Early in November of 1979, Rep. Lester Wolff's Select Committee on Narcotics held a busy day of hearings on the drug-paraphernalia industry. It was, inevitably, a media event, and the day's star witness was a plump teenager from New York City who told how she'd become a drug user at eleven and who, for the benefit of photographers, demonstrated how various pipes and bongs were used, while the lawmakers scrambled to get within camera range.
The teenager was the day's most photographed witness, but she was not the most politically important witness. That honor belonged to an attractive, fortyish Atlanta woman named Sue Rusche, who spoke as the president of DeKalb County Families in Action. For Sue Rusche, symbolically if not personally, had politicians and bureaucrats across America shaking in their boots. She was an outraged mother, speaking for millions of parents who did not want their children exposed to drugs. The organization she headed had already shut down most of the head shops in Georgia and helped pass anti-paraphernalia laws across the nation, and she and the anti-drug passions she embodied had become a significant force in the national drug-policy debate.
Rusche is a handsome, sad-eyed woman who wears her long brown hair loose at her shoulders. She is, in person, charming, witty, soft-spoken, and very feminine, but the message she delivered to the congressional committee that afternoon was a grim and powerful one. She was furious about the increase in drug use by adolescents, the growth of the smuggling and paraphernalia industries, and the activities of NORML. As Rusche saw it, those events were all interrelated, were in effect a conspiracy wherein NORML had become a lobby for smugglers and paraphernalia sellers. She cited as evidence the fact that NORML received money from High Times and that Stroup's new law firm represented the paraphernalia industry and accused smugglers. Declared Rusche: 'We call upon Congress to conduct a full-scale, criminal investigation of the drug-paraphernalia industry, High Times magazine, and NORML."
That was not all Rusche wanted. Concluding her testimony, she said, "Mr. Chairman, we call upon the Congress to allocate funds for a national Adolescent Drug Information Center and to establish small grants to aid the hundreds of parent, family, and community groups that have formed across the country to stop drug use among children and teenagers." If that center came to beand Rusche was seeking foundation money as well as federal fundsit would be in Atlanta, where Rusche lived, and she would be its director. Sue Rusche was adding insult to injury: She not only wanted to send Keith Stroup to jail; she wanted to become the Keith Stroup of the anti-marijuana movement.
Sue Rusche grew up in Ohio, studied art in New York, and worked in advertising before she and her husband, Henry Rusche, moved in 1962 to Atlanta, where he was to teach literature at Emory University. They arrived in Atlanta at a time when the civil-rights revolution was exploding across the South, and Sue Rusche wanted to be part of it. Most of all she dreamed of working for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One day she started to look up the number of his Southern Christian Leadership Conference. But she hesitated. Passions were high in the South then, and she and her husband were newcomers, and she didn't know how his new colleagues at Emory would feel about her working for the controversial civil-rights leader. Then she noticed, just below the SCLC listing, one for the Southern Regional Council's voter-education project. She reasoned that no one could be against people voting, so she called SRC instead of SCLC, and she became a research assistant there, one whose job was to collect information on voting patterns that could be used to prove discrimination against blacks. She learned how facts, carefully assembled and properly used, could become the levers for political change, and in time she applied that understanding to her anti-paraphernalia crusade.
Rusche worked for SRC for a few years, then for Project Head Start, then opened her own graphic-design studio, designing corporate logos and the like. One reason she later became so outraged at the paraphernalia industry was that their graphics were so slick. They were so damn good at selling their drug-related products to kids.
One evening in August of 1976 some friends of the Rusches' were giving a thirteenth-birthday party for their daughter, a girl who sometimes baby-sat with the Rusches' two sons. It was to be a festive backyard affair, but when the parents went out to get things started, they found their daughter and her friends behaving strangely, giggling, stumbling about, evasive. Questioning brought forth the shocking truth: The kids were high on marijuana.
The girl's parents called a meeting of other parents, which the Rusches attended. The group sent off to Washington for information on marijuana, but at the time they were not thinking in terms of any citywide or national anti-drug campaign, only of how they could keep their own children off drugs.
A year later, in August of 1977, Rusche and other Atlantans received a second shock. An Emory student named Robert Topping, the son of a former co-owner of the New York Yankees and the stepson of a wealthy Atlantan named Rankin Smith, was stabbed to death in Miami. A police investigation revealed that he had flown to Miami with $47,000 cash to buy cocaine and that he had been selling drugs on and around the Emory campus.
Sue Rusche was not a prude. She'd tried marijuana a few times, and she drank socially. But now it seemed to her that the world had gone mad. Her baby-sitter was smoking marijuana. An Emory student had been murdered. The last straw came when she and other parents became aware of the head shops that had proliferated around Atlanta and that sold, among other items, marijuana pipes designed as Star Wars space guns and comic books that introduced young people to the logistics of rolling joints and snorting cocaine. Out of the accumulated outrage of Sue Rusche and other parents sprang DeKalb County Families in Action.
It was not the first or only anti-marijuana group, of course. At about the same time several of the leading anti-marijuana scientists formed the American Council on Marijuana, with offices in New York, to hold anti-drug conferences and to be a forum for their views. But what Families in Action and other parents' groups around the country brought to the anti-drug cause were the foot soldiers without which no political movement can succeed: in this case concerned parents who were willing to attend city-council meetings, buttonhole state legislators, and otherwise inject themselves into the political process.
