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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 64. Why a youth drug scene?

If the view is accepted, at least tentatively, that each generation spawns a larger or smaller proportion of deviant young people, and that these young people through the decades have sought for and found a deviant scene and life-style, complete with their own costume, hair styles, drugs, and sexual mores, a further question arises: why do  drugs play so central a role in the currently dominant pattern of deviance?

The data are not yet available for a definitive answer. But a few factors are already clearly visible. The first concerns, not the deviant scene itself, but one's perception of it. Throughout the past century, society has tended to focus its dismay on two areas of youthful behavior–– drugs and sex–– and to condemn deviance from generally accepted standards in either area. In recent years, while still on occasion deploring sexual nonconformity, society appears to be much more concerned with illicit drug use among deviant subcultures.

Again, young people discovered during the 1960s that the conventional drug sequence prescribed by society–– from caffeine and nicotine to alcohol–– is not an inexorable law of nature. As discussed earlier, many young people had excellent reasons for seeking alternatives to alcohol. The use of other drugs by some young people in the 1960s can thus be viewed as a well-intentioned effort to escape the evils of alcohol.

LSD and marijuana were the first alternatives to alcohol to be widely publicized. Once freedom of choice and black markets were established, however, the spectrum broadened enormously. Young people, white and middle-class, began to experiment with a wide variety of different drugs including, after about 1969, heroin. Unfortunately, that concept of choice and that experimentation arose at precisely the time when this country's antidrug propaganda was furthest out of touch with reality and therefore least credible.

To sum up, national drug policy throughout the 1960s contributed to the rise of the current youth drug scene in at least four major ways. First, by emphasizing "drug abuse," it virtually dictated youthful  drug deviance rather than other forms of deviance. Second, by publicizing marijuana, LSD and LSD-like drugs, the amphetamines and other stimulants, the barbiturates and other depressants, and the opiates as well, these pronouncements informed an entire generation of the broad range of mind affecting drugs from which a choice could be made. Third, for many the warnings actually served as lures. And finally, the supposed facts provided to inform and guide young people turned loose in the contemporary illicit-drug supermarket were almost invariably incredible, in conflict with everyday experience. Hence young people were left to flounder along without guidance they could trust–– to learn by their own trials and errors and those of their peers.

The errors young drug users made, of course, were numerous–– and some of them were tragic. This we all now know. But the extent to which well-meant, sincere, but disastrous antidrug policies contributed to the tragedies is still only vaguely perceived, or not perceived at all.

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