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© 2010 BY THE JOURNAL OF DRUG ISSUES

AMERICANS’ ATTITUDES TOWARD DRUG-RELATED


ISSUES FROM 1975–2006: THE ROLES OF PERIOD
AND COHORT EFFECTS

AMIE L. NIELSEN

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.

INTRODUCTION
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, annual
federal 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, first exceeded one million
__________

Amie L. Nielsen, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of
Miami. Her research interests include the inter-relationships among race/ethnicity, crime and substance
use and abuse.

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in 1988, and have remained above this figure since (Bureau of Justice Statistics,
2006). Drug violations are the single largest category of arrests, and more arrests
are 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 in
2003 (versus 16.3% in 1970). These shifts occurred as prison populations increased
greatly in size (Beck, 2000; Harrison & Beck, 2005; Pastore & Maguire, 2004). When
drug (and other) offenders seek to re-enter society they face difficulties 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 scholarly
attention has focused on Americans’ attitudes toward how drugs in society are dealt
with and “drug war” policies despite the fact that such policies are increasingly
criticized 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 use
despite federal opposition (Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004). In addition, there is a
substantial 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 shifts
in aggregate public concern (Beckett, 1994; Gonzenbach, 1996; Hawdon, 2001),
other studies have considered individual-level factors related to attitudes toward
drug 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 use
was 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 once
other respondent characteristics are taken into account? Answers to these questions
have considerable importance for drug policies and their future directions. This paper
sought to address these issues by examining factors associated with drug-related
attitudes. In particular, changes over time (period effects) and whether there are
cohort differences in attitudes, net of other important individual characteristics, were
examined. Period and cohort effects have not received attention for drug-control
views despite theoretical reasons why both should be important. Notably, attitudes
toward two issues central to drug control—government spending and the legal status

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of marijuana use—were considered. To address these relationships, data from the


1975 to 2006 General Social Surveys were used.

LITERATURE REVIEW
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-related
views. Period effects refer to changes due to events or processes that occurred
during a historical era. Cohort effects result from distinct experiences encountered
by people born at similar points in time and who lived through common situations
and eras. Shared experiences shape attitudes, in aggregate, among those who lived
through analogous things; different cohorts may encounter the same experience and
react to it differently because of their distinct histories (Firebaugh, 1997).

PERIOD EFFECTS
Period effects are likely with regard to drug-related attitudes. Such variations in
views are especially relevant for the past few decades, given the most recent wars
on drugs, but shifts in views and governmental responses to drugs have occurred
over time, including in the actions of the federal government and presidential
administrations.2 The Harrison Act (1914) and Marijuana Tax Act (1937), which
criminalized 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 trafficking also increased during this
period and through the 1950s (Inciardi, 1999; Musto, 1999). However, the 1960s
and 1970s saw greater tolerance of and increased drug use among Americans (with
drug use peaking in the late 1970s) (Kandel, Griesler, Lee, Davies, & Schaffsan,
2001; Musto, 1999). Yet in 1968, as Musto (1999, p. 248) noted, “. . . Nixon was
elected 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 the
federal and state governments to fight the onslaught of substance abuse.”3 Nixon
initiated a “war on drugs” that emphasized law enforcement, prevention, and
treatment (Musto, 1999).
After Nixon’s resignation in 1974, the next two presidents were less concerned
about drugs. President Ford did not believe that elimination of drug use was possible
and federal policy reflected this stance (Beckett, 1997; Musto, 1999). Ford was
followed by President Carter, who supported federal decriminalization of possession
of small amounts of marijuana. However, it did not occur because of a political
scandal involving a Carter assistant who favored this policy (Bertram et al., 1996;
Musto, 1999).

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Since then, the U.S. has engaged in another “war on drugs” that was particularly
associated with the Reagan and senior Bush administrations (Bertram et al., 1996;
Pallone & Hennessy, 2003). President Reagan grew up during an era marked by
intolerance of drugs and his views and policies reflected this (Musto, 1999). When
Reagan was elected president, “increasingly, drugs and drug users came to be seen
as a serious threat to American life and values” (Musto, 1999, p. 273). Reagan first
declared “war on drugs” in 1982 (Beckett, 1997) and he increased the focus on
drugs as well as the amount of federal spending to address them, including greater
allocations to law enforcement and other “supply reduction” efforts (Carnevale &
Murphy, 1999; Pallone & Hennessy, 2003).
Of particular importance to drug policies was the emergence of crack cocaine in
the 1980s. Much attention was paid to crack by media, politicians, and the public.
Crack use quickly came to be linked with crime and with the spread of HIV and
AIDS (Inciardi, 1999; Musto, 1999; Reinarman & Levine, 1989). During this period
several major federal anti-drug bills (e.g., 1984 Sentencing Reform Act, Anti-Drug
Abuse Act of 1986, and Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988) were passed. These provided
more funds for fighting the “war on drugs” and greater penalties for drug use and
sales (Bertram et al., 1996; Carnevale & Murphy, 1999; Musto, 1999; Pallone
& Hennessy, 2003). At the end of Reagan’s second term, his vice-president was
elected president. During the campaign and his term, George H.W. Bush stressed
intolerance of drugs and even referred to their use as “the most pressing problem
facing the nation” (Beckett, 1997, p. 44).
In 1992, Bill Clinton was first elected President. As Musto (1999, p. 282)
noted, “Clinton’s entry into the White House gave the drug issue special relevance.
Mr. Clinton grew up in the era of rising drug toleration and admitted during his
campaign that he had tried marihuana . . .” Some of his administration’s actions
were viewed as reducing the focus on drugs. However, this was complicated by
increasing marijuana use by youths in the early 1990s and by political rhetoric that
used drug issues to attack Clinton during his campaign for re-election. In response,
his administration focused more on drugs in 1996 and subsequent to his re-election.
Clinton also paid more public attention to treatment and demand-side reductions
than previous administrations, although funding allocations and most policies
remained unchanged (Carnevale & Murphy, 1999; Musto, 1999). George W. Bush
was elected president in 2000, and during his two terms he maintained the drug-war
policies of his predecessors.
However, several factors have complicated the “war on drugs” with potential
implications for public opinion. Since the late 1980s there has been renewed interest
by some in legalization or decriminalization of drugs (Inciardi, 1999). There have
also been calls for harm reduction approaches and criticisms of international

