Why the 1970s Effort to Decriminalize Marijuana Failed
By Emily Dufton American Historical Association/Smithsonian.com
I remember the first time I saw them. I was in the Library of Congress, looking through old issues of High Times magazine. The advertisements for certain products—like the BuzzBee Frisbee (with a special pipe so you could literally “puff, puff, pass”), “You’re the Dealer!” board game, and pictures of clowns hawking rolling papers—seemed both charmingly representative of the mid-1970s as well as pretty blatant in their appeal to kids. The ads also spoke to the enormous paraphernalia market that had risen as a result of a dozen states decriminalizing the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana between 1973 and 1978. The numerous ads that lined the pages of High Times (as well as the existence of the magazine itself) give some insight into just how vast the marketplace, and its clientele, was at the time.
That booming paraphernalia market, however, would also prove to be decriminalization’s undoing. By 1978, rates of adolescent marijuana use had skyrocketed, with 1 in 9 high school seniors smoking pot every day and children as young as 13 reporting that the drug was “easy to get.” This angered a growing number of parents, who saw kid-oriented paraphernalia as a “gateway” to drug use.