Forty years after Becker’s paper in the American Journal of Sociology, the report prepared for OTA by confirms his criticisms of theories based on deeply rooted motives or predispositions. Availability, and the prior use it contributes to, explain school aged drug use better than any other variables. The purpose of the Controlled Substances Act is to create a closed system of regulation and distribution that would, in part, reduce the access of school-aged youth to all drugs. There is nothing in the pharmacological profile of marijuana that makes it any more of a public health threat than alcohol, tobacco, or benzodiazepines; social science research on the relationship between marijuana and other drug use provides further support for this assertion.
The Hansen report also comments on the use of theory in the research it reviewed, and as such evaluates the scientific foundation and context of emerging research in the area of school-age drug use.
“It is evident that well though out assumptions did play an important role in most studies. Nearly all articles referenced prior findings. Investigators made inferences from the literature that were theory-like in nature. They often related in the discussion sections of their papers what the implications of their findings were in theory-like terms. Thus, while the field has, for the most part, been loosely theoretical in terms of grounded theory, a solid rationale has evolved that has connected empirical facts with logic and philosophy. . . there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the social influences model represents an emergent model that represents a body of yet-to-be-codified explanations which generally guide the field.”(53)
Hansen’s conclusions address the need for the field to move beyond theory generating to theory testing. They echo the comments of natural science researchers about the wide latitude for speculation which has previously dominated their field of study.
“There are two conclusions to be drawn from this. First, general theories and eclectic aggregations of theory have advanced the field to date but must be used more explicitly in driving the construction of hypotheses and experiments. Theories should be reexamined critically and abandoned if they do not meet the explanatory criteria needed by both epidemiologists and interventionists.
“Second, as a field, school-based substance abuse researchers have been more interested in public health than science. The concerns have been primarily practical – solving the nation’s problem. This has led to modest achievements so far. However, before further progress can be expected, theory development and testing must become an integral characteristic of all research. The empirical information is plentiful and offers a ready opportunity for theory development.”(54)
These comments lend support to assertions that social science findings used as the basis for prior scheduling decisions were not based on rigorous scientific grounds, as the field itself had yet to enter the theory testing and abandonment stage of scientific development. The abandonment of old theories in response to new natural and social science findings forms the basis of this petition.
The research by Kandel, Zinberg, Becker, and Hansen cited above support the assertion that public policy would best serves the young people of this country by successful actions to delay the age of first drug use by school age youth.