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Americans Attitudes Toward Drug-related Issues From 1975-2006 - The Roles of Period and Cohort Effects

Americans Attitudes Toward Drug-related Issues From 1975-2006 - The Roles of Period and Cohort Effects

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Published by: Bloc22 on Nov 18, 2010
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01/11/2013

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 © 2010
BY
 
THE
J
OURNAL
 
OF
D
RUG
I
SSUES
J
OURNAL
 
OF
D
RUG
I
SSUES
0022-0426/10/02 461-494
 __________ 
Amie L. Nielsen,
Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University ofMiami. Her research interests include the inter-relationships among race/ethnicity, crime and substanceuse and abuse.
A
MERICANS
A
TTITUDES
 
TOWARD
D
RUG
-R
ELATED
 I
SSUES
 
FROM
1975–2006: T
HE
R
OLES
 
OF
P
ERIOD
 
AND
C
OHORT
E
FFECTS
A
MIE
L. N
IELSEN
 
Despite the importance of the “war on drugs,” little research has examined Americans’ attitudes toward drug-related issues. In particular, the extant literature has not considered period and cohort effects for views about drug control issues,although there are theoretical reasons to expect both to be important. In this paper the roles of period and cohort effects, net of individual-level predictors,for attitudes toward both governmental spending to address drug addiction and legalizing marijuana use were examined. Data from the General Social Surveys (1975 through 2006) were used. The logistic regression results showed variations in attitudes over time for both addiction spending and legalizing marijuana use.Cohort effects were also evident. The results suggest that a liberalization of attitudes, both over time and across cohorts, may be occurring, especially for the legalization of marijuana use.
I
NTRODUCTION
A central element of U.S. crime control efforts in recent decades was the “war on drugs,” and such policies have had important implications (e.g., Beckett, 1997;Bertram, Blachman, Sharpe, & Andreas, 1996; Tonry, 1995). For example, annualfederal drug-related spending expanded between 1970 ($111 million) and 2000(approximately $18 billion) (Carnevale & Murphy, 1999; Maguire & Pastore, 2001).
1
 Under President Reagan the funding shifted to favor “supply side” reduction (e.g.,interdiction and law enforcement) and decreased for “demand side” reduction (e.g.,treatment and prevention), a pattern that persists (Carnevale & Murphy, 1999).Arrests for drug-abuse violations escalated after 1980,
rst exceeded one million
 
462J
OURNAL
 
OF
D
RUG
I
SSUES
N
IELSEN
in 1988, and have remained above this
gure since (Bureau of Justice Statistics,2006). Drug violations are the single largest category of arrests, and more arrestsare for marijuana than any other drug (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2006, 2008).Prison compositions shifted along with policy; drug offenders comprised 21% of state prison inmates in 2002 (versus 6.4% in 1980) and 59% of federal prisoners in2003 (versus 16.3% in 1970). These shifts occurred as prison populations increasedgreatly in size (Beck, 2000; Harrison & Beck, 2005; Pastore & Maguire, 2004). Whendrug (and other) offenders seek to re-enter society they face dif 
culties securing jobs and in other areas of life (e.g., Petersilia, 2003).Thus, drug policies have clearly had considerable import for American society,and they have changed over the past three decades. However, little scholarlyattention has focused on Americans’ attitudes toward how drugs in society are dealtwith and “drug war” policies despite the fact that such policies are increasinglycriticized by scholars and the public (e.g., Bertram et al., 1996; Inciardi, 1999;Lock, Timberlake, & Rasinski, 2002; Pallone & Hennessy, 2003). For example,since 1996 citizens in numerous states have voted to allow medical marijuana usedespite federal opposition (Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004). In addition, there is asubstantial relationship between public opinion and policy making, especially for more salient issues that the public considers important (Brooks, 2006; Burstein, 2003,2006; Page & Shapiro, 1983). While some research has examined short-term shiftsin aggregate public concern (Beckett, 1994; Gonzenbach, 1996; Hawdon, 2001),other studies have considered individual-level factors related to attitudes towarddrug policies without considering possible changes over time (Cintron & Johnson,1996; Rasinski, Timberlake, & Lock, 2000; Timberlake, Rasinski, & Lock, 2001).While one paper accounted for time, it focused on whether individuals’ media usewas related to their drug addiction spending attitudes (Nielsen & Bonn, 2008).As such, the extant literature leaves several key issues unaddressed. For example,does the public support government spending to address drug-related issues,including addiction? Does the public oppose legalizing use of marijuana? Moreover,have these attitudes changed over time and/or do they differ across cohorts onceother respondent characteristics are taken into account? Answers to these questionshave considerable importance for drug policies and their future directions. This paper sought to address these issues by examining factors associated with drug-relatedattitudes. In particular, changes over time (period effects) and whether there arecohort differences in attitudes, net of other important individual characteristics, wereexamined. Period and cohort effects have not received attention for drug-controlviews despite theoretical reasons why both should be important. Notably, attitudestoward two issues central to drug control—government spending and the legal status
 
P
ERIOD
 
AND
C
OHORT
E
FFECTS
 
FOR
D
RUG
-R
ELATED
A
TTITUDES
 463F
ALL
2010
of marijuana use—were considered. To address these relationships, data from the1975 to 2006 General Social Surveys were used.
L
ITERATURE
R
EVIEW
The history of drugs and drug policies in the U.S., including differing experiences(e.g., use, rhetoric) for different cohorts (Bertram et al., 1996; Inciardi, 1999; Musto,1999), suggest that period and cohort effects should be important for drug-relatedviews. Period effects refer to changes due to events or processes that occurredduring a historical era. Cohort effects result from distinct experiences encountered by people born at similar points in time and who lived through common situationsand eras. Shared experiences shape attitudes, in aggregate, among those who livedthrough analogous things; different cohorts may encounter the same experience andreact to it differently because of their distinct histories (Firebaugh, 1997).
ERIOD 
FFECTS 
Period effects are likely with regard to drug-related attitudes. Such variations inviews are especially relevant for the past few decades, given the most recent warson drugs, but shifts in views and governmental responses to drugs have occurredover time, including in the actions of the federal government and presidentialadministrations.
2
The Harrison Act (1914) and Marijuana Tax Act (1937), whichcriminalized narcotics and cocaine and set the stage for the criminalization of marijuana, respectively, were passed during times of public intolerance of drug use.Laws increasing penalties for drug use and traf 
cking also increased during this period and through the 1950s (Inciardi, 1999; Musto, 1999). However, the 1960sand 1970s saw greater tolerance of and increased drug use among Americans (withdrug use peaking in the late 1970s) (Kandel, Griesler, Lee, Davies, & Schaffsan,2001; Musto, 1999). Yet in 1968, as Musto (1999, p. 248) noted, “. . . Nixon waselected President on a platform of restoring law and order. No President has equaled Nixon’s antagonism to drug abuse, and he took an active role in organizing thefederal and state governments to
ght the onslaught of substance abuse.”
3
Nixoninitiated a “war on drugs” that emphasized law enforcement, prevention, andtreatment (Musto, 1999).After Nixon’s resignation in 1974, the next two presidents were less concernedabout drugs. President Ford did not believe that elimination of drug use was possibleand federal policy re
ected this stance (Beckett, 1997; Musto, 1999). Ford wasfollowed by President Carter, who supported federal decriminalization of possessionof small amounts of marijuana. However, it did not occur because of a politicalscandal involving a Carter assistant who favored this policy (Bertram et al., 1996;Musto, 1999).

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