Families in Action made a crucial political decision when it made the paraphernalia industry its prime target. No one has been able to stop marijuana from coming into this country, or to stop people from smoking it, but, politically speaking, the head shops were sitting ducks, and FIA opened up on them with both barrels. Soon its members had persuaded the Georgia legislature to pass three anti-paraphernalia laws that were designed to close down all the head shops in Georgia. There were, however, various legal appeals open to the head-shop operators, despite the new laws, so they remained in business for a time. Then the angry parents demanded action from local officials, and the result was a series of police raids that, Rusche says, closed down all but three of the thirty-odd head shops in Atlanta.
Families in Action had become the catalyst for hundreds of community groups that were springing up all over America. One result was that scores of communities, and four states besides Georgia, passed anti-paraphernalia laws. Sue Rusche was well aware that closing head shops was not going to stop young people from smoking marijuana. But, she said, "It's part of the process." Every political movement needs early victories to give it momentum. Parents who had involved themselves in the political process, who had driven the hated head shops from their midst, would only be emboldened by that initial victory to move on to larger political goals. By the spring of 1980 Rusche and other leaders of the new movement were meeting in Washington to organize a national political alliance that they hoped could help turn the tide against marijuana use in America.
The new movement already had considerable political power. Its first stirrings had been in 1977, when some of its leaders would come to Washington to protest to Peter Bourne about the Carter administration's support of decriminalization. At that point, the smokers, through NORML, were a better-organized and more vocal political force, and it was to them that Bourne and other officials were most responsive. In retrospect, the Bourne affair in the summer of 1978 was a turning point, symbolically and to a degree politically, in the marijuana debate, for it discredited NORML, removed Bourne from government, and put the Carter administration on the defensive on the drug issue. Bourne's successor in the White House, Lee Dogoloff, wanted nothing to do with NORML and was soon busy catering to the wishes of the increasingly well-organized and vocal parents' movement.
Politically, President Carter was on record as favoring decriminalization, he was almost certain to run in 1980 against a Republican who opposed it, and the last thing he needed was thousands of angry anti-marijuana mothers marching against him. Thus, Lee Dogoloff cultivated Sue Rusche, spoke to parents' groups around the country, and invited their leaders to White House seminars on drugs. Besides this conventional political stroking, the White House took one step that was important to the anti-marijuana movement both as a symbol and in practical terms: It had prodded the Justice Department into producing a model anti-paraphernalia law that state legislatures could use to outlaw head shops. This model law was of dubious constitutionality, but it was dramatic proof to the anti-marijuana parents of America that their crusade had the blessing of the Carter administration.
By 1980 Sue Rusche had access to the White House, was sought after by the media, and was often invited to testify before congressional committees. She had not yet got the federal or foundation money she wanted for Families in Action, but the DeKalb County government had given FIA $15,000 to teach teachers about drug abuse, and there was the prospect of more money on the way. Sue Rusche had, in fact, only one problem: She had political power, but she didn't know what her political goals were. "I know what I don't want," she admitted, "but not what I want." In that, as in many things, she was emblematic of the movement she had helped create.
The parents' movement came into existence because it was not only college students and Vietnam veterans and young professionals who took up marijuana smoking in the 1960s and 1970s. More and more teenagers, and even preteenagers, were smoking. A 1978 government survey reported that one high-school senior in nine was smoking every day, and about half smoked occasionally. Moreover, the survey said that 8 percent of the nation's sixth-and seventh-graders had at least tried marijuana, and 29 percent of the eighth-and ninth-graders. Without question, more adolescents were smoking, were smoking at an earlier age, were smoking more often, and were smoking the increasingly stronger marijuana that was becoming available.
Parents, although increasingly alarmed by their children's smoking, were by and large less politically sophisticated than the young lawyers who had started the reform movement and had been less quick to organize for political action. At first, many parents felt guilt or shame that their children were smoking, and felt theirs was a family problem. But in time many of them came to think in political terms and to feel that the reform movement was their enemy, that the removal of criminal penalties for adult marijuana use would lead inevitably to increased teenage use. So, in Atlanta and elsewhere, the parents began to organize, and their movement was aided by the fact that its rise coincided with the disintegration of the reform coalition.
As the 1980s began, NORML, demoralized and discredited by Stroup's role in the Bourne affair, was struggling to stay afloat, financially and politically. Both the political and the judicial tides were running against the pro-marijuana activists. No decriminalization bill had passed since Nebraska's in 1978. NORML'S long battle to stop the paraquat spraying in Mexico had failed. A federal court rejected their right-of-privacy challenge to the federal marijuana law, and there seemed no point in even attempting an appeal to the Supreme Court. Similarly, a challenge to the California law had been rejected, as had those in ten other states, and the 1975 Alaska supreme-court decision increasingly looked like a fluke rather than the wave of the future. The U. S. Supreme Court, in response to an appeal by the state of Virginia, ruled that Roger Davis's forty-year term for selling marijuana was not cruel and unusual punishment, and ordered Davis back to prison. Virtually the only bright spot was on the medical-use issue. In only two years twenty other states had followed New Mexico's example and passed medical-use laws, although the federal government continued to drag its bureaucratic feet and call for more research.
