How Marijuana Unavailability Leads to Use of Harder Drugs (1969)
The following study shows how the interception of marijuana shipments into NYC in 1969, led thousands of people to use harder drugs.
The Multiple Consequences of Public Policy
By Lawrence A. Gooberman
The Multiple Consequences of Operation Intercept
The findings given in this chapter have been consolidated from the responses to each of the major areas of inquiry as set forth in the interview guide. Excerpts from taped interviews with drug users and drug sellers, as well as drug abuse rehabilitation workers and journalists who closely observed the events of the summer of 1969 in the New York City area, will be presented. The findings are divided into three sections. The first section will focus on the availability of marihuana during the Operation Intercept era. The second section will be concerned with the range of behavioral reactions to the marihuana shortage. The third section will explore attitudinal reactions to the situation and to the underlying public policy.
THE AVAILABILITY OF MARIHUANA DURING THE OPERATION INTERCEPT ERA
Although the idea of a general marihuana shortage appears to be a valid one, there were probably as many different specific experiences vis-a-vis the drug market as there are drug-using cliques in New York City. This observation was stated by a 25-year-old, full-time marihuana dealer who resides in Manhattan. He receives shipments of 50 pounds of marihuana at a time and has done so for the past year. Although receiving rather substantial shipments on a regular basis, generally from Texas via automobile, he does not consider his business dealings to be particularly atypical:
There’s probably hundreds and hundreds of people like me just in Manhattan. Well, maybe not, because at times we’ve gone out of state to cop ourselves. If there’s no grass we’ll go get grass whereas most people who deal wait ’til their contact in the city gets grass.
Regarding differences in the marihuana market during the summer and early fall of 1969, he stated:
Just a little bit. But it’s different like for every little group. Like the people that I deal to, if I’m having trouble getting grass there’s a certain number of people who will think there’s a shortage of grass. I guess there’s probably a thousand different cliques like this just in Manhattan. A thousand is very conservative. Must be a few thousand, each one having its own contact. And if their contact doesn’t have grass they’ll think there’s a shortage. And there’s a possibility that a certain portion of the city will have a normal supply of grass.
When asked whether he believed there was ever a general shortage of a particular drug in a city or in the nation as a whole, he responded:
I would say that in Manhattan it’s never like that. Except two years ago, the summer of two years ago, I would say that there was very little grass in all of Manhattan. Last year, summer, probably a lot of people were out of grass but just as many had their normal supply, depending on who your contact was and what he had. But generally speaking it does get tighter in the summer, every summer.
Apparently, the reputed marihuana shortage had little effect upon his ability to acquire the drug: I wasn’t dealing as heavy then as now, but whatever I wanted I got. It was never more than ten pounds at a time. Although significantly less than the 50-pound shipments he generally receives, the respondent stated that he generally preferred to do less business in the summer months. This was for personal reasons, unrelated to the drug market.
Although this dealer saw the marihuana shortage as a highly localized phenomenon, depending on who your contact was, very few people took such a casual and particularized view of the situation. All other respondents were at least somewhat aware of a general marihuana shortage, although estimates regarding the extent of the shortage varied considerably. Two regular users of marihuana reported no impact at all upon their personal consumptions of marihuana. A 22-year-old Manhattan secretary, who has used marihuana for three years and who resides in a New York City suburb with her parents, described the situation for herself and her close friends as follows:
Well last summer I didn’t have any problem with grass at all, because we had a lot of home-grown stuff…. Last summer people kept telling me they couldn’t get any grass. But my group of friends and I really didn’t have any trouble at all, because we either bought home-grown stuff from some people that were growing large amounts indoors, in New York, or we got from friends in upstate New York who grew lots of grass on their property. We always had plenty. There was never any problem.
Another respondent who didn’t have any problem was a 25-year-old Brooklyn housewife, mother of two, who has used marihuana for six years:
I knew there was a shortage because people were talking about it and I saw things about it on T.V. But my husband always has a large stash so we could smoke as much as ever and that lasted us for the whole summer. The only difference was that we didn’t give so much away. Like we wouldn’t always offer to people when they came over. We got sort of cheap about it not knowing how long it would last. Also, he didn’t sell ounces to friends like he used to. Maybe a couple of nickels all summer.
A 19-year-old female college student was also unaffected, due to her own infrequent pattern of marihuana use:
I’ve smoked pot for three years but that doesn’t really mean anything because I only smoke on rare occasions. If someone has at a party or if we’re going to a concert I’ll get stoned. If it’s there I’ll use it, if not I don’t care. I’ve never gone out and bought.
It should be noted that even these respondents, who experienced no personal difficulty, were still aware of an atypical marihuana market.
The remainder of those interviewed all experienced and/or observed some effect of the reported marihuana shortage upon the price and/or availability of the drug. Those who experienced only a Minimal impact included a 19-year-old male college student from Brooklyn, who has used marihuana for two years and occasionally sells:
We were pretty much preoccupied with hash…. As far as hash went, we had the best hash we’ve had in a long time. Some good red Lebanese hash. We had it in any quantity we wanted, at decent prices, for the whole summer…. So we didn’t want too much grass but whenever we wanted it we were able to score. We found no problem getting it. The people we know always had.
When asked whether marihuana was more expensive than previously, he stated:
Maybe $20 to $30 more a pound. Before the summer it was $100 to $110 for a pound. During the summer it was running more around $140 to $150 a pound.
Although minimally affected, he was aware of the shortage:
Yes, we knew there was a grass shortage from the papers and from hearing other people talk. We also found we were doing a lot more selling. We never had any problem getting rid of any amount of hash. We weren’t looking for profits. Just to make our money back and have some for our heads.
For this student and his friends, the marihuana shortage had little impact. Although slightly more expensive, he found it readily available in Bensonhurst.
