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Written by John Auld   
Sunday, 05 September 2010 00:00


The Legitimation of Law-enforcement
If "permissiveness" was the hallmark of the '60s, as has sometimes been alleged, it arguably did not long survive the turn of the decade. Where marijuana use is concerned, the early 1970s witnessed a rapid extension and intensification of the societal control culture' at both a national and a local level. Firstly, though they did not finally come into force until 1973, the provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Act were announced and - despite (or possibly even because of) the recommendations of the 1968 Wootton Report - the largely spurious distinction between possession for use and possession for sale more clearly drawn.' At the same time, a rapid process of rationalization and centralization of resources devoted to the control of drugs also occurred within the Metropolitan police force and this, coupled with attempts to improve co-operation between police and customs, paved the way for the setting up in March 1973 of the Central Drugs Intelligence Agency. The central aim of this institution, established jointly by the Home Office and Scotland Yard, was to collate and process information gathered by all regional police forces, hopefully thereby to establish patterns that would not previously have become apparent when each regional force kept its information to itself. A distinguishing feature of the Unit was what Bunyan terms its preemptive function: 3 as a press release issued beforehand by the Home Office made clear, its purpose "would be to receive, collate, evaluate and disseminate information relating to known or suspected offenders."' Perhaps by virtue of this, its initial results were fairly impressive, even if judged merely as an exercise in the accumulation of data. By May 1974, just over one year later, the number of names on its files had reputedly increased from 100,000 to over 250,000.5 The impact of these developments upon the availability of marijuana is an issue that will be examined in more detail later. Within six months of the Unit's operation, however, it was being reported that Britain was "in the grip of a cannabis famine", with prices of the drug rising accordingly.6

Parallelling and to some extent preceding these developments were changes in the organization of control at the local level. By the end of 1971 all but three of the forty-three police forces in England and Wales had established drug squads, and there are indications that in some cases they grew in size very rapidly. The Newcastle drug squad, for example, increased its staff from eight to twenty in just the fourteen month period between May 1972 and July 1973.7 As the police themselves were concerned to point out, the scale of their activities was fairly extensive. Besides their functions of transmitting and using information gathered by the Central Drugs Intelligence Unit and enforcing the law in a more direct sense, it was stressed that

. . . . A great deal of preventative work is undertaken by these squads, many of which have established good working relationships with Medical Officers of Health and other social agencies. In Wolverhampton, for example, a Drugs Working Party has been formed comprising the Drug Squad Inspector, Medical Officer of Health, Child Welfare Officer, and other local social and medical agencies. The committee publishes advice to parents and teenagers about the dangers of drugs abuse .... The practice in many forces of giving talks to groups of school children and their teachers, parent-teacher associations and similar bodies has continued.8

It seems unlikely that the police were reluctant to assume such responsibilities. Michael Schofield, for example, has suggested that the prospect of a quick and relatively easy boost to the conviction rates that an intensive campaign against drug offenders was expected to produce was seized upon avidly by a police force that had become increasingly worried about the combination of rising crime rates and waning public confidence in its ability to remedy the situation.' Certainly, a diffuse sense of insecurity of this kind may have played a part in the mobilization of police resources against the drug problem. But it would be difficult to account for the sense of missionary zeal with which many individual policemen seemed to approach their role in the exercise if this were the only factor. Struck by the marked hostility with which the police tended at this time to regard the drug taker, especially the hippie drug taker, other British sociologists have laid stress upon the extent to which it reflected a combination of their own moral prejudices, their desire to maintain their authority vis-à-vis a group of offenders whose ideology quite explicitly challenged it, and the kind of information about drug takers to which they were likely to have been exposed.' ° The following statement made to the Bedfordshire Times (29 January 1971) by Detective Constable Jack Beck, then a member of the Bedfordshire and Luton drugs squad, provides a clear testimony to the kinds of beliefs which might have lent an unarguable legitimacy to policies of cracking down hard upon users of cannabis:

A lot of people derive their opinions from books. I have got mine from life. I have seen what regular use of cannabis does to people. One reads and hears of many people, not only the young, who talk about cannabis and boast that they have smoked it without ill effect. This may well be true, but it's a short-sighted view. Cannabis came under international control in about 1925 after pleas had been made to the League of Nations to control the drug because of the ghastly effects it had on the population of two countries, Egypt and South Africa. Smoking a small amount of cannabis gives the user an agreeable sense of well-being, probably similar to the effect of a small amount of alcohol. But to continue taking it in stronger doses brings on a sort of delirium which can take a violent form in a person of violent character. The person would by this time be addicted. He would suffer physically and mentally and would eventually lose his sanity. It is as well to realize that cannabis contains a poisonous substance with no known antidote.

Mr. Beck added: Invariably even before he has reached this stage the user will have changed beyond recognition. He will have become anti-social, an adept liar, unemployed and a petty thief. The easiest way to gain money to buy his drug is to steal, generally petty thieving from parked cars. Apologists would do well to realize that the word assassin derives from "hashashin", meaning one who uses hashish. Assassins were a members (sic) of a cult who killed while under the influence of hashish. . .

The drug has the effect of alienating users from normal standards of behaviour. Over the years I have got to know many youngsters by sight. Up to a certain point in time they are normal pleasant kids but suddenly you notice signs of them going downhill. Their hair becomes unkept and matted, their clothes are dirty and they take less care over washing. Then one day they are picked up for being in possession of drugs. It happens too often to be a coincidence.

Of course any social institution as large as the police force inevitably contains within it a range — even if in practice a fairly limited range—of individual opinions and beliefs, and it would be unreasonable to suppose that all members of the police would have concurred with such sentiments. Even so, the amount of space devoted to Mr Beck's views possibly indicates something of the extent to which the editor of the Bedfordshire Times himself did, and provides us with our first glimpse of an interesting form of collaboration between the police and the press in combatting the serious social problem that the use of marijuana appeared at the time to represent. The nature of such collaboration is a subject that I shall consider in more detail presently. First, however, it is worth pausing in order to note certain features of Mr Beck's statement, for however one might regard them in retrospect they do, as I hope to make clear, find resonances in some of the other contributions to the predominantly negative public ethos surrounding the activity in the early 1970s.
Perhaps the most immediately striking feature is the extraordinary catalogue of evils with which the use of cannabis is purportedly associated.' Not only does the user — or rather "addict" — himself suffer by poisoning his body and steadily losing his mind; he also presents a clear and immediate danger to society, "invariably" committing a variety of offences ranging from lying and theft to violence and even murder. Quite clearly the source for such beliefs does not reside only in Mr Beck's personal experience as claimed at the outset but rather — as actually indicated subsequently — in the kinds of ideas about the drug and its effects disseminated by proponents of and participants in early control policies intended to eradicate its use.' 2 Many of the extravagant claims and supposedly scientific "findings" which lent legitimacy to such ideas have now been discredited, and there has developed in place of (or at least alongside) them a growing body of expert opinion which has laid stress upon the extent to which the most commonly cited ill-effects of marijuana should more plausibly be viewed as being related to the kinds of social context in which it has traditionally been used.' 5 Nevertheless, the significance of the apparent inconsistency in Mr Beck's remarks concerning the source of his knowledge about the dire effects of the drug should not be overlooked, for it reveals something of the common-sense logic which seems to have both underpinned the long-standing belief in the addictive or debilitating properties of marijuana and rendered it so resistant to change. There seems little doubt that for Mr Beck, as for so many other conventional and law-abiding members of society at the time, a central problem was one of explaining why "normal pleasant kids" like those he had "got to know by sight" should have suddenly come to display changes in behaviour and appearance which seemed to represent a complete inversion of normality and pleasantness. Having previously been normal — Mr Beck is perhaps unusual in conceding such a possibility' 4 - there is no way in which they could intelligibly be seen as having voluntarily undergone such changes. Nor, equally, could these changes very easily be seen as having to some extent been provoked or accelerated by the responses of those in whom they elicited feelings of moral outrage in the way that some of the more radical contributions to the drugs literature were beginning to suggest' — least of all in a context where such feelings were often effectively cloaked by an ideology of humanitarian concern. There was thus little alternative but to seek an explanation in terms of the (therefore supposedly) demonic powers of the drug which the young people in question had, it seemed, been foolish enough to use — especially if such an explanation appeared consistent with the positivistic theories about drugs expounded by some of the spokesmen of the drug culture themselves.' 6 It is in the context of such considerations as these, I suggest, that one should seek to understand Mr Beck's statement that "the drug has the effect of alienating users from normal standards of behaviour". Richard Blum has touched upon what is arguably one of the central mechanisms involved in his remarks about the likely reaction of middle class parents to their children's sudden rejection of the conventional values and codes of behaviour which hitherto they had appeared to quite naturally accept:

We ask what kind of person would do this to us? We find it hard to say it is our own child. He is not himself, he is a changeling, he has been seduced by some evil force more powerful than his innocence or our affection, and that is why he does not return.' 7

Given the context of the late 1960s and early '70s — a period when any social consensus was fast disappearing and when conventional attitudes and behaviour were being subjected to increasing criticism, especially by the young' 8 - it is thus hardly surprising if marijuana should have been animistically endowed with such transformative properties. By attributing deviant, troublesome or simply unintelligible behaviour to it, the necessity of searching for a deeper and more adequate explanation for it could be successfully obviated and the probably unpalatable reality of the social changes that it signified safely obscured. A vivid (albeit somewhat extreme) example of this tendency is the following extract from a letter to the Daily Telegraph (24 August 1970), whose author is concerned to provide an intelligible account for the seemingly bizarre phenomenon of the pop festival:

How has it come about that the present young generation have such a fanatical devotion to music? . . . The answer is drugs. At the pop (or pot) festivals it appears that young people can drug themselves to the eyeballs without fear of interference from police and parents. Under the influence of these drugs the yells, the moans and howls of the groups sound like the choirs of angels, the muddy grounds become elysian fields, and the filth and squalor are transformed into things of wonder and joy.

I shall return to consider some further features, and examples, of this scapegoating tendency in a later chapter. It is important, however, to be clear as to the exact nature of the contribution that it made to popular conceptions about the harmfulness of the drug, for encapsulated in Blum's remarks there might seem to be at least two possible explanations for actions which might otherwise have appeared unintelligible. To state matters briefly: either one could have recourse to what I shall term the "addiction" model, arguing that the changes in question were primarily a product of the depravity, dishonesty and general disrespect for convention induced by the pressing psychological and/or physical need to obtain and take the drug and, as Mr Beck may be noted as suggesting, ". . . to continue taking it in stronger doses"' 9 — in which case it might be reasonable to believe that the unfortunate "victims", however much enslaved by the drug, were still sufficiently in command of their senses to realize the extent of their plight and would quickly return to a "normal" way of life if only they could manage or be persuaded to shake off the habit; or else, alternatively, one could invoke what might be termed the "psychological impairment" model, holding that the sensibilities of the people in question had been so corroded as a consequence of their use of the drug that they were not fully aware of what they were doing and were no longer able to appreciate the true extent of their folly.

Of course these two models can only be separated for analytical purposes: in practice, expressions of opinion about marijuana's effects seemed able to incorporate elements of them both, as the somewhat inconsistent observations contained in Mr Beck's own statement bear witness. (It seems a little difficult, for example, to reconcile the idea of the user suffering mentally and even losing his sanity with an image of him being an "adept liar" and financing his addiction in a coolly rationalistic way through ". . . petty thieving from parked cars"). In combination, however, they could provide a very effective basis for what Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann have termed nihilation,2° such that even any protestations by users as to the harmlessness of the drug — where indeed these were permitted public expression2 1 — could be counted as evidence, on the contrary, in favour of its essential perniciousness. There can be few more explicit examples of this tendency than Edward Bloomquist's pronouncement that "individuals who use a drug that destroys one's ability to think objectively are not in a position to decide if the drug experience is sufficiently positive to override the negative effects it produces."' 2 Clearly, to the extent that such sentiments became widespread, the demands of self-confessed or merely suspected users that criticism of the legal prohibition upon marijuana be taken seriously could be correspondingly easily subverted.

In view of this, it is perhaps highly significant that the press at this time devoted such a disproportionate amount of coverage to pieces of clinical research whose central "findings" were that regular use of the drug is likely, in different ways, to result in physical or mental degeneration. Particularly noteworthy in this respect is the nature and scale of the public reception that was accorded to some research published in late 1971 by a team of Bristol neurologists which had concluded that prolonged use of the drug may lead to a permanent reduction in the size of the brain, with (perhaps not surprisingly if this were the case) a consequent adverse effect upon mental functioning. Now in the form originally published,' 3 the findings of this research were singularly inconclusive: not only did the sample lack an adequate control group and consist of only ten individuals, but half of these people had been referred to the researchers from a drug addiction clinic and all of them had previously reported a state of adverse mental functioning. Moreover, all ten individuals had used LSD, eight had used amphetamines and five had used barbiturates.' 4 With commendable caution, the edition of The Lancet in which the findings were published itself contained an editorial statement drawing attention to their inconclusiveness and emphasizing the need for further extensive research into the subject.' 5 However, the national press almost entirely ignored this disclaimer and reported the findings as if they were established fact. The following two statements taken from widely differing newspapers are, I think, indicative:

Cannabis link with brain damage
Permanent brain damage has been found in 10 young men who had smoked cannabis for 3 to 11 years. In a report in the Lancet four specialists say their results indicate that prolonged cannabis smoking leads to reduction in the size of the brain, which may explain personality changes and mental illnesses.
(The Times 3 December 1971)

Smoking pot can damage brain, say research doctors
Extensive brain damage among regular "pot" smokers has been discovered by a team of doctors and neurologists. Their findings indicate that longterm use of cannabis leads to permanent mental disorder in which the addict suffers irreparable loss of memory. Until now the major objection to cannabis has been that it leads to "hard drug" addiction.. .
(Daily Mail 3 December 1971)