During the summer of 1980 the Food and Drug Administration, responding to increasing pressure from the scientific community, cancer patients, and the twenty-odd states that had approved medical use of marijuana, took a small step forward on the medical-use issue. FDA approved the use of THC pills by cancer patients if other forms of medicine had failed to relieve their nausea during chemotherapy treatments. Bob Randall and Alice O'Leary, who were working full time on the issue, Randall as president and O'Leary as director of a new group called Alliance for Cannibus Therapeutics (begun with a $5000 grant from the Playboy Foundation, after several other foundations had turned them down), criticized the FDA action for not going far enough. For one thing, the new program did not permit glaucoma patients to use the THC pill. Randall believes this was simply because the plight of cancer patients is more dramatic and therefore created greater political pressures. "Cancer patients vomit in their doctors' offices and die in great pain," he says. "People with glaucoma just quietly go blind." Even for cancer patients, the THC pill is considered unsatisfactory, by Randall and O'Leary and many scientists, because it simply is not as effective in reducing nausea as smoking marijuana. Ironically, while less effective, the THC pill is actually stronger and causes some patients to hallucinate. Patients say they can control the dosage when they smoke, by inhaling the marijuana smoke as needed, but the pill has unpredictable results. Randall and O'Leary say the pill should be available for people who object to marijuana-smoking, but that government-produced marijuana should also be available for those patients whom the pill does not help. O'Leary and Randall, and many others who have followed the issue, think that the FDA was simply afraid, for political reasons, to permit government-approved smoking. A marijuana pill is all rightAmericans approve of pill-takingbut smoking is still too controversial. As a practical matter, many cancer patients will prefer illegal street marijuana to legal but ineffective THC pills, but the bureaucrats can now claim to have done something to help them.
Many people who had contributed in one way or another to the reform movement in the seventies were gone by the 1980s. The Drug Abuse Council was out of business. Peter Bourne had been appointed to a United Nations post and was not concerned with the drug issue. Dr. Robert DuPont, a champion of decriminalization in 197676 as the Ford administration's top drug expert, had recanted, and was speaking out against decriminalization. Mike Aldrich, the veteran of LeMar and Amorphia, was a director of the Fitz Hugh Ludlow Memorial Library in San Francisco and was writing a book on cocaine. Blair Newman, Amorphia's founder, had graduated from the Harvard School of Business and opened a computer consulting firm.
Stroup was no longer involved in NORML's day-to-day activities, but he continued as the chairman of its board of directors, and in the spring of 1980 he became concerned that his successor, Larry Schott, was not giving the pot lobby the aggressive leadership it needed. He therefore engineered action by the board that led to Schott's resignation. A search then began for a new national director for NORML, and Stroup's hope was that someone young and aggressive could be found, someone, indeed, much like himself ten years before.
Stroup, in starting his new law firm, had advanced from championing the cause of drug users to championing that of drug dealers. Many law firms took drug-smuggling cases reluctantly, if at all, glad to have the fees but not really approving of their clients. Stroup's firmhis partners were Gerald Goldstein, of San Antonio; James Jenkins, of Atlanta; and Michael Pritzker, of Chicagonot only defended drug dealers but unabashedly declared that the laws against them were wrong and should be repealed. The firm observed certain limits. Stroup said he would not represent PCP or heroin dealers, any more than he would represent someone accused of a crime of violence; nor would the firm represent clients who intended to turn on their fellow dealers to win leniency for themselves. But Stroup defended marijuana and cocaine dealers with all the zeal he had once brought to getting smokers out of jail. ("Convicted drug dealers," he declared, "were actually political prisoners.") He numbered many drug dealers among his friends, and he felt that in defending them he was in effect defending himself and everyone in the drug culture. As he saw it, everyone who used drugs was indebted to the people who took risks to supply them. "None of us is free until they're free," he would declare.
Clearly, Stroup was once more at the cutting edge of the drug issue, which was precisely where he wanted to be, and, it seemed, where he had some deep emotional need to be. His new role provided him with a more expensive life-style than he had enjoyed as head of NORML, but he also felt that he was in far more danger as an outspoken drug lawyer than he had been as a pot lobbyist. Stroup and his partners were well aware that the government was bringing more and more cases against drug lawyers, whom they most often charged either with bankrolling drug deals or with putting one dealer in touch with another and thus becoming party to a drug conspiracy. Drug lawyers saw this as a government effort to harass them and thus to discourage vigorous defense of drug dealers. Often, the defense lawyers charged, the prosecutors in effect said to a convicted drug dealer, "Give us your lawyer and you can go free," and the dealer would give perjured testimony against his lawyer rather than go to prison himself. "We view this as a war," one federal prosecutor said of the cases against drug lawyers, and the lawyers involved could only agree.