Similarly, a resident of lower Manhattan, a staff reporter for a well-known East Village underground newspaper, found nothing unusual about the availability or price of marihuana during this period:
Well everyone kept saying it was going to get tight starting last spring, you know, buy your stock for the summer. The psychological impact of Operation Intercept plus there were so many more users, and it was getting to be between harvests and all that shit. But yet I found grass pretty freely available all the way through last summer. Fairly reasonable prices and decent stuff.
However, based on his experience covering drug-related stories for several local and underground newspapers, he noted that he has observed an upward trend in marihuana prices:
Well the price of grass generally went up. You couldn’t score a pound of grass for $95 or $75 like you used to be able to. So now you’ve got to double those prices compared to a couple of years before, and you’re always getting short weight and everything else, plus there are more young kids into dealing…. Pounds were expensive last year in New York. It cost $150 to $250 a key during the summer. I consider that pretty expensive. The old days are probably gone forever. So many people want it. Everybody smokes now. There aren’t any more closet queens in the grass thing anymore. Everybody turns on any place you go.
In sum, he found average quality marihuana readily available, and noted a general upward trend in prices over the past three years. The summer of 1969 was not unique. Prices during this period were part of a long-term trend. A 2 1 -year-old student user-dealer from Bayside, Queens, observed a little less smoking drugs around. Like the previous respondent, lie noted higher prices for marihuana during the summer, but perceived this as part of a long-term price escalation:
You could get it but not in any large quantities. If you wanted enough to deal, it was expensive to get. Expensive like if you wanted to get a pound, a couple of years ago you could get it for $100. Now it is $200.
Unlike these respondents, the remainder of those interviewed all observed and/or experienced a highly atypical marihuana market during the Operation Intercept era. They all noted both a shortage, making it less available, and higher prices for small and large quantity purchases. Further, they all saw this development as a unique, abnormal, short-term situation. The following are quotes from only a few of those who fall into this category. These selected responses are typical of particular subgroups in the sample. The reader will note that while some respondents emphasize high prices, others found limited availability of the drug to be the key problem factor.
The editor of an underground newspaper, a regular user of marihuana who has intimate knowledge of the Lower East Side drug scene, noted both short- and long-term changes in the price and availability of marihuana-.
Over the past year and a half marihuana has occasionally been hard to get. You could always get acid…. From ’65 to ’69 there was never any trouble. There was always more than one person to get from. Last summer and fall it was hard to get. It let up in the late fall. You were lucky to find one good contact. It was really a drought, even the Village Voice was writing articles about it. I once paid as high as $30 for an ounce. But it stayed, during that period, at least $20 an ounce unless you bought quantity. I usually like to get a quarter of a pound, but it wasn’t around. There was never a shortage like last summer. Right now there’s not a large supply around. You can get, but you have to check around, more than one source…. Also, last summer I got domestic stuff, lower quality. It got you high though. I think more people got into growing it last summer…. Also there was more hash around. You’d have to look around more for drugs and what happened is you’d run into hash before you’d run into grass. Usually it was the other way around.
An 18-year-old student., who sells marihuana to finance his college education, described the situation in his Long Island suburban community this way:
There was a lot of pot around the winter before this one. It was about $100 a pound; $120 would be a high price. Ounces sold for about $10. Then in the spring prices started getting higher, $125 to $150 a pound, and about $15 an ounce. In the summer if you got a pound for $200 you were lucky because there was hardly any around. Where I lived the price of an ounce was $25 and in the city it was $40…. If anyone knew anything about drugs they would know there wasn’t much pot around. People that didn’t smoke probably didn’t know.
Several other respondents who were able to obtain marihuana in limited quantities emphasized the price factor. A 23-year-old high school art teacher from Queens commented:
Prices were higher last summer. An ounce was $25, it had previously been $15 or even $10. 1 had grass because I have good friends from other groups in Manhattan. My friends here were still into grass, but for a group there wasn’t much around.
Several other respondents reported that they could obtain marihuana, but they noted a sharp increase in its price. As reported by these respondents, during the summer of 1969, the price of marihuana rose from between $15 and $20 an ounce to between $20 and $30 an ounce. Larger quantities were often unavailable.
Most of those who observed a shortage of marihuana as well as higher prices emphasized the lack of availability. A social worker at a drug treatment clinic, who has been a close observer of the New York City drug scene for many years, depicted the marihuana market as follows:
You could buy Acapulco Gold in April or May of last year at $100 a pound. It was not hard to get. Ounces of good quality pot were going for $15 to $20. In July and August similar quality was going for $35 to $40, and it was very hard to get. Even if people were willing to pay $40 it was hard to get. You could buy it in ounces but it was just about impossible to buy it in bulk.
Most respondents expressed similar observations, emphasizing that prices were high, if you could get it. One of these respondents, a 26-year-old businessman from Queens stated: If I got any it was expensive, like $40 an ounce. And that’s all you could have gotten was an ounce. A 19-year-old student from Brooklyn stated:
Whereas we’d pay $20 an ounce before, usually we’d get it in larger quantities than ounces anyway, but if we did buy ounces $20 was the most we’d pay. In the summer it was $30 or $35 if you could get it…. We wasted a lot of time looking and then just couldn’t get.
Another respondent who observed a very tight market was a 27-year-old stockbroker and part-time marihuana dealer. He emphasized the poor quality of the marihuana that was available.
Nobody was able to get any. I know various sources that could get some grass but the quality was very poor, and I don’t smoke poor grass…. The price really didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to smoke or sell poor grass no matter what the price.
Unlike those respondents already quoted, many regular users of marihuana were unable to get any marihuana at all during this period. These respondents reported that they were unable to obtain marihuana for at least a month at a time, and several reported longer stretches – a few such periods lasting the whole summer. Reporting that whatever marihuana around was expensive, a 21 -year-old college senior spoke of the scarcity of marihuana among her friends in Jackson Heights, Queens:
I remember it was hard to get and we didn’t have pot for a long time. Most of the time we didn’t have it. And it was just too expensive. On rare occasions we would be able to get some.