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federal interdiction policies. In 1996 California and Arizona voters approved ballot
measures for “medical marijuana” use and other states have since approved similar
measures (Inciardi, 1999; Pallone & Hennessy, 2003), perhaps reflecting changes in
attitudes toward drugs (Musto, 1999). Near the year 2000, the public became more
accepting of rehabilitation as costs of incarcerating drug offenders were increasingly
salient (Pallone & Hennessy, 2003). Since Bush’s election in 2000, several issues
may also have usurped drugs as a pressing concern. Perhaps most important were
terrorism and national security in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001
and the subsequent wars in which the U.S. has engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While the wars on drugs and on terror have become linked (e.g., Dolan, 2005), the
implications for attitudes toward drug control issues are unclear.
Thus, Americans’ views of drug-related policies likely varied over time, and
I expected to find period effects. Musto (1999) suggested that in recent decades
tolerance peaked in 1978 and then declined to perhaps now approach levels found
early in the twentieth century. I hypothesized that during the 1970s (under Ford
and Carter) drug-related views were more tolerant than in subsequent decades, as
evident in lower likelihoods of saying addiction spending was inadequate and of
opposing legalizing marijuana use. However, I expected that during the mid-to-late
1980s and early 1990s (under Reagan and George H.W. Bush) concern peaked, as
indicated by high likelihoods of saying too little was spent to address addiction and
of opposition to legalization, followed by declines.

COHORT EFFECTS
The U.S. history of drugs and drug control policies led me to expect that there
will also be cohort differences in attitudes. However, whether cohorts differ in views
toward drug control policies has not received much scholarly attention. Few have
considered cohort differences in attitudes toward law and order issues in general.
In one exception, no cohort differences (among those born in 1938 or earlier) were
found in attitudes toward the death penalty or the harshness of courts on criminals,
but there were differences in gun control views (Danigelis & Cutler, 1991).
Yet, as discussed above, different cohorts have experienced varying public
sentiments and governmental approaches to drugs and drug control. This suggests
the possibility of cohort effects for attitudes. For example, Musto (1999, p. 245)
wrote that:
The consensus on drugs—intolerance toward the use or advocacy
of narcotics—was well established by the mid- or late 1920s
. . . members of the generation born in the 1920s grew to maturity
with diminishing direct knowledge of, but a great deal of animosity
toward substances. Their parents lived through the drawn-out,
intense experience with drugs that marked the nation’s first wave
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of narcotics use, peaking around the turn of the last century. It was
an experience not unlike what we have endured over the last twenty
years. Not only could their parents convey their fear of drugs but
they had the advantage of direct knowledge, which sustained their
conviction and helped instill it in their children. The next generation,
the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who knew about
drugs, carried into the 1960s no direct knowledge of narcotics, but
had heard exaggerations about them . . .
Pre-baby boom cohorts (i.e., born before World War II ended; Kandel et al.,
2001) grew up during intense negativity toward drugs and drug users. However,
baby boom cohorts entered adolescence and adulthood during a time of increased
use and less concern about substances (Inciardi, 1999; Kandel et al., 2001; Musto,
1999). Because of baby boomers’ experiences, a recent study assessed whether
members of this generation who were parents influenced their children’s marijuana
use differently than other cohorts (they did not) (Kandel et al., 2001). Those born
after the baby boom grew up with the strong anti-drug rhetoric of the Reagan and
Bush eras, which was during a time of decreased substance use, and they were subject
to “moral panics” over drugs (e.g., Beckett, 1994; Hawdon, 2001; Jenkins, 1999).
Thus, more recent birth cohorts may have different attitudes than baby boomers
(Jenkins, 1999; Musto, 1999) although this may have shifted again, at least for
marijuana (Bachman, Johnston, & O’Malley, 1998).
Given differences in experiences with drugs and exposure to anti-drug messages,
there are likely to be cohort differences in attitudes. Specifically, I hypothesized
that baby boom cohort members would be more tolerant in their views by being
less likely to say drug addiction spending was inadequate and less likely to oppose
legalizing marijuana use than either cohorts who preceded or followed them. Cohorts
born both before and after the baby boom should differ little in their views due to
the punitiveness surrounding drugs and drug control rhetoric and policies, as well
as lower prevalence of use, during their formative years.

