Within the last five years the ingestion of various drugs has become widespread on the American campus. Until recently, drugs were used almost exclusively by those clearly out of step with conventional American life Prior to 1960, also, the taking of drugs implied physiological addiction, heroin being the substance most used. An exception was marijuana. Certain groups in Los Angeles and New York, many of them actors and writers, smoked pot without deleterious physiological effects or interference with their professional activities. However, marijuana was very rarely found on college campuses
Physiologically addictive drugs are still almost unknown on campus, but there are now few colleges and universities where marijuana and the new psychedelic drugs, chiefly LSD, are not consumed. On even the most provincial of campuses a student who has flipped out as a result of taking LSD is likely to turn up at the counseling center, or a few students may be expelled for smoking pot in a dormitory. This is not to say that the proportion of students who take drugs is high. Most college students are conventional and dutiful, and are unlikely to contravene acceptable standards of behavior in so serious a way. But on campuses where cosmopolitan students congregate—large city campuses or prestigious small liberal arts colleges—the proportion of students who experiment with pot or LSD may run as high as 10 per cent. This is not a large proportion, but the total numbers are considerable. In a student body of 15,000, for example, but 2 per cent is 300 students—a figure not easily ignored. And the number of drug takers is growing.
It is difficult to fashion a serious case against smoking marijuana except that a user will find himself in serious trouble if he is caught by the police. The effects on society at large, were pot smoking to be as ubiquitous as the consumption of alcohol, are unknown, but within the current limits of use, there is little evidence that marijuana damages the individuals who smoke it. However, once a student has stepped over the line and finds that nothing terrible has happened, it is easy to fall into the illusion that there are no dangers at all. Occasionally a person of somewhat precarious emotional stability may be thrown into a panic state or even a psychosis as a result of smoking pot, but this seldom happens. Similarly, there is little basis for asserting that pot smoking is often a prelude to self-destructive or socially damaging acts. No data exist, for example, to demonstrate that marijuana contributes significantly to an individual’s criminal tendencies.
Perhaps the most serious charge that may be made against pot is that it is psychologically damaging. Since it is officially banned, its use reinforces rebellious and anti-social tendencies. Individuals who smoke pot regularly—as opposed to those who experiment with it on one or a few occasions—are likely to scoff at such a remark. Divorced as they are from traditional American culture and society, they are hardly frightened by the prospect of further alienation. Indeed, they are apt to welcome it.
The consistent pot smokers are for the most part graduate students in the arts, philosophy, the humanities and, to some extent, in the social sciences. The rebellion they express in many ways, pot smoking among them, stems from their disillusion with American life and values. They oppose American intervention in Vietnam, they are angered by the lot of Negroes and other disadvantaged minority groups. And they are militant. Aside from enjoying pot’s intrinsic satisfactions—relaxation, heightened sensibility, etc.—these students get pleasure from sharing a rebellious, illegal activity. The more rebellious or "anti" the movement, the greater the likelihood that pot smokers will be drawn to it. On the other hand, the use of marijuana is rare in the Peace Corps and Poverty Corps. Even though these workers may oppose traditional policies and politics, their activities are more a gesture of social affirmation than of protest.