Stroup savored the controversy and combat, genuinely liked most of his clients, but necessarily moved warily, never sure if a fast-talking would-be client might turn out to be a DEA agent. In his private life he was, if not mellowing with age, at least growing more cautious. He no longer traveled with drugs, and he kept only small amounts on hand for his personal use. He was still living with Lynn Darling, in a luxury apartment near his Georgetown law office, and though marijuana was still very much a part of his life-style, he was also becoming something of a connoisseur of wine.
Another pro-reform spokesman of the 1970s who was retiring from the battle was Dr. Norman Zinberg, one of the nation's most serious and sophisticated students of the drug issue. Zinberg had never advocated legalization of marijuana, only decriminalization, and he felt that further research into its possible harm was needed. But he also believed, as a matter of scientific fact, that the new evidence had proved nothing that seriously challenged the Marijuana Commission's 1972 verdict on marijuana. He became an important spokesman for decriminalization, both in his writings and as a witness before legislative committees, and was closely associated with NORML. For his troubles he had been insulted by right-wing congressmen during legislative testimony, and by 1979 several of them were demanding his resignation from a prestigious advisory committee to the National Institutes of Health, on the grounds that anyone who was associated with NORML was unfit to advise the government. It was classic guilt by association, what Zinberg's colleague Dr. Lester Grinspoon calls "psychopharmacological McCarthyism." The political pressure was accompanied by what Zinberg regarded as attacks on him in the press. Early in 1980 Zinberg responded to a reporter's inquiries about the government's latest anti-marijuana pronouncements only to find himself portrayed as a pro-marijuana crazy. Soon thereafter he told me, "I'm afraid your book will have to have an unhappy ending. I'll give you one example. I'm getting out, not giving any more interviews on marijuana, and so are a lot of other scientists I know. The sad part is there's no one to take our place. But we've been burned. I think I'm a rational person, but now I've been set up as a radical straw man to be ridiculed."
Such was the state of affairs as Sue Rusche and others in the anti-marijuana movement tried to determine just what their positive political goals should be.
Sue Rusche had started out being disturbed by teenage marijuana use, but the more she thought about it, the more she found to be concerned about. She was worried about adult drug use, and the example it set for children, and the possibility that America was becoming a drug-dependent society. She was (as one who had tried for years to kick the cigarette habit) concerned about the health hazards of cigarettes. She would say, only partly in jest, that they should be outlawed too. She disapproved of rock concerts, because of all the drug use that went on, but she wasn't sure what to do about them. It disturbed her that more and more mothers worked, and thus more and more children came home from school, had no parent at home, resented that fact, and acted out their anger with drugs. It concerned her that more and more children in their early teens were drinking, having unchaperoned parties, and engaging in sex. She was fearful that decriminalization would not only lead to more marijuana use but would have a domino effect and lead to social approval and perhaps legalization of cocaine, hallucinogens, and even heroin. She loathed NORML, and she once refused to sign a National Institute of Drug Abuse-sponsored letter condemning teenage drug use, because Stroup had signed it and she was unwilling to make alliance with the devil. She was concerned about groceries' and drugstores' selling cigarette papers that could be used to smoke marijuana, and by rock groups that sang pro-drug lyrics and by disc jockies who made joking references to drug use and by supermarkets that sold beer to minors. The list of her concerns was all but endless.
She felt strongly about all these social problems, she was a leader of a potent national political movement, and the question was what she and that movement could do to set things right. What are you for if you are against marijuana? The fact was that Sue Rusche, an intelligent and well-intentioned person, wasn't sure. She wasn't even sure how she stood on decriminalization. On the one hand, she didn't want to see anyone go to jail simply for smoking, but on the other hand, she thought it best to keep criminal penalties so the young understood that society was serious about discouraging marijuana. In a larger sense, Rusche and the anti-marijuana movement, for all their activity and early successes, had really not settled on their long-range goal. Was it to stop young people from using drugs? Or was it to stop everyone, minors and adults, from using drugs? Was the latter goal necessary, to achieve the former? Or would the latter goal, by being too ambitious, make even the former goal unattainable? Sue Rusche wasn't sure. In the meantime, her immediate political goals, beyond the closing of head shops, are stiffer penalties for drug smugglers, including fines to be used for drug education, and more public money to be used for drug education, including of course those that would be directed by Families in Action.
Rusche has given a good deal of thought to the pro-legalization argument that is advanced by many responsible people and runs like this:
Marijuana is here to stay; therefore we must make the best of the situation. We should begin by recognizing that adult use and adolescent use are separate issues. We should legalize and regulate marijuana for adults, just as we do alcohol, and enforce the laws against sales to minors. Legalization would end a great deal of crime and corruption, and it would also bring in billions of dollars in tax revenues, which could be used for, among other things, drug education. While legalizing adult use, we would make every effort to educate the young to the dangers of drug abuse and to point them toward responsible drug use, if they must indeed use drugs as adults.
This argument, Rusche admits, is "tempting," particularly the parts about ending crime and providing money for drug education. But on balance she rejects it because she is not willing to accept the idea that marijuana is here to stay and because she thinks that the adult-use and adolescent-use issues are indivisible. If you accept adult use, she thinks, you will inevitably encourage adolescent use.