This last remark is a particularly interesting one, for it bears witness to an important shift in the character of what Jock Young has termed the "nemesis effect": the idea, that is, that those who indulge in deviant or illicit activities will ineluctably suffer in the long run.2 6 Prior to this time, as the Daily Mail indicates, this particular argument against marijuana had predominantly taken the form of an insistence upon the notion of its use leading sooner or later to a state of addiction to "hard" drugs, notably heroin. In this way the conventional fiction that deviance is necessarily unpleasurable could be sustained; in Young's words, ". . the innocuous pleasures of smoking are paid for by the sacrificial few who mysteriously escalate to the nightmares of heroin addiction."27 However, not only was this so-called escalation thesis being subjected to mounting criticism, in some cases from quite respectable and authoritative sources;2 8 it was also proving somewhat difficult to draw support for it from the available "facts". Indeed, the official statistics released by the Home Office in August 1971 must have presented the press with something of a dilemma, for they revealed that by the end of 1970 the number of registered opiate addicts, far from increasing, had actually declined by 2.4 per cent compared with the number on record at the same time the previous year; and this despite the fact that convictions for cannabis offences had increased by nearly 70 per ant during the same period.29 Admittedly, public attitudes regarding drug use are notoriously resistant to change, and this in no sense precipitated any immediate or wholesale abandonment of the conventional escalation thesis. When they were made public the following March, for example, the liberal recommendations contained in the exhaustively-researched report of the United States National Commission3° received fairly traditional treatment in many English newspapers, being greeted by such statements as ". . . it is significant that the vast majority of people who end on the hard drugs started on the soft ones" (Wolverhampton Express and Star, 24 March 1972) or ". . . time and time again, in reports the world over, hard-drug addicts admit that it was the use of soft drugs that started them on the slippery slope" (Yorkshire Post, 23 March 4972).3' In any case, it might well be argued with the benefit of hind-sight that the 1970 figures for opiate addiction marked only a temporary dip in a trend that has been consistently upward. (Certainly, it is very doubtful whether the Home Office statistics now reflect more than a small proportion of the total extent of opiate addiction in the United Kingdom). Nevertheless, amongst those holding slightly more informed opinions on the subject, such a development could have served only to strengthen existing doubts about the credibility of the conventional escalation thesis and act as a stimulus to the formulation of rather more persuasive justifications for the maintenance of conservative policies towards marijuana use. For reasons such as those I have indicated, any scientific research which purported to link the activity with long-term impairment of mental functioning fitted the bill nicely. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that "evidence" such as that provided by the authors of the Bristol study should have been accorded the kind of public reception that it was. Nor, equally, is it surprising that this reformulated version of the nemesis effect should have apparently become every bit as resistant to modification or change as the earlier version. Once again, the fate of the Bristol study provides a key case in point. Well over a year after it had assigned it such prominence, and despite the many well-informed criticisms that it had provoked in the interim, the Daily Mail's determination to make use of its findings clearly remained unabated. Witness for example the content of an article luridly titled "Drugs: The Middle Class Nightmare" (4 April 1973). After a statement that "the most critical evidence (against cannabis) in terms of safety to the human body. . . revolves round the cumulative effect", we read the following:

Ten men, all under 22, who have been long-term smokers were found to have suffered significant structural changes within the brain with degrees of brain shrinkage or "softening".
In Britain today between a million and a million and a half people are estimated to be using, or to have used, cannabis. How many are running the risk of becoming prematurely "senile", with brains that can no longer think swiftly and accurately?

Now I am not claiming, nor would I wish to be appearing to claim, that marijuana has no long-term effects upon the human body. On the contrary, it may well have; but then so equally do a great many other commodities which are in common and unrestricted use in our everyday environment — commodities, moreover, whose harmful effects have been determined with the aid of considerably less research than that which has been devoted to marijuana (sometimes, indeed, with the apparent aim of conclusively demonstrating its presupposed harmfulness.32) In brief, what I am criticizing is the tendency on the part of at least certain sections of the press to have been highly selective in their use of the enormous literature which has been concerned with tracing such effects and to have treated as scientific fact research data whose factual status has often been highly questionable. All too often, as Goode has argued, it seems as if research findings have been selected and presented on the basis not of their accredited scientific validity, but in accordance with the extent to and ease with which they could be pressed into the service of social control." And for control purposes, any research which links marijuana use with mental degeneration or "brain softening" could clearly be of considerable value. For not only could it provide "respectable" scientific support for a literal interpretation of the traditional belief in the psychotogenic properties of the drug, lending a spurious legitimacy to statements like those of Mr Beck and the one which a police superintendant was reported as having included in his address to an audience of Liverpool schoolchildren earlier in 1971: "In plain language this cannabis sends you absolutely round the bend, and make no bones about that";34 it also lent credence to suggestions that those (users) who claimed otherwise were literally not in full possession of their faculties. The "senile", after all, are not renowned for their contributions to serious public debate about the social conditions that affect them. Nor would any "normal" person expect them to be.

Forms and Strategies of Law-enforcement

In a number of ways, then, the police could reasonably feel that there was little inconsistency between their official obligation to enforce the legal ban upon marijuana use and their moral obligation to safeguard the welfare of the public in general and young people in particular. Given the ideas about marijuana that dominated public discourse at the time, it seems difficult to view their efforts to control its use as having been animated solely by narrow-minded authoritarianism and feelings of moral indignation in the way that some members of the drug subculture seemed prone to believe. And even in cases where such a narrow interpretation of their motives was a reasonably accurate one (as sometimes it almost certainly was), the dominant imagery regarding marijuana and its effects was capable of providing good justifications for their actions — good enough, at any rate, to enable those concerned to resist any imputation that these very actions, rather than merely the activity against which they were directed, might have been in some way responsible for ". . . alienating users from normal standards of behaviour."

The problem that must now be dealt with is that of specifying more clearly the nature of these actions. For whatever may have been the precise sources of the attitudes and sentiments that accompanied their use, the range of control measures used by the police was quite considerable. For the most part, as I have already implied, they fell into two broad categories: firstly, strategies aimed at the detection and arrest, at their own hands, of individuals who were already users of drugs and who, whether for personal use or sale, had a certain quantity in their possession; and secondly, attempts at forming alliances with individuals and agencies exerting control of a more informal kind (notably parents and teachers, but also such people as social workers, publicans, and club-owners), and educating them in techniques of identifying the drug-taker.35 In attempting briefly to illustrate some of these control efforts I shall continue the procedure that I have followed hitherto, drawing where relevant upon material that appeared in both the national and the local press during the period 1971-2.


Throughout the 1970s the powers available to the police in detecting all forms of illicit drug-taking were (as they still are) very considerable. In terms of the potential threat which it presents to British civil liberties, the legislation conferring them has been parallelled in recent times only by the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill rushed through Parliament following the Birmingham pub bombings of November 1974.3' Despite the criticisms expressed in the 1968 Wootton report and the setting up of a parliamentary committee specifically instructed to examine them," the controversial Section 6 (1) of the 1967 Dangerous Drugs Act was carried through essentially unchanged into the provisions of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. This meant that the police retained the power to stop and search where there are "reasonable grounds to suspect that any person is in possession of a drug in contravention of the principal Act or Regulations thereunder. . . "

