics don't exist on this matter, but it is this observer's impression that in New York marijuana is being used most widely by adults in the arts and the commercial arts, in the teaching profession (where it is argued that one could not conceivably understand the students if one did not grasp their highs), and in the 'helping' professions such as social work and psychiatry."

Mr. Blum interviewed four psychoanalysts–– all members of the New York Psychoanalytic Society. All four "agreed on the estimate that 95 percent of their colleagues in their own age group (between 35 and 45) had experimented with marijuana and that many continued to use it from time to time. Moreover, to the best of their knowledge, all of the psychiatrists under the age of 35 whom they personally knew, and certainly all of their own psychiatric residents, smoked pot regularly, many of them daily. Knowledgeable Bostonians suggest that their psychoanalytic community is equally turned on."

Society in the New York area, Mr. Blum went on to report, is becoming stratified into marijuana vs. alcohol subgroups. "Recently, for example, a New York editor found that he was excluded from a grass-smoking dinner party because he had let slip that he bad never learned to inhale. To make up for the slight, his hostess invited him to a second dinner party with a bunch of drinkers...." 27

The United States, in short, had at long last discovered marijuana.

Chapter 57

1. Stanley Yolles, testimony in Narcotics Legislation, Hearings before the Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency of the Committee on the judiciary, U.S. Senate, 91st Cong., 1st Sess., September 17, 1969 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1969), p. 267.

2. Ibid., p. 277.

3. David Solomon, ed., The Marijuana Papers (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966), Table 5, p. 30.

4. State of California, Department of justice, Bureau of Criminal Statistics, Drug Arrests and Dispositions in California, 1967, Table a, p. 4; Table b, p. 5; and 1968, Table III -1, p. 61; Table I-4, p. 45.

5. Stanley Yolles, "Statement for the National Institute of Mental Health," presented to Subcommittee on Public Health and Welfare of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, 91st Cong., 2nd Sess., February 4, 1970 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1970), P. 181.

6. New York Times, May 26, 1969.

7. New York Times, January 17, 1971.

8. Ibid.

9. New York Times, October 26, 1969,

10. James D. McKenzie, cited by B. J. Phillips in Washington Post, January 14, 1970.

11. Ibid.

12. Jack D. Blaine, Carl M. Lieberman, and Joseph Hirsh, "Preliminary Observations on Patterns of Drug Consumption Among Medical Students," International Journal of the Addictions, 3 (Fall, 1968): Table 4, p. 394.

13. Ibid.

14. Samuel G. Benson, "Marijuana Use by Medical Students," presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, Washington, D.C., May, 1971; unpublished.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Barry L. Morris, in Columbia Law School News, 24 (November 11, 1969): 1-2.

18. Dean 1. Manheimer, Glen D. Mellinger, and Mitchell B. Balter, "Marijuana Use Among Urban Adults," Science, 166 (December 19, 1969): 1544-1545.

19. New York Times, April 4, 1970.

20. Ibid.

21. The Associated Press, in New York Times, June 22, 1971.

22. New York Times, March 29, 1970.

23. Richard A. Bogg, Boy, G. Smith, and Susan D. Russell, "Some Sociological and Social-Psychological Correlates of Marihuana and Alcohol Use by Michigan High School Students," presented at the Ohio Valley Sociological Society and the Midwest Sociological Society joint Meeting, Indianapolis, Ind., May 2, 1969; unpublished.

24. Ibid,
25. Ibid,

26. Sam Blum, "Marijuana Clouds the Generation Cap," New York Times Magazine, August 23, 1970, pp. 28-30, 45, 48, 55-58.

27. Ibid.

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