A 24-year-old schoolteacher from Queens summarized the situation among his friends during the summer. There was very little use Of marihuana because we didn’t have any. A 23-year-old unemployed artist from Whitestone, Queens, reported:
At times it was impossible. There just wasn’t any pot. There must have been some somewhere, but I couldn’t find any. There wasn’t any price for it. There just wasn’t any.
A 27-year-old black bartender in East Harlem underscored this point: I’ve seen it tight before, but never like this. There was absolutely no smoke around last summer.
A 43-year-old businessman, who uses marihuana regularly with his wife and friends in a Westchester community, stated:
I had a supply so it was cool. But I was very aware of the shortage because all kinds of straight commodity traders came to me, guys in their thirties and forties, guys I never expected, even relatives came to me to see if I could get…. These people all have money and are willing to pay a lot, some said they pay $40 an ounce and at times in the summer they still couldn’t get.
This willingness and ability to pay high prices contrasts with the attitude of a 16-year-old Brooklyn youth who stated:
I buy it with friends. A lot of times we don’t have much money. So when it got too expensive I couldn’t get any…. Like, I like to buy a pound with some friends and sell ounces. Then I get free smoke. But the price was too high even if there was some around.
Black and Puerto Rican youths from the East Bronx reported that marihuana was unavailable in their neighborhood during the summer. Further, they were no longer able to buy it in Harlem, an alternative that had been used in the past. One respondent, a 17-year-old black high school student who had used marihuana for two years stated:
Smoke ran out. Like all of the people we used to cop from said that all of a sudden things were getting hard. They couldn’t cop. You know, they couldn’t get anything, and everywhere we went it was the same story all over.
Ms friend, an 18-year-old unemployed black who had used marihuana for three years, underscored this point: We couldn’t cop from the person we were copping from anymore and like other people ran out and nobody had anything. An 18-year-old black college student who had used marihuana for only seven months prior to the summer of 1969 stated: Grass cut out. Like I would get off my job and we would go to this chick’s house to score some smoke and we couldn’t. Another resident of the East Bronx, a 17-year-old Puerto Rican male, presently suspended from high school, reported:
You heard about it down in Harlem or someplace else, always away from here, and then there wasn’t nothin’. . . . By the time you got there, there was nothin’ left. Like the papers might have called it a shortage but down here it was a panic.
Experiences relating to the marihuana supply during this period fell into four general categories:
1. No shortage/no higher prices: Although aware of a marihuana shortage, via word of mouth or the mass media, these marihuana users were not personally affected by the situation. They can be classified in the following three subcategories:
a. Those who had access to an adequate supply of domestically grown marihuana. Although several respondents reported that they knew of others (usually in the southern, Midwestern, and southwestern sections of the United States) who grew their own, few respondents had access to an adequate supply for regular use during this period. Several others, who did experience a personal shortage, supplemented their supply with domestically grown marihuana, which was usually characterized as being of inferior quality.
b. Those whose supply was large enough to last through the summer and early fall of 1969, so that purchases during this period were unnecessary. Again, this situation was atypical since most marihuana users do not purchase enough at any one time to last for four or five months. One housewife, who reported an adequate stash, also reported that her husband curtailed his part-time dealing during this period. Other dealers, who operate on a larger scale, reported that business was affected by the lessened availability and increased price of marihuana, even though they Possessed enough marihuana for personal consumption.
c. Those who use marihuana so infrequently (usually as a means of sociability) that a two-, three-, or four-month layoff went unnoticed. Four such persons were interviewed, three of them females. Characteristically, these sporadic users enjoy using marihuana, and will usually do so when it is available, but do not personally purchase it or seek it out. Some seem to identify with the drug scene while others do not. However, this type of sporadic user does not represent all experimenters, as many infrequent users were greatly affected by the marihuana shortage.
2. No shortage/higher prices: These persons were able to maintain their regular intake of marihuana, although the price of the activity increased. All respondents in this category used marihuana regularly (at least four times a week) and had access to several sources. Further, all identified with the drug scene and had sold marihuana at some time. Within this category, two subgroups can be identified, although they cannot be distinguished according to any social characteristics:
a. Those who perceived the price increase as part of a long-term evolutionary trend, emphasizing the increased demand for marihuana.
b. Those who perceived the price increase as a unique short-term situation, emphasizing seasonal variables and the restricted supply of marihuana.
3. Shortage/higher prices: The majority of respondents experienced and/or observed both the increasing price and decreasing availability of marihuana during this period. These respondents came from a wide range of locations and socioeconomic groups within the New York City vicinity, and represented various stages of involvement in drug use subcultures. This was found to be the most typical situation among marihuana users in New York City.
Although all respondents in this category experienced a highly atypical marihuana market, responses can be divided into the following subcategories:
a. Those who stressed the high price of marihuana.
b. Those who emphasized the difficulty of obtaining marihuana.
Generally, those who stressed the difficulty of obtaining marihuana were older, had greater financial resources, and were less involved in the drug scene than those who emphasized high prices.
4. Shortage/generally could not obtain marihuana during this period: Many respondents reported that they personally could not obtain any marihuana for continuous time periods of at least one month. All but a few recalled that they had never previously experienced this type of situation.
Although they represented various geographical locations and socioeconomic groups in the New York City area, this situation appears to have been Particularly common among two distinct types of marihuana users:
a. Middle- and upper-middle-class white businessmen, professionals, and others in respectable occupational and community positions, whose only tie to a drug subculture consisted of one or two personal contacts from whom they previously purchased marihuana.
b. Young black and Puerto Rican users of marihuana, who were students, unemployed or marginally employed, and resided in low-income ghetto areas.
Observations and interviews during and following the Operation Intercept period have confirmed the conclusion that there was a severe marihuana shortage in New York City during the summer and early fall of 1969. Although a general shortage was evident, the extent of the shortage for various groups and individuals was not found to be constant. Further, the user’s ability to obtain marihuana was influenced by factors unrelated to financial resources. Thus, marihuana was least available in ghetto areas and among establishment users – these two groups representing opposite poles on the socioeconomic spectrum. These findings emphasize the highly differentiated and uncontrolled nature of the marihuana market. In the next section we will examine the reactions of various groups and individuals to this situation, focusing on the use and availability of drugs other than marihuana.
