Electronic Thesis/Dissertation


Just Say Know: How the Parent Movement Shaped America's Modern War on Drugs, 1970-2000 Open Access

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Between 1973 and 1978, a dozen states containing over a third of the nation's population decriminalized or legalized the possession of marijuana. Through the work of groups like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and business groups catering to the growing field of marijuana consumers, pot and its surrounding culture swept the United States, with head shops opening in local malls while movies and music celebrated the drug's use. In response to the increasing availability of marijuana, however, rates of adolescent marijuana use spiked. By 1979, 11 percent of high school seniors reported smoking pot daily. In response, a counterrevolution to marijuana's thriving "drug culture" formed among the nation's parents. The parent movement, founded by Marsha "Keith" Manatt Schuchard in the summer of 1976, rejected the common opinion that marijuana was harmless, and Schuchard emphasized that parents had a duty to take control of their children's environment and prevent their family from using drugs. Schuchard's platform, known as "parent power," was spread through meetings, media coverage, and educational forums and conferences, and thousands of desperate parents quickly joined the fold. By 1980, the movement had spread nationwide, with local parent groups in every state using education and consciousness-raising to further their message. By the time Ronald Reagan was elected to the presidency, the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth (NFP) had formed in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland. This national umbrella group engaged in political lobbying and organizing the over four thousand individual parent groups that had sprouted across the United States. It also aligned with Nancy Reagan when the first lady took on adolescent drug abuse prevention as her national platform. By 1983, members of the parent movement were involved in directing the course of federal anti-drug education, presenting at congressional hearings, influencing national media campaigns, and determining how to use the millions of dollars in federal and private funding that the movement was regularly receiving. In the wake of these massive national anti-drug efforts, rates of adolescent marijuana use plummeted. Despite this success, however, the movement died off by the early 1990s. This dissertation is the first complete history of the parent movement, as well as an examination of its most long-lasting effects. It posits two primary arguments: that the parent movement was responsible for placing children at the center of the nation's war on drugs, and that its history complicates the overly-simplified narrative of "America's right turn." It also exposes several of the hidden aspects of the movement's history, including the important contributions of non-white activists and the role that the parent movement, drug use and anti-drug prevention played in the nation's culture wars that took place during this time. Supported by interviews with parent activists as well as access to newsletters, correspondence and other materials, this dissertation shows how intimately connected the parent movement was to the social and political environment of its time, and how its contributions to the nation's war on drugs continue to have deep ramifications today.

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