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Social Construction of Drug Scares (From Constructions of Deviance: Social Power, Context, and Interaction, P 92- 104, 1994, Patricia A and Peter Adler, eds. -- See NCJ- 151012)

NCJ Number
C Reinarman
Date Published
13 pages
Major periods of antidrug sentiment in the United States are summarized, and the response of law enforcement to the drug problem is discussed.
The first and most significant "drug scare" involved alcohol and prohibition in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, and the first real drug law in the United States was San Francisco's opium den ordinance of 1875. Another drug scare focusing on opiates and cocaine began in the early 20th Century. These drugs had been widely used for years but were first criminalized when the addict population began to shift from predominantly white, middle class, middle-aged women to young, working class males. This scare led to the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, the first Federal antidrug law. During the Great Depression, the Federal Narcotics Bureau pushed for a Federal law against marijuana. In the drug scare of the 1960's, political and moral leaders reconceptualized LSD as the drug that was leading youth into rebellion and ruin. Biomedical studies also suggested that LSD produced broken chromosomes and genetic damage. This scare resulted in the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Control Act of 1970 which criminalized many forms of drug use and subjected users to harsher penalties. The most recent drug scare involves crack, which came on the scene in 1986. Drug scares and associated drug laws are characterized by some truth, media magnification, political-moral issues, professional interest group influences, and scapegoating drugs for a wide array of public problems. A culturally specific theory of drug scares is presented that considers the contradiction between society's emphasis on self-control and a mass consumption culture that makes self-control continuously problematic. 38 references and 8 notes


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