Social conflicts and struggles are an inevitable part of any society in any country. These struggles can include an increased rate in crime, unemployment, domestic/general violence, and overall civilian depression.
When governments cannot seem to find a means to an end, they often turn and look for something to blame for their struggles, and that thing is more often than not, drugs. For many years, several opiates and drugs were primarily used for medicinal purposes, were seen to have an abundance of health benefits and was widely accepted among communities. Although, with the increasing social conflicts and economic conditions, authorities turned to and targeted many different forms of once accepted drugs, and made them the scapegoat for the problems they were facing. America in the early 1900’s, the use of marijuana within the immigrant Mexican community was used as a scapegoat for the increasing unemployment rate, with politicians stating that the use of marijuana causes extreme violence, crime and radical behavior. This myth was widely spread around the United states, ultimately giving marijuana the infamous term ‘killer weed’. In Dublin, Ireland, the excessive use of heroin became the scapegoat for many arising problems such as public health issues, unemployment, violence, deaths, run down housing and other crimes, ultimately labeling heroin as the reason for all the countries issues.
The main focus of this essay will be to examine the reasons behind the laws that prohibit narcotics and other forms of drugs and the changing perception society had on them, with specific focus on Himmelstein and his law guiding concepts. Research also shows that the changing ideas of certain drugs their uses was “not so much because of the hazardous potential for addiction and overdose, nor because recreational use became widespread, but rather, was greatly influenced by underlying national economic conditions and concerns.” (Hoffman, J.
2012) Jerome Himmelstein, an important figure and author of the article ‘From Killer Weed to Drop-Out Drug’, suggests that drug controls, laws and reforms are heavily influenced by three important ‘guiding concepts’ – Entrepreneurship, social locus and symbolic politics. As Himmelstein explains, Entrepreneurship, or moral entrepreneurs are people, or organized social groups, that take it upon themselves to start a revolution, and have a key role in shaping the way a drug is viewed in society. Aldous Huxley, Leary & Ginsberg and Ken Kesey are all examples of moral entrepreneurs that voiced their opinions, gained a large following, and attempted to have the laws on drugs changed.The Social Locus refers to the people that use the particular drug. It is the “relationship between the moral and legal status of a particular kind of drug use and the social position of the groups identified as the primary or typical users; the lower the social position of the users, the more likely that use will be regarded as deviant, disreputable, and wrong” (Himmelstein, J. 1983). This was seen with the Mexican immigrants, as stated above. When unemployment rates grew uncontrollably, the ethnic minority and their drug use were the ones to blame.
Lastly, Himmelstein states that symbolic politics is when, in short, drugs and drug controls are used as a scapegoat for wider social conflicts. The use of drugs in certain lower class groups may become a symbol of threat during times of social conflict and stress. Laws against drugs are then put in place to help control these social conflicts and to reassert the dominance of the higher social classes.
“The banning of illicit drugs by governments, has, in a number of instances, involved measures being taken against particular minority groups and racial subcultures, to limit or control their behavior” (Hamilton, R. 2014). When social anarchy erupts or the governments financial situation deteriorates, it is easy for moral entrepreneurs to pin the blame on minority groups and racial subcultures. This was displayed in the early 1900’s America, during the time of the Mexican revolution.
In 1910, a large number of marijuana smoking Mexican immigrants sought refuge in the US, looking for work. Many wealthy farmers were eager to give them jobs as the Mexicans were willing to work for very low wages. Most Americans were not happy about the influx of Mexican immigrants as it made finding employment for the locals much harder.
As unemployment rates grew and small businesses declined, the Mexican immigrants became the ‘social locus’, and the “scapegoats for the economic conflict between business and labor” (Abel. E. L, 1980). The excessive use of marijuana within the Mexican community was seen as an easy target for racist Politian’s and moral entrepreneurs. In an attempt to control Mexican immigration into America, Harry J.
Anslinger, as well as other many small anti-marijuana campaigns and tabloids started demonizing the drug, claiming radical and false information that the drug causes lifelong insanity, extreme violence and erratic behavior, ultimately giving marijuana the term ‘killer weed’. Jerome Himmelstein argues that the image of ‘killer weed’ emerged due to the views that society held about the drug and its users, as the Mexican laborers and other lower class workers were often perceived as violent. This idea for marijuana continued until the main group of marijuana users shifted during the 1960s, to middle class youth. (Himmelstein. J. L, 1983).
The term ‘killer weed’ for marijuana was quickly changed to the ‘drop out drug’, as in the 1960s, marijuana was once again used as a scapegoat for the youth’s laziness, and lack of motivation. What happened with the Mexican immigrants and their use of drugs is a direct reflection of Hammerstein’s three guiding concepts. Lower class immigrants were being targeted by higher class moral entrepreneurs for their drug use, and used as a scapegoat for the countered social and economic conflicts. In the 1970’s, a similar drug epidemic took place in Dublin, Ireland. Heroin was, and still is a nationwide issue that has symbolically been associated with violence, public health issues, unemployment, run down housing and other crimes. Since the heroin epidemic started in the 1970’s, Dublin has seen a dramatic increase in violent crimes, prostitution and murders, the most well-known murder being Victoria Guerin, a journalist who was shot dead for investigating drug crimes in Dublin. As Heroin addiction rose in the 1990’s, employment rates plummeted to only 55% of the population (O’Gorman, A).
People who relied heavily on heroin lived in run down, dirty apartments, and as a result, the people of Dublin that lived and provided a sense of community, left and moved out to different parts of the city. The excessive use of heroine was to blame for not only the extreme urban decay, but for the severe poverty in the area. Governments used and played on this knowledge to use heroin as a scapegoat for its other issues, such as disabilities, public health issues, lower wages and poor quality part time jobs. Heroin and its users are the victims of poverty and should not be used as a scapegoat for Dublin’s economic problems, as poverty has been a major problem in Dublin for a long time.
“There was still a great deal of appalling poverty in the city with many families living in one room. In all European cities at the time there was terrible poverty but it seems to have been particularly bad in Dublin” (Lambert, T). Heroin may have been the thing that pushed people further into poverty, but contrary to what the government was saying, it was not the thing that cause poverty in the first place. Many of the Irish believe the issue is with the governments, and their poor efforts in combatting the epidemic.
Himmelstein’s three guiding concepts to drug reform are also seen in here. Although there wasn’t a single moral entrepreneur leading a campaign, heroine and its lower class users were targeted and used as a scapegoat for Dublin’s social and economic conflicts. Illicit drugs are a huge problem in many different countries. There is evidence to suggest that drug policies and people that were targeted were of racial or class minorities.
Mexicans in the US and the people of Ireland have been belittled by the governments and in these cases, the use of drugs and the particular people that used them were targeted and made scapegoats for social, cultural and economic problems that had many other causes.