BEHAVIORAL REACTIONS TO THE GENERAL MARIHUANA SHORTAGE
The stated objective of Operation Intercept was to curtail the Supply of marihuana, which, according to the government’s logic, would cause drastic increases in its price, thus forcing millions of marihuana users to abstain from illegal drug consumption. This report is intended to document and analyze the range of behavioral reactions to this single public policy decision, the unanticipated as well as the anticipated effects.
The following are excerpts from selected interviews. These passages were selected for three reasons. First, it is believed that an analysis of behavioral consequences Should be grounded in the observations of the respondents, as stated by the respondents. Second, as it turned out, behavioral responses tended to reflect the varying circumstances and conditions that developed among drug users in various age, socioeconomic, and neighborhood groups in New York City. Such responses also reflected the degree of drug involvement among these groups prior to the shortage. Therefore, the selections are intended to document this range of behavioral reactions. The third reason for this selection is derived from the second. Since respondents with similar social backgrounds tended to respond to the situation in a similar manner, presenting the comments of all of the respondents would become quite repetitious. As stated, the purpose of this report is to document the range of intended and unintended consequences of Operation Intercept, without pretending to assess the statistical occurrence of any one reaction.
Abstaining and Decreased Drug Use
It was seen that a general marihuana shortage was evident in the New York City area during the summer and early fall of 1 969. If the government’s prognosis was accurate, we would have observed a general decrease in drug use during this period. Ideally, the policy aimed at complete abstention by a significant proportion of drug users. Thus, both abstention and decreased drug use can be characterized as intended consequences of the Operation Intercept policy.
Throughout eight months of observations and interviews, few users of marihuana were found who reported that they had completely abstained from drug use during this period. Actually, since these respondents were very infrequent users prior to the shortage, abstain would be all inappropriate term. They all used marihuana so infrequently and were so uninvolved in the drug scene, that these were the only persons interviewed who were unsure as to the specific period of time in which it was unavailable.
However, several respondents reported that their own use of drugs decreased, and others reported observing friends or acquaintances whose drug use was minimized or temporarily discontinued.
A 27-year-old businessman who had difficulty obtaining marihuana during this period described his less frequent use of marihuana this way: Well, when I didn’t have it, I didn’t smoke it…. Yes, sometimes my friends and I just didn’t have any. He went on to say that none of his friends, predominantly middle-class, white-collar businessmen and their wives, ever used drugs other than marihuana and hashish. He stated that they did use hashish more often than in the past, and that it was more available than it had been, but that in general drug use had declined in this group. He emphatically stated that other drugs were not considered: None of them will use any substitutes that I know of except hash.
Two other respondents, a 24-year-old housewife and a 27-year-old stockbroker, described their decreased use of drugs. She stated: Well, it’s simple. We didn’t have much grass to smoke so we smoked much less. He reported that, although he was not forced to abstain, his drug use pattern was altered:
I had, I always have a limited amount on hand, just in case these things do happen. I had a minimal amount. I mean I couldn’t smoke as much as I wanted to, but just a few times a week with friends. It’s not a question of needing it, it’s just a question of not being able to get it.
However, it must be noted that, although both respondents reported less drug use generally, each referred to the greater use and availability of hashish during this period.
All other accounts of abstaining came only from outside sources, who were either not personally involved in drug use or who did not personally abstain. A writer for all underground newspaper observed:
I know a lot of people whose personalities seemed to suffer. They were anxious and would get pissed off very easily. I think this was because there wasn’t any grass around.
After noting the increased use of amphetamines and barbiturates in her upper Manhattan neighborhood. a secretary at a drug rehabilitation center commented on abstainers: I’m sure there must have been some but I didn’t see any. A more definitive response was offered by a social worker employed by a lower Manhattan drug rehabilitation clinic. Although he did not observe much abstinence among outpatients at the clinic or their peers, he did observe this mode of response by middle-aged businessmen and professionals in his upper-middle-class Manhattan neighborhood:
Many people did abstain. They would look for it but if they found it, good. If they didn’t, they didn’t bother to shift onto anything else. Possibly some more drinking did take place, alcohol, but I’m not sure.
Apparently, abstaining from all drug use was a highly atypical reaction to the marihuana shortage. Although less marihuana use was reported by many drug users and observers of the drug scene, most of these went on to note increased availability and use of drugs other than marihuana. Those who did report a personal decline in drug use were distinguished by certain characteristics that can be categorized as follows:
1. Middle-class and upper-middle-class men and women, between the ages of 24 and 55, who previously used marihuana on a regular basis (four times a week) but who had little identification with a drug subculture, a counterculture movement, or a drug-oriented way of life. Prior to the shortage, these respondents had never used any illegally obtained drug other than marihuana or hashish.
2. Very infrequent users of marihuana, who might have gone several months without using it even if the shortage had never developed. These were white, middle-class people, over 20 years of age, involved in white-collar employment or educational endeavors. As in the former group, these respondents had never used any illegally obtained drug other than marihuana or hashish prior to the shortage.
In sum, the stated objectives of Operation Intercept were realized only among a very limited segment of drug users in the New York City area. Further, these marihuana users are distinguished by certain objective and subjective characteristics, which, taken as a whole, make them unrepresentative of the general drug-using population These factors include serious involvements in respectable social institutions, lack of identification with a drug subculture, an average age above 20 years, and rare involvement in multiple drug use experimentation.
Switching: The Availability and Use of Drugs Other than Marihuana
As stated previously, the ultimate objective of Operation Intercept was to curtail marihuana consumption as well as general illegal drug use in the population. The Presidential Task Force did not state the expectation that a drastically decreased supply of marihuana would increase the use of other illegal or illegally obtained drugs, or that it would lead the growing drug consuming population to greater involvement in drug distribution. Assuming that these stated goals realistically reflected the government’s intentions and assessments, all behavioral reactions and drug use modalities other than abstention or decreased usage may be termed unintended consequences of that public policy decision.