RESEARCH ON ATTITUDES TOWARD DRUGS


Despite reasons to expect both long-term period and cohort effects for drug
attitudes, the extant literature leaves these issues largely unaddressed. Several studies
did consider views over shorter periods or in an indirect fashion. In one study, for
example, changes in high school students’ attitudes over time were examined as
predictors of marijuana use for 1976 through 1996. Descriptive results showed that
disapproval of and perceived harm of marijuana increased among twelfth graders
from approximately 1978 to 1993, followed by declines through 1996 (Bachman
et al., 1998). In another study, trend data were presented for responses to repeated
questions between 1980 and 1996 about whether respondents thought too little,
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too much, or about the right amount of money was spent on drug addiction. The
percentage of persons who said too little money was spent increased during the
mid-1980s and reached a high level in 1989, although spending views varied both
before and after this time (Shaw, Shapiro, Lock, & Jacobs, 1998).
Studies of drug-related moral panics also provided information about views
over time, albeit usually short periods. In this work public-opinion polls indicated
that Americans’ concerns about drugs (i.e., the percentage who named drugs as
the number one problem facing the U.S.) peaked at the end of the 1980s and at
the beginning of 1990. However, these studies examined only the mid-1980s to
early 1990s and presented aggregate information about views without considering
individual-level factors (Beckett, 1994; Gonzenbach, 1996; Hawdon, 2001).
Concerns about drugs arguably remained high in the 1990s (Blendon & Young,
1998; Cintron & Johnson, 1996; Inciardi, 1999; Jenkins, 1999; and see Bachman
et al., 1998). In a study of people age 16 to 25 residing in California and several
other states, approval of marijuana legalization (general) and medical marijuana
use increased, but approval of recreational use decreased between 1995 and 1997,
especially in the non-California sample (Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004).
Other research examined individual-level factors associated with drug-related
attitudes. One study used bivariate analyses to consider characteristics of people
who supported marijuana legalization, views regarding whether the “war on drugs”
was winning, and the effectiveness of specific types of policies (e.g., demand-side
versus supply-side). The results indicated that age, education, political ideology
and income were most consistently related to attitudes (Cintron & Johnson, 1996).
Others examined support for funding and the perceived usefulness of treatment,
prevention, and criminal justice policies to address the U.S. drug problem and found
differences across several sociodemographic categories, including race, gender,
income, education, political party and ideology, and age (Lock et al., 2002).
Three studies assessed drug-related attitudes in multivariate frameworks.4 In
the first, Rasinski and colleagues (2000) examined support for spending on “drug
addiction.” Using data from the General Social Survey (GSS) pooled for 1974-1998,
the logistic regression results (contrasting spending “too little” with the combined
category of “about right” and “too much”) revealed that older people were more
likely to support increased funding. Conservatives were less likely than liberals,
and republicans were less likely than democrats, to support increased spending.
There were also differences in views associated with education, religious affiliation,
by gender, region and urbanness of residence, and whether children under age 18
lived in the home. Additionally, those who favored spending on other domestic
problems were more likely to say too little money was spent. Nielsen and Bonn
(2008) examined the role of individual media use for drug addiction spending

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attitudes over the period of 1975 to 2004 with GSS data. Media use was related
to attitudes. Presidential administration variables were used to represent time.
Controlling for respondent characteristics, those interviewed during Carter’s term
were less likely, and those from Reagan’s second and the senior Bush term were
more likely, than those interviewed during Reagan’s first term to believe too little
was spent on addiction.
In the third study, Timberlake, Rasinski, and Lock (2001) examined support
for spending on drug addiction and drug rehabilitation.5 The questions were asked
of split (and non-overlapping) samples from the GSS for 1984 through 1998;
responses to the items were combined and a dummy variable indicated the item
about which respondents were asked. Whites, males, conservative Protestants, and
political conservatives and moderates were especially unlikely to support spending
on rehabilitation as opposed to addiction. For the first four groups, “opposition to
the welfare state” was negatively related to support for spending. Other significant
predictors included education, presence of children in the home, and political party.
Age was not associated with drug-related views.
Despite the insights offered by the extant literature concerning individual-level
factors associated with drug-related attitudes, cohort and period effects have largely
been neglected. Yet, as discussed above, such effects are potentially important for
views. I sought to extend the literature by explicitly examining both changes over
time and possible differences across cohorts in attitudes toward drug-related issues
while controlling for individual-level characteristics. This enabled determination
of both the independent effects of time and cohort net of sociodemographic factors
relevant for attitudes. Views toward two issues—government spending and legalizing
marijuana use—integral to drug control were examined. Thus, this paper moved
beyond the existing studies (especially Nielsen & Bonn, 2008; Rasinski et al.,
2000; Timberlake et al., 2001) by examining attitudes over a longer period of time
(1975 to 2006), focusing explicitly on both the roles of period and cohort, and by
considering not only attitudes about spending on addiction but also on legalizing
marijuana use, an important area of debate for drug control.

METHODS
DATA
Data for this study came from the General Social Surveys (GSS). The GSS offer
a unique opportunity for consideration of period and cohort effects for drug-related
attitudes (e.g., Firebaugh, 1997). It is a repeated cross-sectional survey administered
annually (most years from 1972 to 1994) or bi-annually (1996 to 2006). Multi-stage
probability sampling was used, with full probability samples selected since 1975.
Face to face interviews were conducted with computer assistance (CAPI) used since
2002. Response rates for the GSS ranged from a low of 70.0% (in 2000) to 82.4%