What remains and has consistently remained unstated is just what exactly constitutes "reasonable grounds" for police suspicion. Critics of the Act have argued that all too often the criterion used is simply the individual's appearance.38 If this is so, however, it is clearly none too reliable. In 1972, the first year for which we have details, the police in England and Wales (excluding the Metropolis) compiled a total of 16,953 stops; yet only 5,175 (31%) of these led to "the finding of controlled drugs"." The "success rate" of the Metropolitan police was even lower; out of 12,939 stops, only 2,893 (or 22%) were "successful" and resulted in an arrest." Now doubtless there are good reasons for such low "success rates". It is quite possible, for example, that from the police point of view the primary object of control was people's appearance — either because they found certain kinds of appearance repellent and morally upsetting or (perhaps more typically) because of the degree to which these could warrantably be interpreted as signifying membership of the drug subculture (in which case the empirical fact of the suspected individuals being in possession of illicit drugs at the particular time of their encounter with the police might well have been assigned secondary importance anyway" ). It is equally possible, as the organization Release has consistently claimed, that the powers of stop and search have provided the police with a handy means of harrassing deviants and members of problem populations other than drug-takers per se — blacks and gays are among the most frequently cited — and that this, indeed, constitutes one of the principal reasons for their retention. In the absense of relevant data, the task of specifying the precise reasons for the sizeable discrepancy between the number of people stopped and searched and the number of people actually arrested is clearly not an easy one. But what is perhaps most disturbing, especially given the apparent tendency of this discrepancy to recur (and even widen) from year to year,' is the relative lack of public concern or even knowledge about the situation. This undoubtedly owes something to the highly individualized nature of many (if not most) of the encounters upon which such figures as are available are based. Inevitably, however, the role played by the media has been an important determining factor as well. It might be supposed that incidents such as the following only managed to get reported in the national press at the time because they happened to involve an event which had already received media publicity, a fairly large number of people, and the activities of an articulate pressure group endeavouring to safeguard their interests. As such, they probably represent only the tip of an iceberg — an iceberg which at least during the period in question consisted of a great many young people nursing a probably quite profound sense of alienation and injustice:

500 accuse police over drug checks (The Sunday Times 4 July 1971)

More than 500 young people have signed statements that they were unreasonably searched by police in random checks at last weekend's Reading pop festival. Only a few of the 500 were charged with any offence. The allegations were collected by ADE, a civil rights group which took an interest in the festival fans.

The allegations include: policemen being present while girls were searched; some people being searched two or three times; and searches being conducted solely because of people's appearance.. •

ADE estimates the number of youngsters searched in Reading over the three days at well over 1,000. Only 144 pop fans have appeared in court, mostly on charges of having cannabis.

However, it would be misleading to suppose that all police who decide to exercise their power to stop and search were themselves on each occasion readily identifiable as such. Confronted by the tendency of most marijuana users to shy away from any contact with them, a number of drug squads decided to operationalize the powers conferred upon them by the 1967 Act with the help of a detection strategy whose inevitable effect was to heighten the hostility and resentment of the drugtaking community still further: the use of undercover agents — policemen whose appearance and trained familiarity with subcultural argot would, hopefully, enable them to infiltrate this community with relative ease.43 In the light of incidents such as the following, it is perhaps not altogether surprising that many marijuana users should have become "alienated from normal standards of behaviour":

Quiet young couple in jeans were drug squad (Liverpool Daily Post 30 April 1971)
"Hippie" police in drug swoop (Evening Standard 26 June  1971)

Long-haired detectives, many bearded and wearing garish pop garb, today mingled with more than 500 other police in uniform and plainclothes at Reading on the biggest-ever anti-drug operation. Their targets were the soft and hard drug pushers among more than 30,000 teenagers at a pop festival. In the first 12 hours of the operation 65 youths and girls in their teens and early twenties had been arrested.

In such a context as this, any argument that the paranoia exhibited by some marijuana users could be attributed solely to the pernicious influence of the drug itself or, alternatively, to the pathological character structures of the individuals concerned, would very plainly be both short-sighted and misleading. Thanks largely to the part played by the Underground press in alerting its readers to such police practices, moreover, this kind of paranoia was likely to be prevalent within the drugtaking community even in those areas where the activities of the police did not actually warrant it. It is perhaps in the light of this that the designation of the police as "pigs" by some members of this community should be understood: a designation which, ironically, could be expected only to provoke further police hostility and lend a certain moral legitimacy to undercover methods if they were in fact used.

Yet not all regional police forces did use them. As Ivor Gaber's insightful studies of the Metropolitan and Newcastle drug squads suggest, they were more likely to be employed either in cases (such as pop festivals) where the police were confronted with special problem of control or, more routinely, in urban areas characterised by a large, shifting and little-known population: where relations between police and drugtakers were segmented and impersonal, and where each had correspondingly greater difficulty in detecting the other.4 4 Even where undercover methods were not employed, however, the police remained beset by the problem of detecting the offender without there being a "victim" to alert their attention. It was more than likely, therefore, that they would be accompanied, or their absence compensated for, by the imposition of considerable pressure for "cooperation" upon those marijuana users who were apprehended. Affixing the term "informers" to such people may not be entirely correct since, as Schofield points out, they may be requested to do rather more than simply provide information:

Persons arrested for drug offences are sometimes pressurized into helping to trap other users. They are persuaded to ring up a friend to arrange a bogus sale, or to supply cannabis to a suspect who is then promptly arrested for possession. If they do not agree to aid the police in this way, they may be told that bail will be opposed or that extra charges will be brought against them.4

If, on the other hand, their cooperation is actually confined to little more than providing the police with information, this may not in fact be as useful to them as might be supposed. As Goode has suggested:

The more names, and the bigger the names given to the police, the more lenient the police are. However, since most sellers known to the average marijuana user are probably his friends, this procedure is likely to bring conflicting pressures to bear on the subject. It is not unknown for the informant to select the names not on the basis of the volume of sales, which is what the police are interested in, but on the basis of his attitude toward the person he is about to incriminate. The list of names often reaches down the distribution ladder, rather than up.4 6

If this is the case, it may help to explain why, in spite of the frequent claims expressed by the police that it is the suppliers rathers than the casual users of marijuana whom they are really concerned to apprehend, the numbers of people convicted for possessing the drug have tended to dwarf those convicted for supplying it's' It may also help to explain (though there are also other reasons for this which will be examined later) why the most characteristic setting for the use of marijuana should traditionally have been the small group composed of close friends or intimates." Jock Young touches upon one of the central issues involved here with his observation that "as police activity increases, the marijuana user becomes increasingly secretive and suspicious of those around him. How does he know that his activities are not being observed? How does he know that seeming friends are not police informers?"49 Confining the activity of drug-taking to the company of those who are known and trusted should partly be seen as an adaptation to such anxieties.

Yet even secretiveness did not always guarantee safety. To end this brief review of police detection strategies on a slightly more whimsical note, it is worth mentioning that one distinctive characteristic of marijuana, its smell, also encouraged a number of regional drug squads to make good use of dogs — a species renowned for both their olfactory sensibilities and their capacity to employ them for human ends. A number of reports appeared in the press with headlines such as the following, each of them representing the successes of these canine assistants as a triumph of cooperation between man and beast: "Drugs dog is hot on the trail" (The Yorkshire Post 12 January 1971); "Dog that smelled drugs in a cake" (Lancashire Evening Telegraph 25 February 1971); "Drugs squad helped by a dog with a nose for narcotics" (Birkenhead News 8 July 1971). Whether or not one should be concerned about the possibility of these unfortunate animals having become "prematurely senile" or suffered in some other way as a result of regular exposure to the supposedly noxious substance is a question, ironically, that has seldom if ever been asked.