But how are people to be stopped from using marijuana? Not by law enforcement, certainly, for the DEA and other agencies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year and only stopping some 10 percent of the marijuana that is imported into the country or grown domestically. The hope, Rusche thinks, lies in changing attitudes. She accepts the new evidence on marijuana, of course, and thus thinks it is at least as dangerous as alcohol or tobacco, and she hopes young people can be persuaded of that. Moreover, her experience in dealing with other parents all across America gives her hope that millions of people share her concerns and want to cut back on alcohol and tobacco, to set better examples for their children, and to change society by changing themselves. Drawing on her experience in the civil-rights movement, she says, "People used to say that segregation had been with us for four hundred years and we couldn't change. But the civil-rights movement taught us that we can change social attitudes, and I think we can change them on marijuana as well."
One of Sue Rusche's allies in the new anti-marijuana movement is Dr. Robert DuPont, the tall, handsome young psychiatrist who was a senior drug-policy official during the Nixon and Ford administrations. As we have noted, DuPont kept quiet about his pro-decriminalization views during the Nixon years, but once Gerald Ford became president and the mood began to change in Washington, DuPont began speaking out in favor of no-jail laws, and even attended NORML conferences to endorse marijuana-law reform.
But in 1977 the Democrats came to power, and DuPont lost his government post. He started the Institute for Behavior and Health, Inc., in Bethesda, Maryland, which conducts research and demonstration programs intended to prevent drug and alcohol abuse. Soon thereafter, DuPont reversed himself on decriminalization. This is how he explained his change of heart in one talk:I for years supported decriminalization. Only within the last two years have I realized to my chagrin ("horror" is the better way to describe my feeling) that decriminalization is an issue that is not and cannot be dealt with on the basis of the substance of the issue. On the substantive merits of the issue, everybody is for decriminalization. But the real issue is symbolic. Nobody wants to have anyone, young or old, go to jail for possession of small amounts of marijuana. But being in favor of decriminalization is seen by the majority of the public as being in favor of pot. I have tried for five years to make clear that I oppose the use of marijuana and that I oppose the use of jail for pot smokers.What this rather tortured language reflects is the fact that decriminalization has become a symbol, a political code word. If NORML is for it, decent people must be against it. Sue Rusche told me, "I'm for decriminalization, but I don't like to use that word, because that's what NORML'S for," and there are people in the anti-marijuana movement who are starting to talk about "recriminalization." Jail or no jail, at this late date, is still an issue.
You must think about things and communicate them in such simple terms that you are either for or against them. If you are for decriminalization, you are, in the public mind, for pot. That process has forced me to retreat on my earlier position on decriminalization.... It is possible to eliminate jail as a threat for simple possession of marijuana without favoring decriminalization. That is the way out! In fact, as a nation we have already done that: Nowhere in his nation today are people in jail for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Those who now go to jail are the sellers of marijuana, andin my opiniontoo few of them are behind bars!
Dr. DuPont argues that to be anti-marijuana you must be anti-decriminalization. But because he isn't comfortable seeming pro-jail, he is forced to make the extremely dubious claim, "Nowhere in this nation today are people in jail for possession of small amounts of marijuana." Hundreds of people are arrested for possession of marijuana each day, and as long as criminal penalties are on the books, some judges will apply them, and most often against people who are poor, black, or politically unpopular. In an interview DuPont went even further and argued not only that no one went to jail anymore but also that jail had never been a serious threat to marijuana smokers: That was only NORML propaganda. "I misunderstood the issue," he said. "My heart was going out to the people who were arrested, and I missed the boat. So did the Shafer [the Marijuana] Commission and so have many judges. Decriminalization is a symbolic issue, a red herring. I have a hunch that not many people ever went to jail, and I think the influence on their lives has been exaggerated."
DuPont's change of heart on decriminalization is not without political benefit to him. He achieved national prominence during the Nixon and Ford administrations, and when some future Republican administration comes to office, he would be an obvious choice for a senior position in the health field. But his prospects of appointment would be greatly reduced if the vocal anti-marijuana groupsthe Sue Rusches of Americaopposed him because he was pro-decriminalization and thus seen as pro-drug. Thus, DuPont's mea culpa is a useful political device for him, one that puts him on the safe side of an explosive issue.
DuPont argues that both decriminalization and medical use are irrelevant issues. (The state legislatures, he says, are a "poor forum" to settle the medical-use question.) The real issue, he says, is public health. The use of marijuana and other drugs must be discouraged for the same reason, if not in quite the same ways, that alcohol and tobacco must be discouraged, because of the danger to people's health. DuPont believes, much as Sue Rusche does, that the nation is ready to reform itself, to turn away from the excesses of the past. He notes that as public awareness of the dangers of tobacco has grown, cigarette-smoking has declined. He notes that the use of certain types of prescription drugs, such as barbiturates, has declined. He thinks Americans are ready to use less alcohol and marijuana, as they know the dangers of them. The renewed interest in diet and exercise is one sign of the new attitudes. The challenge is to use various forms of social and cultural pressure to turn more and more people away from drugs. The ban on cigarette-smoking in restaurants and public buildings in one example, he says, and higher insurance premiums for people who smoke are another.