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(1993) and averaged approximately 71% between 1975 and 2006 (Davis, Smith,
& Marsden, 2007a). The samples were nationally representative of the U.S. adult
population living in non-institutionalized settings. Until 2004 only English-speaking
respondents were included, but in 2006 Spanish-speakers were included as well.
Respondents range from age 18 to 89 and older and were born between 1884 and
1988 (Davis, Smith, & Marsden, 2007b).
The surveys conducted from 1975 through 2006 were examined. Because political
ideology was not assessed until 1974 and full probability sampling was not used
until 1975, the latter was the starting point.6 Core questions (e.g., demographics)
and others were repeated in all surveys. Due to question rotations, items such as
the dependent variables did not appear on every questionnaire in each survey year
(Davis et al., 2007b),7 so not all items of interest were asked of all respondents. Only
respondents who were asked all items comprising the independent variables and at
least one of the dependent variable items were eligible for inclusion in the analyses.
Missing data, particularly for income, was also a consideration: 79% of eligible cases
had complete data in the drug spending analyses and 86% were complete in the
marijuana legalization analyses. In order to address this issue, multiple imputation
methods were used to impute missing data in Stata 9.0 (Allison, 2002; StataCorp,
2005; see Royston, 2005).8 The results presented were similar to those obtained
using listwise deletion of cases with missing data.

VARIABLES
Two dependent variables were examined. The first was measured by responses
to the question:
We are faced with many problems in this country, none of which
can be solved easily or inexpensively… for each one I’d like you
to tell me whether you think we’re spending too much money on
it, too little money, or about the right amount… dealing with drug
addiction.
Similar to prior research (Rasinski et al., 2000; Timberlake et al., 2001), “about
right” and “too much” were combined (coded 0) and compared with “too little” (1).
The second dependent variable was measured by responses to the question: “Do
you think the use of marijuana should be made legal or not?” “Should” was coded
0 and “should not” (oppose) is coded 1.9
Several independent variables were examined. To assess period effects, eight
dummy variables for presidential administration in office when the GSS was
administered (yes=1) were used (Firebaugh, 1997; see Nielsen & Bonn, 2008). Items
were included for the Carter (1977-1980), first Reagan (1981-1984), second Reagan
(1985-88), Bush (1989-1992), two Clinton (1993-1996 and 1997-2000), and two
George W. Bush (2001-2004 and 2005-2006) terms. Ford’s term (1975-1976) was
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selected as the reference category because it is the earliest in the data and because
the current “war on drugs” had yet to start. Cohort effects were assessed through
seven dummy variables (yes=1) based on respondents’ birth years. Except for the
earliest and most recent cohort categories (1884-1904 and 1975-1988, respectively),
the groups were based on 10 year intervals (1905-1914, 1915-1924, 1935-1944,
1945-1954, 1955-1964, 1965-1974) (see Ruel & Campbell, 2006). In both the
earliest (1884 to 1904) and most recent (1975 to 1988) cohort groups examined,
small sample sizes led to more than 10 cohorts being included in the categories. The
cohort comparison category was 1945-1954; it was the largest group and was the
early wave of the baby boom, which has garnered attention for drug-related issues
(Kandel et al., 2001).10
Sociodemographic variables used in other research were examined (e.g., Rasinski
et al., 2000; Timberlake et al., 2001). Race was represented by two dummy variables
(yes=1) for Whites and other race (e.g., Asians); Blacks served as the comparison
category. Males were coded 1 and females as 0. Education was represented by a
continuous variable for number of years completed. Family income was measured
in (constant 1986) dollars and to aid interpretation, values were divided by 1,000.
Marital status was represented by one dummy variable (married=1, no=0) as is
employment status (employed=1). A variable indicated whether children 17 and
under lived in the home (yes=1). To control for possible differences in views, eight
dummy variables represented residence in nine U.S. regions (results not shown but
are available upon request).
Several other variables were also examined (Nielsen & Bonn, 2008; Timberlake
et al., 2001). Political party was represented by two dummy variables (yes=1) for
republicans and independents; democrats were the comparison group. Political
ideology was measured by two dummy variables (yes=1) for conservatives and
moderates, with liberals serving as the excluded category. Two dummy variables
(yes=1) represented the religious affiliations of Conservative Protestants and
those with no affiliation; other religious affiliations were the comparison group.
Distinctions between Protestant categories were based on questions concerning
religious preference (if any) and specific denominations (see Ellison & Bartkowski,
2002).

ANALYSES
Because both dependent variables were dichotomous, logistic regression was
used to analyze the data. The presented logistic regression coefficients (b) show the
change in the log odds of saying “too little” (drug addiction spending) or “oppose”
(legalization) associated with a one unit change on the independent variable
controlling for effects of other predictors; the odds ratios (eb) are also shown. For
both outcomes, two models were presented. In the first, period and cohort variables
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were included in order to examine their effects on attitudes. In the second model
sociodemographic and control variables were included. This enabled determination
of whether individual characteristics accounted for period and/or cohort effects.
Because of the large sample sizes in both sets of analyses, determination of statistical
significance was based on α <.01. In order to assess whether collinearity was a
concern, Variance Inflation Factors (VIFs) were obtained for all four multivariate
models. For addiction spending, the highest obtained VIF was 3.39, and the highest
in the marijuana legalization analyses was 3.84. The obtained VIFs thus indicated no
collinearity problems (Chatterjee & Price, 1991). Zero-order correlations between
independent variables that might be expected to be strongly related also do not
suggest collinearity, with r=.36 for education and income, r=.29 for Republican
party and conservative political ideology, and r=.30 for George W. Bush’s first term
and the 1975 to 1988 cohort.

