Trends in drug use among youth are indirectly attributable to trends in society. Although drugs have always
been around in one form or another, their early influences on society trace back to just before the 1930’s.
Marijuana was a popular drug among Mexican laborers, jazz musicians, and so-called beatniks. Then after
major social changes that took place in 1930, "The government cracked down on marijuana use." "In 1937,
the Marijuana Tax Act…made the use and sale of marijuana without a tax stamp federal offenses. This
unprecedented event prompted law enforcement officers to arrest recreational users. Some observers
speculate that passage of the law resulted from strong anti-Mexican sentiment in the Southwest and from
the political power of federal Commissioner of Narcotics Harry Anslinger, who reigned from 1930-1962
and was strongly anti-drugs." ( Glazer ? )
Thirty years later a counter culture emerged with strong anti-war sentiments and a disdain
for establishment. The 1960’s were a time of sweeping change and events such as the Vietnam war had
caused many young Americans to lose faith in authority. "’Grass’ became an emblem of a generation
challenging grownups’ political and social conventions. Marijuana cigarettes, or joints, were widely used at
demonstrations protesting the Vietnam War and at the seminal Woodstock music festival." ( Glazer ? ). The
revolution would be televised. With youth drug culture becoming widespread and given so much attention
by the media, the public demanded tougher law enforcement. Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 with the
public believing his intention to crackdown on drug use.
Instead, "the belief of many scientists and policy-makers that marijuana posed no long-
term health risk," (Glazer ? ) along with the attitude of many members of the public, that long mandatory
sentences for possession of small amounts of marijuana was unfair, led Congress to pass the
Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention Control Act of 1970, "which lessened federal penalties for
possession of marijuana". Going a step further, "in 1972, the president’s National Commission on
Marijuana and Drug Abuse recommended removing criminal penalties in federal and state laws for the use
of marijuana. Several states passed decriminalization laws, some of which allowed possession or use of
small amounts of marijuana; others imposed fines instead of prison sentences." America had let its guard
down, and it was about to pay the price.
The repercussions of the prior years began to take effect. A survey done by the University
of Michigan Institute for Social Research showed that marijuana use by high school students had become
an epidemic. By senior year of high school, almost half of the students surveyed had tried marijuana. By
1979, 60% of students had tried pot at least once. The demographics of drug use continued to move from
lower class minorities to middle and upper class whites in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Middle class whites
and successful business men began using a drug that was viewed as a status symbol, Cocaine. The drug was
often glamorized on TV and in movies, putting the message across that the stimulant would give you the
extra boost that could take you to the next level and allow you to live the fast life. Marcy Kelly, president
of Mediascope felt that media was too uncritical of drugs in American culture. One night she was watching
a variety show on NBC-TV with her 10 year-old son in t!
he early 80’s. She watched in disbelief while Robin Williams, a favorite entertainer of her son, and Billy
Crystal traded cocaine jokes. "Starting with a protest to NBC, Kelly helped spur a sea change in network
TV depiction’s of drugs in the early 1980s. Drugs were no longer funny." ( Glazer ? )
After some controversy, television became more responsible and tried began to focus
more attention on the drug problems plaguing the country. TV seemed to target the problems of middle-
class users of drugs like cocaine, originally viewed as non-addictive. Soon crack cocaine began to devastate
communities already in crisis such as low-income neighborhoods. It took the death of No. 2 draft pick Len
Bias, twenty-two year old star player of the University of Maryland to raise the level of consciousness
about the problem of youth illicit drug abuse.
On September 14, Nancy Regan began a "Just Say No" campaign three months after the
death of