DuPont, like Rusche, recognizes the attractions of a system of legal, regulated marijuana, but rejects it because he also thinks adult and adolescent smoking can't be separated. "Regulation didn't work with teenage alcohol and tobacco use," he says, "and it won't work with marijuana." DuPont of course accepts the various new-evidence reports and argues strongly that marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. "I'll bet that in five years no one will dispute the dangers of marijuana," he says. "By then the pro-marijuana people will be like the pro-tobacco people: They'll concede the dangers but argue the right to smoke. They'll ask, 'Do you have a right to punish me for what I choose to do?' And the answer to that is yes. No man is an island. Society has a right to protect itself. I think the future holds more regulation on alcohol and tobacco. We don't want to increase the freedom of people to use drugs. Drug use is not an inalienable right under the U.S. Constitution."
Doctors are, of course, not always the best interpreters of the Constitution. Indeed, it is arguments of social engineers like DuPont that drive conservatives like William Buckley and James Kilpatrick to the defense of marijuana. For who can be sure that if Big Brother, acting in the name of public health, decides to prohibit one man's marijuana today, he may not decide to prohibit another man's pre-dinner cocktail or post-dinner cigar tomorrow? Our society has traditionally believed that once a person reaches maturity, he is in control of his own life. Knowing all the terrible costs of alcohol and tobacco, we tax them and warn people against them, but we do not use criminal penalties to prohibit them. We tried that once, with alcohol, and the experiment was a colossal failure.
The degree of danger involved in an activity is, of course, a major factor in determining if that activity should be restricted. That is why the new evidence is so important to the anti-marijuana movement. If marijuana is as nearly harmless as Drs. Zinberg and Grinspoon think, then it should be legal. If, by contrast, it is as harmful as Dr. DuPont thinks, there is a case to be made for its prohibition. It is difficult for the layman to form an opinion when distinguished scientists are in such total disagreement. But the consensus of the scientific community is still what the Marijuana Commission found in 1972: that marijuana, used in moderation, is in effect harmless. The new evidence time and again, on examination, proves to be tentative or inconclusive. Often, highly technical disputes arise about whether a particular dosage level to monkeys or rats is the equivalent of a few joints a day in a human or dozens of joints. A related dispute arises over whether feeding animals pure THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, can be equated with humans' smoking marijuana. One much-publicized study showed that men who were heavy marijuana smokers had lowered levels of the male hormone testosterone and reduced sperm production, but (the small print) even those lowered levels were still in the normal range, and other studies showed no lowering of testosterone at all. A UCLA researcher charged that a controversial NBC television documentary on marijuana had distorted his findings on possible lung damage by equating the smoking of five joints with the smoking of five packs of cigarettes.
The federal government has since 1967 spent more than $35 million to conduct more than a thousand marijuana-research projects. In the summer of 1979 Dr. William Pollin, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, gave detailed testimony on the government's findings on marijuana to a congressional committee. Dr. Pollin stressed that marijuana was not "safe." He stressed that young people should not smoke it. But time after time, in his highly technical testimony, though he pointed out possible dangers of marijuana, he also said that actual harm had not been proved. Here are some selections from Dr. Pollin's testimony:
Effects on the heart: "Acute effects of marijuana use on heart function in healthy young male volunteers have been viewed as benign."
On lung damage: "One study has found that smoking four or more 'joints' per week decreases vital capacitythe amount of air the lungs can move following a deep breathas much as smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes a day. This comparison, while widely quoted, needs confirmation by independent studies. As yet, there is no direct clinical evidence that marijuana-smoking causes lung cancer."
Effects on the body's natural defenses against infection and disease: "Taking the body of animal and human evidence as a whole, the results to date are far from clear-cut in establishing whether or not the human immune response is impaired by marijuana."
Brain-damage research: "A British research report, which originally appeared in 1971, attributed brain atrophy to cannabis use in a group of young male users. It continues to be widely cited, particularly in the mass media.... This research was faulted on several grounds: All of the patients had used other drugs, making the causal connection with marijuana use questionable, and the appropriateness of the comparison group and diagnostic technique was questionable."
On studies suggesting brain damage to monkeys: "While both these experiments demonstrate the possibility that more subtle changes in brain functioning or structure may occur as a result of marijuana smoking, at least in animals, the implications of these changes for subsequent human or animal behavior are at present unknown."
Psychological effects: "The question of whether or not enduring psychological effects occur in chronic users remains to be resolved. While three more carefully controlled studies of heavy users in Jamaica, Greece, and Costa Rica failed to find evidence of marijuana-related psychological impairment, it is possible that the mode of use there differed from American use."
Effects on female reproductive function: "One recently completed study of 26 females who used 'street' marijuana three times a week or more for six months or more found that these women had three times as many defective monthly cycles as nonusing women. By 'defective' was meant a failure to produce a ripened egg during the cycle or a possible shortened period of fertility. Unfortunately, since the marijuana-using women also used more alcohol it cannot be assumed that the effects observed were necessarily the result of marijuana use.... These and other studies using higher doses of marijuana or THC all underscore the undesirability of use, especially during pregnancy. Research directly concerning effects on human reproduction is, however, very limited. We know of no clinical reports directly linking marijuana use and birth abnormality."