RESULTS
Table 1 presents descriptive statistics for the independent variables included
in both the drug addiction spending (n=23,901) and legalization of marijuana use
(n=25,687) analyses. Descriptive results for the independent variables in each of the
two analyzed samples are shown separately because of the different case bases and
years included in the analyses involving the two outcomes. As the table indicates, for
most independent variables, similar distributions were evident across the samples.
The presidential administration items varied somewhat across dependent variables,
reflecting differences in years the drug control items were asked in the GSS.
Figure 1 shows the percentages of persons who said that “too little” money was
spent addressing addiction and the percentage who “opposed” legalizing marijuana
use for the 1975 to 2006 time period. Change during the over 30 year period clearly
was not monotonic; attitudes toward the two drug-related issues fluctuated, but
notably they followed largely similar patterns over time. Compared to the years of
peak concern during the mid-to-late 1980s through the early 1990s, before and after
this time lower percentages of respondents said “too little” was spent on addiction
and opposed legalizing marijuana use. The largest percentage (73.5%) said “too
little” in 1989, while opposition to legalization peaked in 1987 at 83.3%, although
more than 80% were opposed from 1986 to 1991. Since the early 1990s opposition
to legalizing marijuana use declined so that in 2006 it was at its lowest level during
the more than 30 years considered. The percentages who felt addiction spending
was inadequate were fairly steady from 1993 to 2000 but fell in 2002 and 2004 to
approach levels similar to those in the 1970s and 1991. This was followed by an
increase in the percentage who felt too little was spent in 2006.
Table 2 shows the bivariate relationships between each of the outcomes and
the independent variables. Overall, about 62% of respondents felt “too little” was
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TABLE 1. DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS FOR INDEPENDENT VARIABLES INCLUDED


IN SEPARATE DRUG ADDICTION SPENDING (N =23,901)
AND LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA USE (N =25,687) ANALYSES

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TABLE 1. DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS FOR INDEPENDENT VARIABLES INCLUDED


IN SEPARATE DRUG ADDICTION SPENDING (N =23,901)
AND LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA USE (N =25,687) ANALYSES (CONTINUED)

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spent addressing addiction, while three-quarters opposed legalizing marijuana use.


For drug addiction spending, attitudes differed in the second Reagan, elder Bush,
and first George W. Bush terms than those voiced in other time periods. Among
the cohorts, those born between 1935 and 1944, 1965 to 1974, and from 1975 to
1988 differed from respondents who were members of other cohorts. Many of the
sociodemographic variables also had bivariate relationships with attitudes toward
drug addiction spending. For views toward legalizing marijuana use, attitudes
tended to differ across most presidential terms; only respondents interviewed during
Ford’s term and the first Clinton term did not differ from those interviewed during
all other administrations. In addition, each of the cohort variables was related to
views toward legalizing marijuana use, indicating that attitudes of members of each
cohort differed from those of respondents who were not members of that cohort. As
for views toward addiction spending, many sociodemographic and control variables
had significant bivariate relationships with attitudes toward legalizing marijuana use.

FIGURE 1. PERCENTAGE "OPPOSED TO LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA USE" (N =25,687)


AND PERCENTAGE SAYING "TOO LITTLE MONEY SPENT ON DRUG ADDICTION"
(N =23,901) OVER TIME

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TABLE 2. BIVARIATE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN DRUG ADDICTION SPENDING (N =23,901)


AND LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA USE (N =25,687) AND THE INDEPENDENT VARIABLES

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TABLE 2. BIVARIATE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN DRUG ADDICTION SPENDING (N =23,901)


AND LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA USE (N =25,687) AND THE INDEPENDENT VARIABLES
(CONTINUED)

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TABLE 2. BIVARIATE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN DRUG ADDICTION SPENDING (N =23,901)


AND LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA USE (N =25,687) AND THE INDEPENDENT VARIABLES
(CONTINUED)

The multivariate results enabled examination of whether drug-related attitudes


were influenced by period or cohort, whether they were related to respondents’
characteristics, or to both. Table 3 shows logistic regression results (odds ratios,
log odds, and standard errors) for whether respondents said “too little” money was
spent on addiction. Model 1 shows results with only period and cohort variables in
the analysis, and Model 2 also includes the other predictors.
The results in Table 3 indicate that period and cohort were related to drug
addiction spending views. In Model 1, respondents interviewed during Reagan’s
second term, during the administration of George H.W. Bush, and during the second
term of George W. Bush were more likely than those from during Ford’s term to say
that spending was “too little.” Relative to the baby boom cohort of 1945 to 1954,
the pre-baby boom cohorts of 1884 to 1904 and 1935 to 1944 were more likely to
say spending was too low. Those born most recently (1975 to 1988) were less likely
than the baby boom cohort (1945 to 1954) to believe addiction spending was too low.
Model 2 of Table 3 includes sociodemographic and control variables in addition to
period and cohort measures. Overall, the results suggest that the additional variables
were important predictors of drug addiction spending views, but they did not account
for most of the period or cohort effects. Instead, the significant period effects in
Model 1 (the second Reagan term, elder Bush administration, and second George
W. Bush term) were larger in magnitude and remained statistically significant in
Model 2. In addition, the coefficients for the two Clinton terms attained statistical
significance in Model 2, suggesting that there were larger differences in time once
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TABLE 3. LOGISTIC REGRESSION RESULTS FOR "TOO LITTLE MONEY SPENT" ON DRUG
ADDICTION (N =23,901; YES=1) ODDS RATIOS, UNSTANDARDIZED COEFFICIENTS
AND STANDARD ERRORS