The police are well aware of the limitations set upon their control activities by shortages of trained manpower — and dogpower, for that matter. Confronted by competing and sometimes more pressing demands upon their time and resources, they are also constrained to do their best to involve other agencies and institutions in the process of detection and control. Chief among these agencies, of course, is the family, or more specifically parents. However, concerned as it is with processes of informal control, this warrants treatment in a separate section. Here I shall primarily be concerned with two rather less informal agencies of control: the press, and the licensees of pubs and clubs. (Teachers, for their part, whilst undeniably performing — and being asked to perform — an important role in drug prevention, have generally been granted a degree of autonomy vis-a-vis the choice and implementation of control measures which only in exceptional cases are the police likely to challenge).
The development and maintenance of good public relations with the press, first of all, are likely to be assigned high priority by the police, if only because it is the press which is capable of conveying their advice, requests for help and reports on progress in the campaign against drugs to a considerably wider public than may otherwise receive them.' ° Thus sometimes the police might issue a "direct" appeal to a group such as parents through the medium of a local newspaper, as the following two instances suggest:

Drugs: Is your child at risk? (Burnley Express 19 January 1971)

A police drugs squad expert warned Burnley parents yesterday: "Make no mistake that the problem is in your town. Be aware it is your child that is most at risk, and that you are likely to be the last person to know if your son or daughter is taking drugs".

Drugs: police chief's plea to parents (Shrewsbury Chronicle 16 June 1972)

Chief Superintendent Nichol (in a statement to the newspaper) appealed to parents to be on the lookout for tell-tale signs of drugtaking amongst their children. . . Chief Superintendent Nichol said: "The signs of drug-taking should be fairly obvious to parents and we would appreciate it if they would get in touch with us if they are at all suspicious".

Apart from the fact that they reveal somewhat conflicting views about the degree to which the signs of drugtaking are obvious to parents, a notable feature of cases such as this is that the newspaper concerned itself appears to act almost as an impartial bystander, its own views and self-appointed role within the enterprise of social control only capable of being inferred by the degree of prominence it assigns such statements, and even then only very approximately. Seldom does one witness a degree of collaboration between the police and the press as explicit as that indicated by the following report, whose heading alone is worth remarking upon:

Drugs and your child: One "trip" can wreck a young mind for life (Lancashire Evening Telegraph 28 January 1971) (Report by Terry Broadhurst; Research by Ian Whalley).

Three years ago, Mr William H. Palfrey, Chief Constable of Lancashire, told me in his office at the Hutton HQ: "There's a load of twaddle being talked about some drugs being safe and non-dependent. When I hear this sort of talk I thank God I'm just an ordinary policeman. Because I can tell you this: I'm not going to listen to any long-haired theorist or medico coming in here and telling me that soft drugs don't lead to hard drugs. I go off my experience as a person and as a policeman, and I'm telling you that soft drugs lead to hard drugs like violence leads to murder".

Colleague Ian Whalley and myself take the same view and salute Mr. Palfrey's attitude, which is completely unchanged. If anything his attitude has hardened...

From one point of view there is an interesting similarity between the views expressed by Mr Palfrey and those apparent in the remarks of Detective Constable Beck cited earlier. Both policemen quite obviously disdain the liberal ideas of "experts", stressing instead the superiority of opinions based upon their own personal experiences and ordinary "common sense"5 1 — but conveniently ignoring the fact that they would have necessarily come into contact, in any case, with a highly selected and probably quite unrepresentative sample of drugtakers.5 2 Perhaps more important in the present context, however, are the implications of such a report for any assessment of the popular notion that newspapers simply "give the public what it wants". Some may hold the view that even in cases where the opinions of the journalists involved remain unstated, the interests of the public are typically subordinated to those of the control agency in question (in this case the police). On the other hand, given the kind of information and imagery about drugtaking which (as we have seen) the press tended at this time to provide, one might reasonably expect a large section of this public to positively welcome any apparent efforts on their part to collaborate with the police.

I shall return to consider this issue in a little more detail below. What remains quite clear is that the press are not alone in having cooperated and been encouraged to cooperate with the police in their efforts to control and contain the "drug problem". Also important was the assistance provided by those responsible for the orderly management of the kinds of public places likely to be frequented by marijuana users. Pubs were a particular focus of public concern at the time, as articles in the national press with headlines such as "Supermarket for drugs exposed: THE MOST EVIL PUB IN BRITAIN" (The People. 13 June 1971) or "Now pubs are new centres for drugs" (Daily Mail, 15 September 1971) may appear to suggest. And although evidence on the subject is meagre, it seems that it is not merely by providing a setting for transactions between drug dealers and their different clients that the pub has historically played an important role in the drug scene. In some cases, apparently, such a setting could favour the actual use of the drug as well. In his study of drugtaking in Cheltenham, for example, Martin Plant found that in some public houses ". . . cannabis was smoked with conspicuous regularity' - notably by working-class drugtakers who had few alternative meeting places at their disposal. There is little doubt as to the element of risk-taking involved in such activities. Under section 5 of the 1965 Dangerous Drugs Act, managers, landlords or ordinary householders could be prosecuted for permitting the smoking of cannabis on their premises, whether or not they knew that this offence was being committed. It was not until 1973 and the coming into force of the provisions of the 1971 Act that this state of affairs was changed and the criterion of knowing permission introduced. Bearing in mind their natural desire to escape negative publicity of the kind noted above, it seems clear that publicans and licensees consequently had every incentive to co-operate with the police wherever possible, even if this meant consenting to participate in measures such as those referred to in the following report:

Publicans learn how to sniff out the drug menace (Sunday Mercury, Birmingham, 27 June 1971)

Publicans in Birmingham are learning how to sniff out drug users. They are being taught how to detect the smell of cannabis being smoked — as part of a big new drive to curb drugtaking and "pushing" among teenagers in the city. The publicans are receiving expert tuition from Birmingham City Police Drug Squad, whose members show them various types of drugs, explain their effects and symptoms, and burn a small cannabis sample to illustrate the distinctive smell of the drug.

All licensees are being asked to contact the Drug Squad immediately if they suspect drugs are being used on the premises.

However, where information concerning the smell of the drug or the allegedly typical behaviour of its users proved inadequate as a means of detection and control, the appearance of particular individuals could be used as an indicator instead and, as such, invoked as a justification for their exclusion. In some instances, indeed, it seems that appearance provided the sole basis upon which publicans, exercising their own powers of control, decided who might gain admittance to their premises. Thus the report in the Evening Standard cited above, which describes police action at the 1971 Reading pop festival, concludes with the statement that:

When the public houses in the area of the festival opened today there was a strict ban on anyone who looked like a pop fan. Said one landlord: "I'm not taking any chances".

Consider also the following:

Drugs problem leads to ban on long-hairs (Evening Echo, Bournemouth, 13 July 1972)

. . . A spokesman for the Cave Bar (at what was then the Round House Hotel, now under different management and re-named the Crest Motor Hotel) said they had called in a security firm from Poole, members of which had been authorized to turn people away. He added that the police had recently found drugs in chewing gum under tables in the bar.

They were co-operating with the police over the drugs problem. The employees of the security firm were turning people away if they were untidily dressed and had long, unkempt hair. Hippies were being prevented from using the bar, and also any youngsters thought by police to be on drugs.

Given the nature of popular stereotypes about the "typical" drug user, one would suspect that there would in practice have been a considerable amount of overlap between the two categories of persons referred to in the last sentence of this report. What effect such "co-operation" may have had upon them can of course only be conjectured, but it is certainly not likely to have mitigated any tendency on their part to become "alienated from normal standards of behaviour".

