Washington, D.C.

U.S. Congress, Senate Committee Hearings, Senate Library Volume 2028, 1969


[Dr. Margaret Mead]


[p. 5459]


. . . . If you carry the Protestant Puritan ethic far enough people take the attitude that everyone should develop enough character so that they never need anything to support them, except vitamins, and it is even doubtful if they have too many of them because maybe if you depended on vitamins your character wouldn"t develop properly. We have had all through this country since the 1960"s emphasis on eating the right foods and which means changing your character, and somewhat of a questioning of these synthetic vitamins instead of exercising the right moral choice of eating the right food.


All things come into play in the discussion of psychotropic drugs. We have drugs that can act as a sedative, that can relax, that can stimulate, that can energize, and that have enormously altered the population of our mental institutions. Some of these drugs have made it possible to treat people in outpatient situations, to send home very large numbers of people who would have had to stay in institutions and, at the same time, that these particular benefits are well known, we have the operation of these three ethics coming into play, questioning whether there ought to be drugs that make it possible for people not to worry as much or not to lie awake or not to be as tense as they would otherwise be.


And whenever the word "drug," of course, is used crosses over very dangerously in public opinion--and public opinion includes all of us also in our particular predispositions--it crosses over to the use of those drugs which we originally identified as hard drugs, and today, marihuana which is being linked with hard drugs by an act of cultural creation just as smoking cigarettes was once linked to prostitution as it was years ago when people knew that a woman who smoked a cigarette was either a prostitute or would become one. Obviously women who were not prostitutes and didn't want to become prostitutes, didn't smoke cigarettes and the first cigarette which someone persuaded a girl to take was a realistic introduction to a downward path. We put marihuana in the same situation.


Senator JAVITS: Dr. Mead, would you mind one question, if the Chair would allow it: just one?


Dr. MEAD: Any time.


Senator JAVITS: Just one question on marihuana because it happens to intrude in another committee of which I am the ranking minority member. You speak as if the scientific basis for discounting marihuana, according to what the kids say, as being nothing worse than alcohol or tobacco.


Dr. MEAD: Not nearly as bad.


Senator JAVITS: Perhaps even better. However, many people still leave it up in the air. It is not scientifically proved that maybe it is a threshold drug to addiction, et cetera. Would you care to substantiate your statement, which, if you stand by it, is very important, on that subject. Would you say there is not adequate scientific proof to dismiss marihuana as a threshold, addictive of similar drug comparable to hashish, heroin, and so on?


Dr. MEAD: Senator, I would separate hashish and heroin very sharply.


On the question of the use of cannabis in various forms we have cross-cultural evidence, we have cultures that have used it for a very long time. There is some evidence that if people use it to excess for 20 years, which mean that they spend their time smoking instead of


[p. 5460]


doing anything else, they showed some mental deterioration. You can find that with people who do nothing but eat for 20 years let alone people who only use alcohol; that is the excessive use of any piece of chemical intake, even bread and milk is not particularly good for you. We know that cannabis has been used for a very long period; we have accounts of the way in which it is used to energize during work and to relax after work. It is my considered opinion at present, and this is not proved because we haven"t had instances of where we could follow children whose known situation was, well, authenticated into adult life, life where we could control all the other aspects of their lives so as to discuss this. But it is my considered opinion that at present that marihuana is not harmful unless it is taken in enormous and excessive amounts. I believe that we are damaging this country, damaging our law, our whole law enforcement situation, damaging the trust between the older people and younger people by its prohibition, and this is far more serious than any damage that might be done to a few overusers, because you can get damage from any kind of overuse.


. . . .


[p. 5467]


We occasionally find a society that will reject anything that leads to any kind of ecstatic state or of people ever getting outside of themselves. . . . But in general man has sought for ways of changing his moods, of making it possible for him to work longer than he could, to stay up longer than he could, to get through a meeting or a tremendous bout of work better than he could have otherwise. When the work is over, whether it is plowing a field or taking a hazardous journey in a canoe or getting through a terrible board meeting, he very often uses the same drug as a relaxant, which suggests that the relationship between these mood changing drugs is not as simple as we have thought they are. In the West Indies, people smoke marihuana to get through a hard day"s work and after they have done the hard day"s work they smoke another bit of marihuana to relax and enjoy the evening. And there are many people who do this with cigarettes also, of course.


They smoke to keep working and then they smoke to relax, and all of these things fall under this general question of whether that man has any right to use natural or distilled or pharmaceutically produced aids to permit him to live the kind of life that he wants to live, and in most cases we find this combines work and relaxation or religion, work and relaxation.


[p. 5468]


I think the most dangerous thing where this occurred, even more dangerous than prohibition, and prohibition began the breakdown of many of our urban controls of order, but even more than this is the breakdown over marihuana. In the past although the adults, a large number of adults, used certain things that were disapproved of by other members of the society, tea, coffee, alcohol, and the children were not allowed to use them, nevertheless the children were told "When you grow up, when you are old enough, you can use them." The little boy who smoked corn silk tobacco in the barn and got a hiding for it or even got sent away to military school, nevertheless


[p. 5469]


knew some day he would be old enough to exercise the rights that his father and schoolmaster were exercising.


Today by an accident of history we have a break and the drugs that the young people want to use, the stimulants, the energizers, the pacifiers or whatever you wish to call them, are ones that the adults don"t want to use so there is now what appears to be a new form of tyranny by the adults over the young, and you have the adult standing with a cocktail in one hand and a cigarette in another saying "I would beat the ---- out of any child of mine who ever smoked pot."


Now, this position is untenable, and it is leading to a degree of distrust, a breakdown of law and order, that, beside which the prohibition conditions of the 1920's in which I grew up pale completely because we now have this vicious relationship between marihuana and hard drugs, which we invented, and which wasn't necessary at all.


This week it was reported in the press that owing to the various operations to stop the importation of marihuana in the country children are now being sold heroin instead, so that instead of a pleasant indulgence that is less noxious than that engaged in by their elders they may be turned into hard drug addicts for life.


. . . .


[p. 5477]




I have received many communications and questions about the portion of my testimony October 27th devoted to marijuana. In the light of these discussions which show that some Americans regard making something legal as a positive sanction for its use, I would now suggest that it would fit better the present mood of the country to substitute for the term legalizing marihuana, the phrase repealing all laws making the use, possession, or sale of marijuana illegal. Appropriate age limits could be established as they are for other activities such as driving a car, drinking beer or purchasing cigarettes; and regulations assuring quality standards could be introduced, and cautions could be required in advertising on such questions as excess use.