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PERIOD AND COHORT EFFECTS FOR DRUG-RELATED ATTITUDES

TABLE 3. LOGISTIC REGRESSION RESULTS FOR "TOO LITTLE" MONEY SPENT" ON DRUG
ADDICTION (N =23,901; YES=1) ODDS RATIOS, UNSTANDARDIZED COEFFICIENTS AND
STANDARD ERRORS (CONTINUED)

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respondents’ characteristics were accounted for. For the five significant presidential
term variables, the results indicated that respondents interviewed during these periods
were more likely than those interviewed during Ford’s administration to believe
that drug addiction spending was too low.11 Changes were also evident for some of
the cohort effects in Model 2 relative to Model 1. Notably, the coefficient for one
cohort (1884 to 1904) was smaller and was rendered non-significant with the other
predictors included in the analyses. The coefficient for the 1935 to 1944 cohort was
also reduced in Model 2, but it retained statistical significance. Finally, the coefficient
for one cohort (1975 to 1988) was larger in magnitude and remained significant.
Other variables also predicted addiction spending views. Republicans and
independents were less likely than democrats, and political conservatives were
less likely than liberals, to say spending was too low; moderates were more likely
than liberals to agree. Race, education, income, religious affiliation, and whether
respondents had children were also related to views.
Table 4 shows the logistic regression results for whether respondents opposed
legalizing marijuana use. The results indicate that there were period and cohort
effects. In Model 1 respondents interviewed during both Reagan, the George H.W.
Bush term, and during Clinton’s first term were significantly more likely than those
from during Ford’s administration to oppose legalizing marijuana use. Compared to
the early baby boom cohort (born 1945 to 1954), members of the previous cohorts
were more likely to oppose legalizing marijuana use. Of the cohorts that followed
the early baby boom, only the 1975 to 1988 cohort differed from it, with the latter
less likely than the early baby boom cohort members to be opposed to legalizing
marijuana.
Model 2 included the sociodemographic and control variables. With these
measures included, the period and cohort effects largely remained intact relative to
Model 1. In fact, coefficients for the second Reagan, the senior Bush, and the first
Clinton terms were larger in Model 2 than in Model 1, suggesting that these effects
were not explained by the additional variables. The effects of the first Reagan term
variable were smaller but remained significant in Model 2. For the cohort effects, the
coefficients for the five cohort groups born from 1884 through 1944 were smaller in
Model 2 than in Model 1, but they retained statistical significance. The coefficient
for the 1975 to 1988 cohort was reduced and rendered non-significant with the
sociodemographic and control variables included in the analyses.12
In addition to period and cohort effects, other variables were related to attitudes
toward legalizing marijuana use. Republicans were more likely than democrats,
and conservatives and moderates were more likely than political liberals, to oppose
legalization. In addition, race, gender, education, religious affiliation, marital status,
and parental status were related to attitudes toward legalization of marijuana use.

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TABLE 4. LOGISTIC REGRESSION RESULTS FOR "WHETHER OPPOSE LEGALIZATION OF


MARIJUANA USE" (N =25,687; YES=1) ODDS RATIOS, UNSTANDARDIZED COEFFICIENTS
AND STANDARD ERRORS

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TABLE 4. LOGISTIC REGRESSION RESULTS FOR "WHETHER OPPOSE LEGALIZATION OF


MARIJUANA USE" (N =25,687; YES=1) ODDS RATIOS, UNSTANDARDIZED COEFFICIENTS
AND STANDARD ERRORS (CONTINUED)

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PERIOD AND COHORT EFFECTS FOR DRUG-RELATED ATTITUDES

DISCUSSION
This study sought to extend the literature on drug-related attitudes in the U.S. in
several ways. The role of time was explicitly highlighted and whether there were
cohort differences in attitudes was assessed. Individual-level characteristics that
may predict attitudes were also included as important control variables. Attitudes
toward two key issues in the “war on drugs”—government spending and legalization
of marijuana use—were considered. The study yielded several important findings
concerning Americans’ attitudes toward drug-related issues.
First, there were period effects. While attitudes toward both drug addiction
spending and opposition to legalizing marijuana use showed similar patterns,
Americans’ views clearly have not remained stable over time and change has not
been monotonic. Notably, differences in attitudes across time periods primarily
increased when taking into account respondents’ sociodemographic characteristics.
Respondents were especially likely to say “too little” money and to “oppose”
legalization during President Reagan’s and Bush’s war on drugs relative to times
when less attention was focused on drug-related issues (Johnson, Wanta, & Boudreau,
2004; Musto, 1999). Likely linked to debates related to medical marijuana issues
(Inciardi, 1999; Musto, 1999; Pallone & Hennessy, 2003), those interviewed
during George W. Bush’s administrations did not differ in opposition to legalizing
marijuana use relative to those interviewed during Ford’s term before the recent war
on drugs was “launched.” Importantly, this may well suggest increased tolerance in
Americans’ marijuana use attitudes over the last several years. Some have argued
that the causal ordering of Americans’ views and political rhetoric and legislation
may flow from politicians to public attitudes (e.g., Beckett, 1994; Jacobs & Kent,
2007), although others suggest that public opinion has direct and indirect influences
on policy making, especially for issues that are salient to the public (Brooks, 2006;
Burstein, 2003, 2006; Page & Shapiro, 1983). Resolving this was beyond the scope
of this paper; however, the findings might signal a shift in the direction and nature of
marijuana policies. While majorities of Americans still opposed legalizing marijuana
use in 2006, the levels were similar to those during the late 1970s when marijuana
was almost decriminalized at the federal level (e.g., Musto, 1999).
However, during George W. Bush’s second administration there was again
increased likelihoods of saying too little was spent on drug addiction after several
years of decreases in such views. Because this shift occurred at the same time
when drug-related arrests continued to rise (e.g., Federal Bureau of Investigation,
2001, 2006) and substance use in the general population remained fairly stable
(Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2008), it may reflect
recent attention directed to drug-related issues by politicians and the public. In
particular, this increase may reflect the greater visibility of and policies related to