Chromosome damage: "While there were earlier reports of increases in chromosomal breaks and abnormalities in human cell cultures, more recent results have been inconclusive.... Overall, there continues to be no convincing evidence that marijuana use causes clinically significant chromosome damage."
The hazards of marijuana versus other drugs: "Thus, any attempt to compare the health impact of marijuana with that of alcohol and tobacco at current levels of use is certain to minimize the hazards of marijuana."
And so it goes. Many dangers are hinted at, but few if any are actually proved. Indeed, many scientists are amazed that any drug, under such intense scrutiny, could prove to do such little physical damage to humans. This is not to say that marijuana is entirely harmless. There is obviously a case to be made that it is harmful to inhale hot smoke into the lungs, that no one should drive a car when high, that a person who is stoned cannot function in society, that the excessive use of marijuana should be avoided, that young people should be discouraged from smoking it, and that research into its possible ill effects should be continued. But there is also a case to be made that the anti-marijuana forces have tried, perhaps with the noblest of intentions, to use very tentative, inconclusive scientific data as a new, more sophisticated version of the reefer-madness campaign of the 1930s. Then, the anti-marijuana crusaders warned that marijuana would turn its users into violent criminals. Now the opponents of marijuana say, "It may make you feel good, but it is actually giving you cancer and/or damaging your brain and/or making you impotent and/or crippling your unborn children."
The problem is that the opponents of marijuana overstate their case. Every indication is that they scare more nonsmokers than smokers. To take one example, one of the more colorful and widely publicized new evidence allegations is that smoking marijuana causes young men to grow breasts. Dr. DuPont sometimes cites this alarming possibility in his talks to young people. But Sue Rusche has quit using that example, because she's had too many teenagers laugh in her face. The danger is that if young people don't believe the scare stories about marijuana, they're likely not to believe valid warnings about genuinely dangerous drugs like PCP, LSD, and heroin.
Still, whatever one thinks of the scientific merit of the "new evidence," it has without doubt been politically effective. The new allegations have effectively discredited the Marijuana Commission's 1972 findings. In the real world millions of people continue to smokemarijuana is defacto legalbut in the political world there is stalemate. The reform movement is not likely to pass decriminalization bills in any more states soon, but neither is the anti-marijuana movement likely to "recriminalize" any states. The prospects for a clear-cut national policy, for legalization on the one hand or for the elimination of marijuana on the other, seem very dim.
Presidential leadership might end the political deadlock, of course, but the question is in what direction the leadership might lead. As I write this, it appears that either Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan will be elected president for the 1981-85 term. The difference between them would likely be considerable. Reagan had a staunchly anti-marijuana record as governor of California, and, campaigning in 1980, he embraced the new evidence and repeatedly warned that marijuana was the most dangerous drug in America. He apparently believes what he says, and his election could only be a disaster for those who hope to see reform of the drug laws.
Carter, by contrast, is a moderate on the issue. He knows that his sons and many of the people around him have smoked, and he knows all too well that America has many more urgent problems than marijuana. He has, moreover, witnessed as president dramatic examples of the injustice of the drug laws, in the Peter Bourne and Hamilton Jordan affairs. Both men may have acted most unwiselyBourne to go to the NORML party and Jordan to go to Studio 54but neither man, in any reasonable world, deserves to have his career destroyed or to be treated as a criminal. Whatever one may think of Hamilton Jordan personally, it is outrageous that he had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to defend himself against a federal investigation of a charge that he used cocaine. The point is not Jordan but that the same McCarthyist tactics could be used against hundreds of the most able young people in government, and by people whose motivations would have everything to do with partisan politics and nothing to do with public health. (In the early 1980s, cocaine is still in the "reefer madness" stage of public fear and uncertainty that marijuana was in two or three decades before. In fact, the Drug Abuse Council, in its final report, The Facts About Drug Abuse, concluded, "Medical experts generally agree that cocaine produces few observable adverse health consequences," and added that the biggest health problem caused by cocaine is runny noses.)
If Carter, in the safety of a second term, wanted to move the country forward on drug policy, an obvious starting point would be federal approval of the medical use of marijuana. He might also, in his quest for budget cuts, look at the hundreds of millions of dollars that are being spent in a largely futile effort to stop the importation of marijuana. On any cost-effectiveness scale, the anti-smuggling program is a joke, and much of its money would be better invested in drug-education programs. Perhaps the most useful step Carter could take would be to appoint a new presidential commission on marijuana, both to examine the scientific controversy and to propose long-term national policy on drugs.
Still, that sort of presidential leadership may or may not be forthcoming. Politicians have tended to follow, not to lead, on drug issues. The surest agent of change on the marijuana issue is likely to be simply time. If we step back a bit from the political battles of recent yearsfrom the reform movement's successes in passing decriminalization bills, and the anti-marijuana movement's success in closing head shopsthe overriding political fact is that more and more people are using marijuana. Between 1964 and 1978 the percentage of Americans who had used marijuana rose from 2 to 25 percent. Something like 50 million Americans have used it by now, perhaps half of them smoke regularly, and they spend more than $25 billion a year on the weed. The key fact is not the number of smokersthey are still a minoritybut the ages involved. Government figures for 1978 said that only 7 percent of the people over age thirty-five had used marijuana, but 44 percent of those age twenty-six to thirty-four had, 62 percent of those twenty-two to twenty-five, and 58 percent of those eighteen to twenty-one. In short, the time is coming when a majority of Americans will have smoked, and there is every reason to think they will be more tolerant of marijuana than the present, nonsmoking majority. Ultimately, marijuana is a political issue. Today most politicians (and many scientists) are responding to a political majority that opposes marijuana. When a majority approves of marijuana, there is every reason to think the politicians will respond to its wishes.