It was found that, although a general marihuana shortage materialized, the stated objectives of Operation Intercept were realized among only a very limited proportion of drug users. Further, these abstainers were found to be quite unrepresentative of the general drug-using population of the area. Far more common was the observation, among drug users, suppliers, and close observers of the drug scene alike, that this period was characterized by a drastic increase in the availability and use of drugs other than marihuana. Although some respondents simply noted this change, most perceived a causal relationship between the limited supply of marihuana and accentuated involvement in drug distribution, multiple drug use, and/or the use of other illegally obtained drugs. This development will now be explored.
The most general result of the marihuana shortage was the increased availability and use of hashish. Increased hashish usage was reported in more neighborhoods and by a wider range of marihuana users than was any other single reaction to the shortage. This does not mean that those groups and individuals who reported more hashish usage did not also partake of other illegal or illegally obtained drugs, some of which were used for the first time. In the following excerpts, there are references to barbiturates, amphetamine stimulants, cocaine, the psychedelics, and heroin (an opiate). Nearly all of the groups and individuals who reported an increased use of hashish during this period also referred to an increase in the use and availability of drugs that fall into these other categories. In fact, most Of the respondents emphasized the use of these other drugs, and Minimized the importance of increased hashish consumption in their neighborhoods.
The greater availability and use of hashish was even noted by several respondents who had reported a decline in overall drug consumption during this period. As might be expected, these respondents were the same persons who fell into the categories used to define those who minimized their drug intake during the shortage. They were generally older than most marihuana users, were middle and upper-middle-class persons engaged in white-collar occupations, and used marihuana regularly but identified with establishment institutions rather than with a drug subculture. The comments of a 26-year-old salesman from Howard Beach, Queens, were typical of this type of marihuana user:
Yes, there was more hash around. We used it more than usual. Whichever we could obtain. At that time hash was much more obtainable. Hash was just about all you could get in the summer. And it was expensive too…. Around $80 to $90 an ounce. I smoked what I got, hash or grass…. No, even today, in my circles I don’t know any people who use speed or LSD or heroin or other pills and things like that.
When asked what he thought the reaction would be among his friends and associates if another shortage developed, his answer was somewhat less conservative than his past actions would lead one to expect:
I think that this time there would be more dependence on other drugs as opposed to last summer. Much more drugs. it seems to me that other drugs are coming into play more than they were. Each year they’re increasing tremendously, sort of spiraling. Like the mild hallucinatories. I don’t know if I’d particularly like that type of head. I like the pot head. It’s a relaxed type of head. You can groove on music. But, if there was no grass around, I might try them.
The behavioral reaction of this type of marihuana user cannot be easily characterized as a success or a failure for the Operation Intercept policy. On the one hand, overall drug consumption was decreased by the policy-enforced shortage. On the other hand, the use of hashish increased and the total situation seems to have been one factor in the consideration of using other drugs in the future. Whether we consider this kind of two-sided result as beneficial or detrimental in terms of the long-range effort to curtail drug abuse, the fact is that this sort of very conservative attitude toward drug use was found to be so unrepresentative of the behavior and attitudes manifested in the general drug-using population that the answer to this question does not appear to be of pressing importance. Suffice it to say that even for some of those persons who experienced less drug use during this period the policy cannot claim unmitigated success.
The overwhelming majority of respondents, including drug users, drug suppliers, and observers of the drug scene, characterized the summer and early fall of 1969 as a period of heavy multiple drug use and unprecedented experimentation. Further, many observed a widespread and rapid proliferation of drug distribution involvements, and the adaptation of established drug distributors to the marihuana scarcity. The following excerpts concerning the availability and use of drugs other than marihuana during the period in question reflect adaptive behaviors among drug users that were unambiguously antithetical to the stated goals of the Operation Intercept policy.
A 20-year-old taxi driver described the range of drugs used by his companions in a middle-class residential Queens community during the summer:
Before the summer it was mostly grass. I guess we had tried everything, except heroin, but just on occasions. As I said, it was mostly smoking…. Smoke was scarce and prices were high on whatever we heard could be gotten. We didn’t bother much with that but instead we did some other drugs. Mostly downs and some tripping too. I tripped about ten times, at least, in the summer…. Mostly we had Seconals, a hundred for $20, about five for a dollar. A few times we got Tuinals at about four for a dollar. There were a lot more downs around during the summer…. It came in spurts. We did whatever we got. We might do it four, five, six times a week for a couple of weeks. Then we would trip a little. Then some speed would be around and we’d do that some. Then some more downs. Whatever is around…. Trips were always an occasional thing, but sometimes in the summer we’d do it often, like one day after the other…. They always seemed to be readily available…. Always somewhere around three or four dollars a trip. Sometimes they were cheaper…. People took speed about as much during the summer as before…. When there wasn’t grass around we smoked a lot of hash. Hash seemed to be around a lot more than usual…. Now it’s mostly grass again but we do downs more than before the summer. A lot of the girls I know seem to like them. Well, if it was very scarce again a good many of them would just use something else. People I know would still want to get high and they would do whatever they could get. Drinking might be one thing, but from what I’ve seen it tends more toward other kinds of drugs. I’d probably see if there was some speed or downs around, or hash hopefully, if there was another shortage.
Although this group had previously experimented with everything, except heroin, drugs other than marihuana were first used frequently during the shortage. Availability, or whatever is around, rather than a distinct preference for any one particular type of drug, was most important in determining drug usage during this period.