So far in this discussion of the nature and social organization of defensive measures against the threat apparently represented by marijuana use I have focused primarily upon the activities of control agents external to the family: individuals and institutions, that is, which broadly speaking form part of the formal apparatus of social control." If the strategies of control referred to have sometimes seemed unjustifiably oppressive, this may not be entirely attributable either to the problems inherent in the control of victimless crimes or to the narrow prejudices and authoritarianism of those who endeavoured to exercise such control. It might also owe something to a feeling prevalent amongst some of those who manned the formal control apparatus that, for the kinds of drugtakers with whom they typically came into contact, such strategies were both legitimate and necessary; a feeling that, by the time they did come into contact with such people, the basic damage, as it were, would already have been done, and a pattern of secondary deviations initiated which only control measures of the most stringent kind might be capable of dismantling.

The severity of formal control may thus to some extent have been both premised upon and justified by a belief in the inadequacy or ineffectiveness of informal control. It could of course prove inadequate or ineffective itself, precisely by virtue of such severity. But this is a hazard endemic to processes of formal control.' 6 Whatever their seeming failure in the areas of treatment and rehabilitation, the police and other formal control agents could reasonably argue that they were nevertheless protecting deviants from themselves, preventing a bad problem from getting any - or too much - worse. From the standpoint of common sense, however, what was of at least equal importance in terms of an overall control strategy was to try to eliminate the conditions that had given rise to a "bad problem" in the first place: or, put differently, to improve the adequacy and effectiveness of informal control.

In practical terms, for both the police and their allies in the press, this quite clearly meant enlisting the support of parents. It is they, after all, who provide the first "line of defence": not only because they are (or are at least conventionally thought of as being) the primary agents of socialization, exercising control over and responsibility for the moral development of their children; but also because throughout the most impressionable years of their lives, from early childhood to late adolescence, they are believed to possess a more intimate and more sustained familiarity with their personality and temperament than anyone else identified with the maintenance of the conventional order. Thus it might justifiably be considered that even if they had failed to satisfactorily instil their children with internalized prohibitions against experimentation with drugs, they should at least be capable of identifying the effects of any drugs as soon as they appeared.

Whatever the case, the volume of appeals and advice that the press addressed or transmitted specifically to parents during the period in question was enormous. The following are just a small selection of headlines from the many articles containing such warnings and advice to parents that appeared in regional newspapers during 1971 and 1972: "Drugs and your child" (Lancashire Evening Telegraph 28 January 1971); "Parents told how to tackle drugs" (Yorkshire Evening Post, 14 July 1971); "Parents told how to spot drugtakers" (Evening Argus, Brighton, 31 December 1971); "How you can tell if your child is on the drug kick" (Liverpool Daily Post. 15 February 1972); "Watch for drugtaking symptoms" (Barking & Dagenham Post, 22 November 1972). However, it would be mistaken to view parents as having been entirely passive recipients of the attempts made by others to co-opt them in the struggle against the apparent menace of illicit drugtaking. On the contrary, many parents seemed quite eager to lend assistance in this way, and there are grounds for thinking that it would have been a little surprising if this were not the case. A central and understandable preoccupation of most parents, after all, is the protection of their children from those influences which they define as harbouring the potential either for physical harm or for undoing whatever has been accomplished in the realm of effective socialization. Considered in these terms, the information and imagery about drug use typically contained in the newspapers was likely to appear highly threatening and anxiety-provoking. On the one hand, the great majority of statements about marijuana use (let alone other forms of drugtaking) that they carried — issued by such diverse but nevertheless authoritative groups as police, magistrates, scientific 'experts', and (perhaps not least) convicted marijuana users themselvess — were prone to lay stress upon the harmful or undesirable consequences of the activity; (and for many, of course, the fact that it constituted a criminal offence would itself have been sufficient to outweigh any information of a more positive nature). At the same time, however, newspapers also contained much information that pointed to the growing scale of the phenomenon. Paradoxical though it may seem, in a context where the prevailing public stereotype of the marijuana user was that of the disreputable hippie, the apparent involvement in the activity of the otherwise wholly respectable might be considered worthy of extended coverage precisely by virtue of its atypicality."

Confronted by such imagery and lacking access to or discounting alternative sources of information, many parents could easily and understandably have become apprehensive that their own sons or daughters might fall prey to the rapacious drug culture too, their imputed innocence and respectability ill-suited to protect them from the guile of those — the stereotypical "pusher" and other unscrupulous individuals like him — who were anxious to win them over to "the other side"." Those who already disapproved of their children's choice of peer-group company would have been particularly susceptible to such feelings. This disapproval would typically be justified in terms of their imputed disreputability — disreputability itself being conventionally associated with (and traditionally regarded as a prerequisite for) illicit drug use. These connections are illustrated by the following letter to the Sunday People of 1 October 1972:

I know my son has been mixing with a crowd of boys who are quite wild. I'm afraid he may have been experimenting with drugs. Are there any signs I should look for? — A.W.

Such feelings of anxiety were probably extremely common, particularly when one considers, in addition, the extent to which the development in recent years of a distinct and relatively autonomous youth culture could have made parental disapproval of this kind more the norm than the exception." As I have tried to indicate, however, there was no lack of attempts to provide reassurance. The printed media by no means confined themselves merely to the presentation of material whose likely consequence was to generate anxiety amid a large section of its recipients. Ever concerned to oblige their readers, they also endeavoured to provide the means whereby such anxiety might be aleviated. They may, it is true, have done this partly in compliance with the requests of formal control agents such as police and magistrates. But constrained as they always are to attract and maintain advertising, their primary obligation must inevitably have been to their readers — the great bulk of whom clearly formed no part of the formal control culture at all, even though their attitudes and beliefs may have been decisively shaped by the pronouncements emanating from it.

In the final analysis, then, it becomes difficult to avoid the conclusion that the relationship between the press and its readers, at least in areas such as this, is a somewhat exploitative one. Indeed, it is not overstating matters to suggest that many national and regional newspapers derive part of their appeal — and, by implication, their continued profitability — from the furnishing of information about the "true" character and most appropriate ways of dealing with social problems whose anxiety-provoking features they have themselves played a significant part in creating. A glimpse of the hollowness of the newspapers' tacit claim that they do no more than merely provide their readers with useful information can be obtained from the following extract from the "Every parents' self-protection guide to drugs" which appeared in the Daily Mail of 3 April 1973, grimly (and not a little ironically) subtitled "Now, how you can fight back":

Ignorance is the enemy. It destroys the power to reason and instruct. Yet how many parents — fearful as they are of what drugs may do to destroy their family — can honestly admit that they know the facts? .

Only a parent who knows what he's talking about, who can talk to his children at their own level of playground-inspired knowledge, can hope to influence them in any way.

That is why the Daily Mail publishes this morning a complete guide to the drug problem. It, and the glossary of 'hip' drug expressions that goes with it, is essential reading, and indeed learning, for parent and teacher.

Essential indeed, one might add, when on the subject of cannabis alone the same article carries the sweeping (and, as we saw earlier, scientifically unfounded) statement that "recent research indicates that long-term smokers have suffered significant structural changes within the brain, with degrees of brain 'softening'. Some people are likely to be psychologically 'hooked'."

