Set and Setting and the Issue of School Age Access

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Set and Setting:

One social cost is the impact this policy has on the young people exposed to marijuana. In 1984 Norman Zinberg of the Harvard Medical School argued that an assessment of drug abuse had to examine the individualized effects of Drug, Set and Setting. One assertion of Zinberg’s was that drug abuse prevention efforts could learn a great deal from studying why many drug users do not have drug abuse problems.”(2) Interviews of marijuana and other drug users provided the data Zinberg used to develop his assertion, and he maintains that drug users develop sanctions and rituals to limit and guard against abuse. This is referred to as “controlled use.” The illegality of many drugs has a dramatic influence over the scope, duration, and significance of marijuana use and abuse in the United States today. According to Zinberg, one unintended effect of marijuana prohibition of the 1970’s and 1980’s was as follows.

“When parents, schools, and the media are all unable to inform neophytes about the controlled use of illicit drugs, that task falls squarely on the new user’s peer group — an inadequate substitute for cross-generation, long-term socialization. Since illicit drug use is a covert activity, newcomers are not presented with an array of using groups to choose, and association with controlled users is largely a matter of chance. Early in their using careers, many of our research subjects became involved either with groups whose members were not well schooled in controlled use or with groups in which compulsive use and risk-taking were the rules. Such subjects went through periods when drug use interfered with their ability to function, and they frequently experienced untoward drug effects. Eventually these subjects became controlled users, but only after they had realigned themselves with new companions — a difficult and uncertain process.

“Cultural opposition complicates the development of controlled use in another way: by inadvertently creating a black market in which the drugs being sold are of uncertain quality. With marihuana, variations in the content do not present a significant problem because dosage can be titrated and harmful adulterants are extremely rare; the most common negative effect of the black market economy is that the neophyte marihuana user pays more than he should for a poor product.”(3)

Adolescents would be better served by a market that provided more control and regulation of adult marijuana use which also contributed to uniform social disapproval of teenage marijuana use, rather than perpetuate the existing policy which combines official disapproval with ample illegal access.