Similar developments were noted by a college student from Brooklyn who had become used to being stoned, but had used only marihuana and hashish prior to the summer shortage. She pointed to the changed drug use patterns that she observed upon returning to her middle-class neighborhood from a summer vacation abroad. Her travels also allowed her to observe a situation in which hashish smuggling became appealing to young people who had no such previous involvement:
Before the summer I had only used marihuana and hashish. Some people used ups, but not much, and some used mescaline once in awhile…. Pot was always easy to get at about $20 an ounce. I usually got half an ounce for $10…. I was in Europe during July and August so I really don’t know about the drug situation here during that time, except that my friends said it was hard to get grass. It was getting harder in June, but I wasn’t into it then, because I was thinking about leaving…. In Europe I noticed hashish being used. There wasn’t any pot…. I really didn’t talk about it much there because I wasn’t into it. But I met some kids who were sending back hash or who were going to try to bring it back. It was clear that they’d get a lot of money for it because there wasn’t any grass in the city. Many people I met seemed to be interested in doing this…. Yes, Americans…. One friend of mine, a guy, did it. He must have gotten through customs O.K. He had it when he got back to the States. He sold most of it but kept some. Grass was still hard to get. He told me he had a free summer vacation…. Things had definitely changed around here when I got back. There was absolutely no grass around. In fact, I was very surprised because people who had never tripped acid before were tripping regularly. And there was a great deal of speed around and lots and lots of downs. There were no other drugs to take so that’s what people were taking…. Sure I asked around. There was some hash and we smoked whatever we could get and then we popped pills…. Seconals, Tuinals, ups, speed…. I don’t know what the ups were. I tripped acid for the first time…. They were doing drugs to a greater extent than I wanted to. All my friends were into drugs really heavy in the fall…. They said it was because there was nothing around in the summer except pills. There was no grass and not so much hash and, if you found it, it was expensive. Downs and ups were around before the summer, but nobody used them because there was plenty of grass and it was all good…. I mean downs never interested me and speed and acid always scared me, so I never did them as long as I had grass…. I resisted for awhile but then there was just nothing else…. Once grass came back pills just sort of faded away. Occasionally some people take downs but it is not as prevalent as it was when there was nothing else…. I’m not sure what would happen if there were no grass again. I guess they’d go back to taking downs and ups and more mescaline. I really don’t know what we’d do. We certainly won’t just be straight for whatever period the grass stops. They’re used to, I’m used to being stoned, occasionally and more than occasionally.
Although the aforementioned drugs were available prior to the summer marihuana shortage, nobody used them because there was plenty of grass. Things changed drastically when there was just nothing else. Drugs came to be used so indiscriminately that even those with vastly different properties and effects came to be lumped together under the heading of pills, in the way that marihuana and hashish,, which are quite similar, had always been interchangeable among her companions.
A college student from Brooklyn emphasized the increased use of hashish and mescaline by his group of friends during the summer:
I was in Brooklyn this past summer. . . . As far as hash went, we had the best hash that we’ve had in a long time, good red Lebanese hash. We had it in any quantity we wanted, at decent prices, for the whole summer. We were pretty much preoccupied with the hash so we didn’t want too much grass…. I couldn’t say if there was more hash around than before because the previous year we only looked for grass. Now, hash is the predominant drug. – . . Over the summer, that’s when my friends and I started tripping pretty heavily. . . . We weren’t looking much for LSD. We looked mostly got into mescaline so we came into it almost also had a pretty good supply of THC around. drugs before the summer but I used them more . . . . We really didn’t hear much about ups the summer. We were happy with our hash and know really. . . . I’ve used downs and I’ve used twice. I couldn’t see myself living on them. I don’t like the idea of a pill to go to sleep and another to wake you up everyday. – . . Yes, we knew there was a grass shortage from the papers and from hearing other people talk. We also found out we were doing a lot more selling. There was never any problem getting rid of any amount of hash. We weren’t looking for profits, just to make our money back and have some for our heads.
In this case, drugs that had been tried before the summer, became the primary drugs used during the shortage. As hashish, mescaline, and THC came to be used on a regular basis, the group’s interest in marihuana declined appreciably.
A 22-year-old teacher from a middle-class Queens community emphasized the increased use and availability of hashish, barbiturates, and amphetamines among her neighborhood friends:
People are using stuff a lot less now compared to last summer. They are not taking any harder stuff like acid or downs. Now they’re just smoking. Every once in a while they’ll take a couple of ups or downs but nothing much. . . It was heaviest last summer…. We used some downs and speed during the summer. I took mescaline once. My friends speed a lot. Well, one was taking it every day, almost. But I only took it a few times. I took downs more. . . . I don’t know if there were more downs around in the summer because I wasn’t in contact with them before. I first got to know about them during the summer. People just had them. They said try it, so I did. They were good…. Hash was around. I guess we smoked every night. It was a big thing if we didn’t smoke for a night. Once or twice we got grass. Otherwise it was hash. . . . Yeah, we knew there was a pot shortage. It was on TV and everything. And we couldn’t get it. But it didn’t make any difference because there was so much hash around. . . . You get together and you want to get high so you’ll find something to use. Getting high is something to do when everyone gets together and there’s nothing else to do. It’s cheap. Even watching TV is more fun if you’re stoned.
She also spoke of her 17-year-old brother’s hashish-selling involvements:
You should have interviewed my brother because he made a fortune last summer selling hash. . . . He’s 17. .. . He was selling hash all summer. If my father knew he’d have murdered him. My father is a policeman …. My brother was getting it from his friends and then selling it in smaller amounts. . . . No, he was never into selling before the summer. He did it because it was available to him, people wanted it, and he needed an easy way to make money…. I remember seeing Walter Cronkite on TV talking about the shortage. My brother and I were stoned out of our heads. We were stoned everyday, the shortage didn’t make any difference, and there was Walter Cronkite talking about it. We cracked up.
It appears from these comments and from those of the previous respondent that the marihuana shortage created a situation in which many of those who were able to obtain a regular supply of hashish became involved in its sale. It also appears that little thought was given to the added risks involved in this transition.