Fighting a Losing Battle? The Issue of Impact

So far in this chapter I have tried to convey an impression of the dominant public images of marijuana use that prevailed in this country at the start of the 1970s and the kinds of control strategies that were utilised in order to combat the problem that, along with other forms of non-medical drug use, the activity was widely thought to represent. Because of the subordinate role that it occupies in relation to the study as a whole, my description of the nature and ideological context of this control operation has necessarily been a brief and somewhat sketchy one. From the evidence available, however, it seems clear that the resources mobilized in its support encompassed a wide cross-section of conventional society.61 Reflecting, perhaps, the ambiguous definition of non-medical drug use as both a health problem and a grave moral issue as well as a more straightforwardly criminal activity, some rather unusual alliances came to be formed. Not only police, magistrates, newspaper editors and licensees, but also doctors, teachers, medical officers and (by no means least) parents — all played or were encouraged by one another to play their part in stemming the tide of physical and mental pollution represented by the menace of drugs. And a menace is certainly how the phenomenon seems to have been regarded. As clearly suggested by the many reports in local newspapers with headlines such as "Chairman to launch fight against drug addiction" (Woking News & Mail 3 June 1971), "Clubs alerted in drug war" (Nuneaton Observer 14 October 1971), or "Battle against 'pushers' "(West Herts & Watford Observer 23 April 1971), the task of repelling the serious threat to the community posed by drugtaking was commonly seen as requiring all the coordination and strength of purpose of an effective military \ campaign.

Acknowledging, of course, the degree to which its roots can be traced to the moral panic about drugs that had developed some four years previously, largely in response to the emergence of "Flower Power" and the events surrounding it,' a key question that must now be considered is that of how successful this control operation actually was. The question is by no means an easy one to answer, even if, as in this case, one confines the focus of attention to the use of a single drug. It seems undeniable that some individuals who might otherwise have started to use or, alternatively, have continued using marijuana will have been deterred from doing so through fear of the possible consequences upon their health, sanity, social identity or even liberty. It also seems fairly obvious that any restrictions in the supply of the drug (about which more in a moment) due to the control activities of police and customs will have bolstered any tendency of this nature. Unfortunately, however, there are very few reliable indicators of the real effectiveness of control activities. Fluctuations — whether decreases or (as has more usually been the case)" sustained increases — in the statistics relating to persons convicted for cannabis offences may tell us in fact very little other than the degree of either zeal or indifference with which the police, at different times, have viewed the task of enforcing the legal prohibition on the drug." Figures indicating amounts of the drug that have been seized by the police and customs are equally problematic sources of data, for even if these have been increasing — and the trend is by no means a clear one65 — the amounts of the drug confiscated may nevertheless represent a stable or even declining proportion of the total amounts actually coming on to the black market. Nor, again, is there much justification for automatically attributing any increase in the price of the drug to an increase in the scale or effectiveness of control activities. Although the price of the drug has undoubtedly increased in recent years, and although many commentators on the drug scene have favoured such an explanation for it, especially when trying to account for youthful involvement with drugs other than marijuana, it is a causal imputation which needs to be regarded with considerable caution. After all, as anyone possessing even the most rudimentary understanding of the laws of supply and demand will know, a proportionate increase in the demand for the drug (whether through increased numbers of users or increased frequency of use, or both) could have brought about exactly the same results.

It seems clear, then, that in making even the most superficial evaluation of the effectiveness of attempts to control the growth of marijuana use in the early 1970s, a key problem is that of estimating just how much the demand for the drug did increase, If data such as those just mentioned fail to shed much light on this problem, then what does? It might well be thought that help would be forthcoming from the findings of epidemiological research, and, in particular, from those studies that have relied upon self-report methods for their gathering of data.6 6 Unfortunately, however, it will be found that these do little more to dispel the prevailing ambiguity. It is a curious and regrettable feature of research into the subject in this country that there are no epidemiological data of sufficient recency, scale or methodological sophistication as to merit being considered capable of providing a reliable index of prevalence. The dismal state of affairs that still exists even where attempts to calculate use of marijuana even once are concerned is well summarized by Adele Kosviner in a review of the findings of available epidemiological studies that was published in 1976:

It is almost impossible, on the evidence available, to come to a conclusion about the prevalence of cannabis use in Britain but it is possible to examine the fragments, if only to emphasize the difficulty of extrapolation. If one were simply to list all the prevalence surveys that have been undertaken and cast an eye over the findings, their non-comparability would be all the more apparent. The most outrageous extrapolation — remembering that none of the samples are adequately representative of their wider populations — could only hint at a rate of perhaps 3-10% amongst schoolchildren, a similar percentage for juvenile offenders in the same age bracket, a rather higher percentage for older offenders and students — increasing to 50% for some social science students — and almost anybody's guess for the general population. If anything these would be underestimates rather than overestimates.67

One should perhaps also note that of the twenty different prevalence surveys referred to by Kosviner, eleven were carried out in the period 1968-70 and eight between 1970 and 1972. Only one, the Midweek survey referred to earlier, was carried out even as recently as 1973. It is possible to do little more than speculate about the reasons why the flow of such epidemiological research seems almost to have ceased since that time. Perhaps — as Kosviner herself seems to be implying — it owes something to a feeling that the rather piece-meal and fragmented nature of much of this research effort has served to lend confusion rather than clarity to the area, and that further research might merely exacerbate such confusion. It might also owe something to a growing anxiety about the likely public reception (if any) accorded the findings of such research and mistrust of the reasons underlying it.6 8 But probably most important is the growth of a realization that epidemiological research of the (mostly self-report) kind that has been conducted to date is ill-suited, by its very nature, to provide the sort of data that would make the most significant contribution to arguments commonly invoked either in support of or in opposition to the continued ban on marijuana use. One of the issues central to this debate, as the public reception accorded the findings of the Midweek survey in 1973 and subsequently bears witness," is the allegedly high prevalence of marijuana use and the inability of law-enforcement agencies to reduce it. Yet as Joy Mott has pointed out in a review of the findings of such self-report studies:

Because the informants in almost all the samples surveyed were assured of their anonymity and the confidentiality of their responses to the researchers there has been no possibility of follow-up studies of the same individuals to collect information on their history of drug misuse after the initial survey. This limitation has meant that next to nothing, other than anecdotal impressions, is known about the natural history of non-opiate drug misuse among representative samples of the population.

Later on I shall examine some evidence that appears to cast some doubt upon the validity of this last statement. Certainly, little is known about the natural history of non-opiate (or in this case marijuana) use in such population samples. But what can be pieced together amounts to more, I think, than merely anecdotal impressions. For the moment, one seems forced to conclude that the findings of existing prevalence surveys offer regrettably little help to the researcher who wishes to obtain precise information about the incidence of marijuana use in the early 1970s.

Unorthodox though it may appear, a rather more reliable index would seem in many ways to be the sales of the cigarette papers used in the preparation of marijuana joints — undoubtedly the most common form in which the drug is used in this country. Rizla Cigarette Papers Ltd., which has traditionally enjoyed a virtual monopoly of the British market for cigarette papers,71 has perhaps understandably been somewhat reticent about divulging any information that might be used to demonstrate the extent of its reliance upon sales to marijuana smokers. There are, nevertheless, a number of observations that appear to lend support to one 1974 estimate that such sales accounted for as much as 60% of Rizla's total sales of cigarette papers.' 2 Firstly, as the organization Release has pointed out," 3 the sales of hand-rolling tobacco have been steadily decreasing over the past few years whilst those of cigarette papers have been showing a trend in the reverse direction. In 1967, according to Release, 15.7 million lbs. of hand-rolling tobacco were sold and Rizla made £521,721 on a turnover of £1,540,000. But by 1973 hand-rolling tobacco sales were down to 13.5 million lbs., whilst Rizla's turnover was up to £2,671,978 giving them a pre-tax profit of £720,000.