Until then, we are living through a period of transition, a time of uncertainty and compromise, as the country tries to make up its mind. It may be, of course, that Rusche and DuPont are right, and the nation is at the brink of a moral renaissance, and we will begin to turn away from alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and all drugs. Certainly one of the benefits of the marijuana controversy is that we have increasingly been forced (often by our children) to consider marijuana's ill effects in comparison to those of alcohol and tobacco. Certainly an increase in drug education in the schools, if honest and realistic, might reduce all drug use and could only benefit the nation.
But all human history teaches that people like to get high, to relax with one drug or another, and it is likely that we are entering not a period of reduced drug use so much as a period of shifting drug use. It is likely that in the years ahead, we will smoke more marijuana, drink more wine and beer, drink less hard liquor, smoke fewer cigarettes, and use less (or milder) hallucinogenic drugs. This period of change and experimentation should also be a time of learning, on both sides of the generation gap. Parents need to recognize the difference between drug use and drug abuse, to recognize that a normal teenager can smoke an occasional joint or drink an occasional beer without disaster. Parents need also to consider to what extent they have used marijuana as a scapegoat for their own failures. If a child who is unloved at three turns to drugs at thirteen, it is not NORML that deserves the blame. Young people for their part need to recognize that drug abuse really can damage their lives, and that some drugs are dangerous even on an experimental basis.
We need, in this period of transition, to examine some of the larger questions that underlie the marijuana controversy. To what extent have we become a nation of drug usersDad with his martinis, Mom with her Valium, and Junior with his marijuana? What does it say about our schools if kids would rather be stoned all day than try to learn? To what extent have we used the marijuana laws, like the sex and obscenity laws, as tools of social control against nonconformists and especially against the rebellious young? To what extent have our pressures on the young pushed them toward drugs? (Dr. DuPont, in one of his talks, quoted an educator who said he was in the business of "creating and managing anxiety" among the youngvia tests, grades, SAT scores, and the likeand DuPont went on to say it was understandable that educators would resent marijuana, because it enabled students to escape that anxiety. Perhaps so, but it is also understandable if the teenager being thus manipulated may occasionally choose to beat the game by getting stoned.) There is a great deal we need to consider before we are likely to arrive at a coherent national policy on marijuana, alcohol, or any other drug.
My own view is that we will eventually reach a national consensus that marijuana is a mild drug, like beer or wine, that should be legal and regulated. Inevitably, the issues of adult and adolescent marijuana use must be addressed separately, and the two sides in the debate will have to reach some political accommodation. The anti-marijuana forces are going to have to accept adult marijuana use and focus their energies on discouraging adolescent use. By definition, no political movement can get far that defines half the young lawyers and politicians in America as criminals. At the same time, smokers will have to support programs to discourage smoking by young people. Legalization and regulation of marijuana will not be a perfect system, but ours is not a perfect world, and it will come because it is the least-bad system.
It is truly mind-boggling to step back and look dispassionately at America's marijuana policy over the past fifty years. We have wasted billions of dollars, polarized the nation, damaged thousands of lives, and defined millions of respectable people as criminals, all over a mild intoxicant that every serious study has pronounced less harmful than beer. It is difficult to imagine how we, or indeed our worst enemies, could have developed a more wrong-headed policy. It is as if Harry Anslinger, James Eastland, Richard Nixon, and all the others had been agents of the Kremlin, hell-bent on sowing dissension among us. Our marijuana policy has become a domestic Vietnam, a national disgrace. If it weren't so tragic, it would be hilarious.
Still, there has been progress. In the 1970s, thanks to the efforts of, among others, NORML, the Marijuana Commission, and the Drug Abuse Council, America began to face up to the complexities of the marijuana issue. In just a few years we advanced from widespread arrest and jail for smokers to a national consensus that simple marijuana-smoking should not be punished by jail, and toward serious debate of marijuana's eventual legalization. NORML's role in all this was quite remarkable. There had been presidential commissions before, and Ford Foundation projects, but there had never before been a national lobby on behalf of people who were violating the law. For a few amazing years in the middle of the decade, largely because of Stroup's creativity and audacity, a well-organized pro-marijuana minority was able to seize political momentum and to pass decriminalization laws in a dozen states. Inevitably the anti-marijuana majority caught on to what was happening and a reaction set in, but the issues had been raised, progress had been made, and the debate would never be so one-sided again.
There will be more progress in the years ahead, but it will almost certainly be slowevolutionary rather than dramatic. It may be ten or twenty years before there is a consensus for legal marijuana. Until then, we will continue to have confusion and occasional hardship, and the best we can hope for is a maximum of tolerance and a minimum of self-righteousness from those who feel so strongly on both sides of the issue.