A researcher at a drug rehabilitation clinic discussed the increased use of what he called the chemical drugs. He was referring to the drug use behavior of students and young white-collar workers residing in Manhattan:
Last year it wasn’t chemicals. Last year it was basically grass, just marihuana and hashish. Recently I’ve noticed these people aren’t into smoking as much as they are interested in taking a condensed form like THC and especially mescaline. They also have started on this aphrodisiac that came in. It’s Korean incense, a spice, and it is sold in pills or capsules. It’s legal and it’s supposedly an aphrodisiac. Now they’re into mescaline again. These people don’t want to take LSD. They’d rather take THC, mescaline, or STP…. Pot wasn’t that accessible last year. That’s why I’ve noticed a growth in chemicals. . . . That was in the late springtime, early summer. In the winter most of my friends had an ample supply of grass. Whether they stored up for that I don’t know, but they did have enough grass and hash. It was springtime, perhaps, when they started using it all up, that they started into the chemicals. And then there was a large turnover among my student friends to using LSD, speed, mescaline…. It was terribly hard to get grass during the summer. I was approached a number of times on the streets, three times I think, which was quite a shock, you know, to be approached by someone who mumbles you want grass? It was really wild. That never happened before…. People I was in contact with didn’t stop using drugs. No, that’s when they started going to the chemicals. A lot of mescaline was used. . . . They might have tried chemicals anyway. I can’t say they wouldn’t have used them even if grass was accessible, but not to the extent they did, like going on seventeen trips using LSD and mescaline …. Snappers became popular during that period, amyl nitrite. It’s for asthmatic and heart patients. It’s a stimulant and makes the heart beat faster and they really got into that during the shortage. In other words, they smoked, but they wouldn’t smoke that much because there was a shortage, so to get more of a head, they would snap these things. And then there was a great use of amyl nitrite, snappers, or poppers. . . . I think this changing drugs basically is conscious. I think it is out of necessity. They want the head, they think it is pleasurable, and so they go on to something else. . . . I don’t know if these chemicals became more available when grass was less available. I would say that they became more appealing, so you would search out LSD, mescaline, or stuff like that. I think it’s always been around, but if there were some graph made of the sale, the gross product or sales, you’d notice marihuana wasn’t used that much. Whether it wasn’t accessible or it was too expensive, that was a fact, there wasn’t enough. You’d see that it sort of separates in that the chemical drug use increased. . . . From what I saw, the person who was previously getting the marihuana, that same person began getting and selling the chemicals.
According to this respondent, the scarcity of marihuana led to experimentation with legal (amyl nitrite, Korean incense) as well as illegal (THC, LSD, speed, mescaline, STP) substances. Established marihuana dealers adapted to the shortage by catering to the growing demand for the chemical drugs. He also discussed the heightened interest in domestic marihuana:
Remember what books were being published last year? Books on how to grow your own grass. A lot of people got into that and they are still doing it because there is still that fear. There is a rumor that grass is going to be terribly unavailable and even pills will be unavailable. So people are growing their own grass. I think it was Joe Rasso who put out a little pamphlet and lots of others too. It’s sort of died out. I think there was a big influx of grass recently but there is a threat that it will be cut down again next summer. . . . I think a lot of people would try to get jobs down by the Mexican border. . . . I think the same thing would happen, lots of people are growing their own. Five of my friends, heavy smokers who really enjoy smoking, are doing it. One chick has three garden boxes filled. Another is growing it on his fire escape in midtown. Another friend, a bio teacher, is growing a whole patch of it in school…. I think they are doing it as a fun thing to do. But also with the knowledge that there might be that shortage again in the summer. One friend has just bought ten mescaline and ten acid tabs. He’s getting ready for the summer.
A middle-aged businessman from an affluent Westchester community, who had previously used marihuana with only a very small group of friends, noted another consequence of the marihuana shortage:
I was very aware of the shortage because all kinds of straight commodity traders came to me, guys in their thirties and forties, guys I never expected, even relatives came to me to see if I could get. Not freaks. All kinds of people were sort of driven out into the open. . . . Actually, I greatly expanded my range of friends. Now as a direct result of 0peration Intercept, we get Jamaican, Peruvian, and North African pot as well. – – All these different people, previously unconnected, have pooled their resources.
He analyzed the situation from an economic viewpoint and emphasized the age factor in distinguishing between those who switched to stronger drugs and those who returned to booze:
The younger ones unfortunately will go on to stronger drugs while people my age return to booze. That’s what was happening last summer, . . . Basically, I look at it as a market phenomenon. Demand is always met. It’s impossible to turn off the supply of any product which is in demand. It is an economic fact, as seen in Prohibition. If drugs are more satisfactory than booze to younger people, drugs will be available to them.
Although the shortage drove straight types Out into the open, drugs other than marihuana and alcohol were not used among his peers.