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methamphetamine and other drugs in the early twenty-first century (e.g., Office of
National Drug Control Policy, 2009b), as well as perhaps to publicized linkages made
between drug trafficking and funding for terrorists in the years after September 11,
2001 (Dolan, 2005; Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2009a). The reasons
for views for both drug spending and legalization of marijuana use, and whether
these views are maintained by the public past the year 2006, need to be examined
in future research.
Overall, these findings suggest the need to explicitly consider period when
examining Americans’ attitudes toward drug-related issues. While a number of
scholars have discussed or showed trends in views over time (Blendon & Young,
1998; Musto, 1999; Shaw et al., 1998), and some controlled for survey year in the
analyses (but did not show results) (Rasinski et al., 2000; Timberlake et al., 2001),
few explicitly examined this issue. Of those that did, most focused on aggregate
concern over short periods (Beckett, 1994; Gonzenbach, 1996; Hawdon, 2001)
rather than examining if long-term shifts occurred net of individual factors. The
current study showed that both time and individual characteristics are important.
Some cohort effects were also found for drug-related attitudes, especially for
views concerning legalizing marijuana use. In the case of drug addiction spending
attitudes, the cohort group born immediately before the early baby boom (i.e., 1935
to 1944) was more likely, and those born most recently (i.e., 1975 to 1988) were
less likely, to believe spending is too low. For legalization of marijuana use, the
results showed consistent differences for persons born before and during the baby
boom. Thus, while Musto (1999) and others (Kandel et al., 2001), suggested that
there may be cohort differences in drug-related views, this varied somewhat across
policies. The lack of consistent differences in views between the newest cohort and
the baby boom, as well as the differences between the early baby boom and most
recent cohort group were surprising. This is particularly so given Musto’s (1999)
suggestion that the anti-drug rhetoric to which the newest cohort was exposed
since Reagan’s terms may have produced heightened drug-related concern and
views similar to those of people born before the baby boom. This did not appear
to be the case. Instead, the results may reflect the liberalization of attitudes among
recent cohorts as has been evidenced with regard to other types of views, such as
those concerning racial prejudice (Firebaugh & Davis, 1988) and homosexuality
(Loftus 2001; but see Ruel & Campbell, 2006), although such increased tolerance
has not been evident for crime control policies (Baumer, Messner, & Rosenfeld,
2003; Danigelis & Cutler, 1991; Shaw et al., 1998; Warr, 1995).
Similar to other studies (Rasinski et al., 2000; Timberlake et al., 2001), several
individual-level characteristics were related to attitudes and helped account for
the influence of some cohort effects for one or both outcomes. These included

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race, gender, education, income, religious affiliation, marital status, and children
living in the household. However, republicans were less likely than democrats, and
political conservatives were less likely than liberals, to believe addiction spending
was inadequate, but they were more opposed to legalizing marijuana use. Given
opposition to legalization, the spending results may reflect a lower willingness by
republicans and conservatives to support government spending in general rather
than on addiction per se. It may also reflect an individualistic view of addiction
and the need to “pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps,” rather than using government
funding to address problems (Bertram et al., 1996; Edsall & Edsall, 1991; Musto,
1999), including drugs (Timberlake et al., 2001).
Future research should explore another factor as potentially important for drug-
related views: racial attitudes. Racism has played at least an implicit role in the
wars on crime and drugs (Edsall & Edsall, 1991; Jenkins, 1999; Tonry, 1995), and
drug abuse may be racialized in the public imagination (Beckett, 1997; Beckett,
Nyrop, Pfingst, & Bowen, 2005; Reinarman & Levine, 1989). Racial attitudes
were related to views toward crime control policies (e.g., Barkan & Cohn, 2005;
Unnever & Cullen, 2007), including police searches of drug suspects (Peffley,
Hurwitz, & Sniderman, 1997) and support for differential federal sentencing for
crack versus powder cocaine (Bobo & Johnson, 2004). However, Timberlake et al.
(2001) found prejudice and views toward race targeting to be unrelated to Whites’
attitudes toward drug-related spending. Nonetheless, the role of racial attitudes for
drug policy preferences warrants more attention.
Three limitations in this paper are important to acknowledge. First, a key
limitation in this study was the use of two broadly worded questions to assess
attitudes: spending to deal with drug addiction and legalization of marijuana use.
More specific items may provide greater insights concerning views toward particular
drug-related issues (e.g., treatment vs. criminal justice polices, medical marijuana;
see Khatapoush & Hallfors, 2004; Lock et al., 2002; Timberlake et al., 2001). In
the case of the “spending on drug addiction” item in particular, there was ambiguity
concerning whether respondents interpreted this in terms of more legal sanctions,
more treatment programs, more education, or perhaps all three. However, no other
data enable such consideration of long-term views of drug issues, and the addiction
spending item has been used in prior research (Nielsen & Bonn, 2008; Rasinski et
al., 2000; Shaw et al., 1998; Timberlake et al., 2001). Second, each of the dependent
variables was measured with a single item which did not allow for an assessment
of the reliability of the variables; use of two or more items would be ideal in order
to improve the validity and to determine the reliability of the outcomes. Third, the
data were cross-sectional. Although the GSS’s repeated cross-sectional design was
very useful for enabling consideration of shifts in attitudes in the population, net of