Even if one remains unconvinced of the accuracy and suggestiveness of such figures, one cannot escape the implications of the fact that in mid-1974 Rizla began marketing a king-size cigarette paper and a king-size rolling machine — both clearly of considerable use to the potsmoker who previously would have normally had to use three or more standard size cigarette papers to make a joint. Again, precise sales figures for these two items remain a closely-guarded secret. However, the fact that the company did increasingly see itself catering for (and being able to profit from) the requirements of the marijuana smoker can clearly be judged from the character and location of the advertising with which their sale was accompanied. Even if one ignores the advertisements and posters with the nicely ambiguous slogan "Make it with Rizla" that appeared at around this time, one can hardly mistake the implications of the company's decision to advertise in the Charisma Books publication "Smokestack El Ropo's Bedside Reader" — a book which consists of a series of stories and anecdotes about marijuana and whose appeal would presumably be almost exclusively confined to the drug's devotees.

Finally, we might do well to return once more to the issue of the price of the drug. Over the last few years, as I have already noted, this has steadily increased. Yet the same period has also witnessed a very considerable growth in the cultivation, use and — one might suppose — sale of "home-grown" marijuana — a commodity which, as at least one British pharmacologist has acknowledged,74 can quite often be as potent as the imported variety. Now in one sense this might be regarded as a predictable consequence of the increasing diffusion of marijuana use among those respectable, middle-class sections of the community whose members typically enjoy a considerable degree of immunity from the likelihood of police intervention," if only because it is precisely among these sections of the community that the facilities necessary for productive and trouble-free domestic cultivation (i.e. secluded gardens and greenhouses) are likely to be most prevalent. And to the extent that this has occurred, it will of course have served merely to magnify the problems of law-enforcement, rendering still more intractable and probably accelerating the process that James Carey, in an important passage, has characterized as a "contagion effect". He describes it thus:

The more users, the less viable the official "lines" regarding marijuana and, to a lesser extent, LSD; the less respected the sanctions against drug use and the less respected the rationale for such sanctions, the greater the experimentation with drugs; the more widespread the use, the easier it is for novices, non-users, and relatively straight persons to obtain drugs; the more varied the user groups, the less any potential user has to change identities to begin using a drug; the more users and the more peripheral areas of use, the more jobs open for drug traffickers and the more pushers will operate among "their own kind"; the more pushers blend in with their clientele, the harder it becomes to catch them; the less the risk, the greater the desirability of drug dealing.' 6

A principal merit of Carey's formulation is that the whole process of "normalization" is seen as a cumulative and self-reinforcing one. To that extent it represents a significant advance upon those conceptions of the relationship between marijuana use and social control which treat it in essentially programmatic terms and which fail to examine the degree to which it may vary in accordance with such things as the global prevalence of the activity and the social location and characteristics of those who engage in it." The latter of these determinants is without doubt a most important one. Consider for example the following extract from a statement which the now defunct magazine Nova obtained as long ago as 1971 from "Timothy", a forty-year-old property developer who then inhabited "an exquisite £35,000 Georgian house in Kensington":

To be quite frank, we've never really thought much about getting busted, although of course from time to time one does get a touch of what's known as pot-smoker's paranoia: this feeling that someone out there is watching you . . .

But let's face it, people who look like us and live in a house like this just don't give rise to police suspicion. It's terribly unfair I know, and one feels dreadfully sorry for pot smokers who happen to look freaky and get picked up all the time. One's just very grateful it's not us.' 8

The implications of all this for any assessment of the probable extent of domestic cultivation of marijuana are clearly considerable. Indeed, given the serious and — if one accepts Carey's argument — almost certainly increasing difficulties faced by the police in arresting the growth of such cultivation, one might suppose that the substantial increase in the recorded numbers of cannabis plants seized during the early 1970s79 accounted for only a small proportion of the total actually grown. Such an argument becomes, I think, still more plausible when one also takes note of the fact that for two consecutive years since 1973, (the year, interestingly enough, when the Central Drugs Intelligence Unit was established), the total numbers of cannabis plants seized show a decline. And this returns us to the central point at issue. For if, as it seems, there has been no general lowering of the price of cannabis on the open market, this might well be construed as indicating that a high and probably increasing proportion of the total volume of Rizla cigarette papers used for rolling joints has been used in the making of joints that contain home-grown marijuana. It seems reasonable to conclude, at all events, that for a large and probably growing number of people, the problem of actually obtaining the drug has significantly diminished. As even the Sunday Telegraph, in a controversial examination of the subject, claimed back in 1972: "For those who want it, despite its illegality, cannabis is on offer".80 Despite the efforts of law-enforcement agencies, there are reasons for thinking that if this was true then, it is likely to have become even more true since.

Unfortunately the available information is too patchy and incomplete to permit the framing of clear factual statements and makes a certain amount of speculative reconstruction of the kind I have indulged in almost unavoidable. In general, however, there seem to be few grounds for disputing the applicability to the recent British situation of Carey's remarks about the "contagion effect" referred to above. As marijuana use (and cultivation, for that matter) has been taken up by more and more people who in no way correspond to any of the earlier stereotypes of the potsmoker, so the potency as sources of control of the various factors which Howard Becker has grouped under the three headings of supply, secrecy and morality81 must have increasingly diminished. Acknowledging the need for more precise information about at least the first of these, it seems reasonable to assert that during the 1970s marijuana, in spite of the efforts of its opponents, in general became increasingly both easier to obtain, easier to use without significant risk of detection, and (partly of course because of a growing popular awaremss of increasing use) easier to actually justify using.

However, the qualification implied by the two simple words "in general" here is a very important one. For whilst it is almost certainly the case that the extent of marijuana use in the total population has increased substantially — to the point, indeed, where one might say that for many people it has become entirely normalized — there are also indications that the social reality of historical events surrounding and underlying such a gradual process of normalization was actually rather more complex than this somewhat mechanistic and one-dimensional picture of "growth stimulating more growth" would appear to suggest. Unfortunately the passing of time can all too easily obscure such complexity. It can also, in the process, obscure social events, attitudes and forms of interpersonal behaviour whose acknowledged existence may seem to necessitate a re-examination of both the nature and effectiveness of social control and the issue of whether or not we do have more than just anecdotal impressions about the natural history of marijuana use.

In the following chapter, therefore, I propose to review some of the evidence which suggests the need for such a re-examination. The remainder of the book will then be largely devoted to the attempt to develop a sociological explanation for this evidence. It will be my contention that whilst the various images and control strategies that I have outlined may not have done much to prevent people from actually using marijuana, they were sufficiently able to inhibit the widespread growth of more favourable public attitudes toward the drug as to render problematic the development of a widespread, stable and cohesive culture of use. For a significant period of time, consequently, the dominant social meanings attached to the drug remained ones derived from the subculture which had done most to pioneer and proselytize its use and whose defining features embodied, in their turn, practical and ideological solutions to precisely the control strategies and expressions of social reaction in question. I shall argue that, in a way quite unanticipated at the time, these meanings and the social situations in which they were encapsulated had the ironic effect of inhibiting the long-term appeal of the drug for a significant proportion of those whose drug-taking careers were shaped by them. As a result, a drug which had once been promised to liberate its users paradoxically became increasingly transformed into a source of constraint. It may not be too far-fetched to suggest that some of the effects of this transition are still with us today.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 May 2011 14:43

Our valuable member John Auld has been with us since Monday, 20 December 2010.

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