A writer for an underground newspaper, who had published articles on the Lower East Side drug scene, underlined the use of psychedelic drugs, hashish, and heroin during the summer marihuana shortage. He also spoke of the weekend junkie phenomenon:
I think the government does want to stop grass from coming into the States but I think it’s a mistake because you get a lot of kids now going on to other drugs. . . . Well, I saw more kids O.D.-ing, ’cause they’ll take anything now. Anything they can get their hands on. Any kind of dope. . . . There’s a lot of acid around, for example. A lot of people are taking acid again. There was a time that people weren’t. Acid use went down a lot. People got a little uptight about it. But now, since last winter, they have really good acid. Pure, good, cheap acid at fifty cents a tab for sunshine, and now there’s even better acid called quicksilver that’s coming in. Kids are taking a lot of acid and using it more often, especially when there is very little speed in it like the kind I’ve had recently. People thought they were getting pure acid a year or two ago, but when you compare it to the acid you get now, you know somebody put some shit in that old acid …. Well, the prices of grass generally went up. You couldn’t score a pound of grass for $95 or $75 like you used to be able to. So now You’ve got to double those prices compared to a couple of years ago, and You’re always getting short weight and everything else, plus there are more Young kids into dealing. They’re not necessarily into it for a profit, but they’re into it to pay for their own or just to score a key and split it up with all their friends. If you don’t have the $250 yourself, you get a bunch of People together and you go score it. With weight you have much closer control over the grass you’re getting instead of buying an ounce off the street or something. . . . If you have the bread, sure you buy more when it’s scarce. If you don’t have the bread then You just have to buy ounces. In times of shortage there’s going to be more ounce dealing because there’s not much weight around. When it is around they buy bigger. Nobody pays much attention to the fact that dope is illegal. But now, at this particular time, there is very little grass. People are smoking a lot of’ hash. In London it’s just all hash. There it is $25 an ounce and here it is $75 an ounce. You can trade an ounce of grass for an ounce of’ hash no sweat at all in Europe, and it is getting to that point here. Hash is getting cheaper because people are bringing in more. It’s more profitable and it doesn’t take up as much space. . . . There was and is certainly more smack available. Correlations are very hard to make because it’s a very diverse society. Generalizations are easy to make. You could always say that the shortage of grass was reflected in the number of deaths from smack. In New York alone it was like double last summer than the year before and this year it’s climbing also. It’s easy to say that just because there’s no grass people are taking smack. I don’t know if that applies to a large number of people. There are more weekend junkies than there ever were. Those are people who snort smack on a Saturday night, assuming that they can get away with it and are not yet addicted. I knew a few but I know more now.
He also attempted to distinguish between those who abstain from drug use during a marihuana shortage because they can’t score, those who realize that they don’t really need it, and the younger kids who just want to get stoned all the time and go to using other drugs:
There are a lot of people who can’t score. Like office workers who don’t know where to go. When there is a lot of grass around it’s everywhere so they get some too, because somehow, at parties or somewhere, someone’s got a bag to sell them. But how they score when things are tight I don’t know. People are beginning to feel it’s not that big a part of their lives, too. I mean that when the realization comes that there’s a grass shortage at first everyone goes through this whole thing, shit I need some dope, you know. And then they find that they don’t really need it, it’s just nice to have. And when you don’t have it you just don’t get uptight about it. But there are a lot of people who, and I think that’s misusing grass, just want to get stoned all the time. When there’s no grass around these people just go on to other drugs. . . . Like the younger kids who haven’t smoked that long but who sort of grew up on drugs. . . . I see that at parties and just watching the kids around. The latest thing was pink mescaline, synthetic mescaline. The kids were taking it. I don’t know if it’s mescaline. They don’t know if it’s mescaline, it’s just what somebody told them when he sold it to them for a buck a tab. Sure, they’re always taking drugs without knowing what it is. They’re dopers.
A 23-year-old teacher from Queens depicted the wide range of reactions in his middle-class Suburban neighborhood:
I didn’t know any people who stopped using drugs during the shortage. Yes, there were a couple of exceptions. People who would take nothing rather than an up, down, or a trip. They were older people, all over 25, and they went back to liquor, where they came from. When there was coke around, during the shortage, for the most part these people tried it but it was still hard to get a hold of and expensive…. There was more hash than grass around last summer and these people used more of it. But they consider hash and grass the same thing and wouldn’t consider that a switch.
He distinguished between drug use within his own group of friends (people 22 to 27 years old) and drug use within a younger neighborhood group (17 to 22 years old). He also described the process by which many in this younger group who were on grass and hash very heavy switched over to downs mostly and then went right into heroin:
Most of the younger group, younger than me, between 17 and 22, my brother’s age group, were strictly on grass and hash. Last summer when there was a decline in grass they mostly went over to ups and downs…. I don’t know for sure what they cost, but they were very, very cheap. This younger group would get like a hundred very cheaply and give them away. That’s why a lot of people were O.D.-ing last summer…. Eventually this younger group started using hard drugs. It happened like this. This younger group was on grass and hash very heavy, like smoking every day, and all of a sudden they couldn’t get any. So they went over to downs mostly, and then they got tired of downs and they went right into heroin. Heroin was more available than grass last summer in Bayside. It was all around the neighborhood. As I said, it was more available than grass. . . . They shot it, skin popped and mainlined. . . . In my group, mostly people 22 to 27, most people, in fact I’d say all of them, during the shortage they started tripping. A couple of them had tripped before but it wasn’t a group thing or a regular thing. During the summer we would trip to get high. It was easier to get mescaline or acid than grass for awhile….
Concerning the long-term effects of these adjustments, he stated:
The people who switched over to heroin stayed on heroin for the most part. Those people who were on ups and downs through the summer came back to grass and the people who were tripping also came back to grass. They might still trip or speed once in awhile but not like before when you wanted to get high you tripped instead of smoking. But the people who started with heroin are still doing it now. The others are using marihuana for the most part.
Although many illicit drugs were readily available in this area, drug-using peer groups of different ages selected different substitutes for marihuana.
An 18-year-old drug dealer from an affluent Long Island community described drug use patterns in his Community and his own increased involvement in drug distribution during this period:
About a year ago everybody was doing just pot. There was a lot of pot around. There were no hard drugs or pills or anything. Coming into the summertime, I was dealing already. Things were starting to get dry for smoke, grass and hash, so I started dealing other drugs like LSD and ups and downs and speed. And my friends started turning to other drugs. They started tripping and speeding. Nobody I knew at that time went to dope. … Now I know a lot of people who do dope, and not too many people who do only grass, and nobody who trips. They’re mostly doing hard drugs or only soft drugs. It’s like a big split in the middle…. Some people do barbiturates but it’s a very small minority. Most people do smoke or hard drugs, dope. . . . There seemed to be an abnormal quantity of hash around in the summer, much more than normal. But the price of that was still high because it was very good quality stuff. It was $80 to $85 an ounce. That past winter it would normally be $80 an ounce…. It wasn’t that much higher, but people didn’t really want hash. It’s too much of a hassle. They like to smoke in the car and you can carry joints anywhere. Not a pipe. It’s easier to get busted for hash. Grass is easier to handle.
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