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respondents’ characteristics, it disallowed examination of changes in views within


individuals over time (Firebaugh, 1997).
In sum, drug-related attitudes among Americans have changed over time and
differ somewhat across cohorts. This study suggested an increased tolerance in
attitudes toward drug policies, especially legalizing marijuana use, in recent years
considered and among more recent cohorts (at least since the early baby boom). As
in other areas that address such factors for attitudes (e.g., Danigelis & Cutler, 1991;
Danigelis, Hardy, & Cutler, 2007; Firebaugh & Davis, 1988; Ruel & Campbell,
2006), consideration of period and cohort effects net of individual level factors is
important in future research to help to better understand Americans’ drug-related
policy preferences.

NOTES
1. The types and sources of funding used to calculate federal drug expenditures
recently changed, resulting in lower indicated spending (Pastore & Maguire,
2004).
2. Presidential administrations played key roles in shaping public views (e.g.,
Hawdon, 2001; Johnson, Wanta, & Boudreau, 2004) so discussion and analyses
were framed along such lines.
3. It was during Nixon’s second term that the Commission on Marihuana and
Drug Abuse (1972 and 1973) recommended decriminalizing small amounts of
marijuana for personal use at the federal level, although this never occurred
(Musto, 1999).
4. While Timberlake et al. (2001) and Rasinski et al. (2000) included year dummy
variables as controls, the results were not shown nor was time an explicit concern.
5. The Timberlake et al. (2001) study used both the spending on “drug addiction”
and “drug rehabilitation” items; respondents were asked only one of the
questions. This approach was not used here for several reasons. First, doing so
would restrict the time examined by a decade since the rehabilitation item was
not included in the GSS until 1984. As consideration of period, and especially the
time comprising the most recent “war on drugs,” was a key issue in this study,
retaining years was important. Second, views toward rehabilitation spending
followed a very similar trend (with about a five percentage point difference in
views concerning spending) over time as spending on drug addiction. Finally,
multivariate analyses using the addiction and rehabilitation items in a fashion
analogous to Timberlake et al. produced findings similar to those shown for
drug addiction spending only (results available upon request).
6. In 1975 and 1976, half of respondents were selected using block quota sampling
and were excluded. Also excluded were members of Black oversamples in 1982
and 1987.
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7. Addiction spending was asked in all years; legalization was not asked in 1977,
1982 or 1985.
8. The results were obtained using random draws from the posterior predictive
distribution of regression analyses, and five data sets were imputed for each
model. Once the data sets were combined, logistic regression estimates were
obtained (the Li-Raghunathan-Rubin robust estimate of the variance-covariance
matrix of coefficients was used) (Royston, 2005; StataCorp, 2005).
9. There is some overlap between the items, but they were examined separately.
Sample size was reduced to 14,481 for cases asked both questions, and while
the variables were correlated (-.085), they largely deal with separate drug policy
issues that are both important to the war on drugs.
10. Age and cohort effects were largely collinear (e.g., VIFs exceeding 8.4); age
was excluded from the analyses given the interest in cohorts.
11. In Model 2 results not shown (available upon request), other period and cohort
differences were significant (p < .01) based on Wald tests contrasting values of
the obtained coefficients for the variables. For period, those interviewed during
Carter’s term differed from those from Reagan’s second, the senior Bush, both
Clinton, and the second George W. Bush term; respondents from Reagan’s first
term differed from those of his second, the elder Bush, and George W. Bush’s
second term; those from George H.W. Bush’s term differed from those from
Clinton’s first and George W. Bush’s first term; and, those from the two George
W. Bush terms differed from each other. Both the 1955 to 1964 and 1965 to 1974
cohorts each differed from groups born 1884 to 1904, 1915 to 1924, and 1935
to 1944. The 1965 to 1974 and 1935 to 1944 cohorts differed; and, the 1975 to
1988 group differed from others except cohorts 1955 to 1964 and 1965 to 1974.
12. In Model 2 results, other period and cohort effects are significant (p < .01) based
on Wald tests contrasting values of obtained coefficients (results available upon
request). Respondents from Carter’s term differed from all others except those
from both George W. Bush terms; those from Reagan’s first term differed from
those of his second, the senior Bush, and both George W. Bush terms; those
from Reagan’s second and the elder Bush’s term both differed from respondents
from Clinton’s terms and George W. Bush’s terms; respondents from Clinton’s
first term differed from those of his second and those of George W. Bush; and,
those from Clinton’s second and George W. Bush’s second term differed. All
cohorts differed except those born 1884 to 1904 and 1905 to 1914; the 1955 to
1964, 1965 to 1974, and 1975 to 1988 cohorts also did not differ.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The author thanks Michael French, Ramiro Martinez, Jr., George Wilson, Scott
Bonn, Michael Weiss, Terrence D. Hill, and the anonymous reviewers for helpful
FALL 2010 487
NIELSEN

comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Financial assistance for this study was
partially provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (R01
AA13167) and National Institute on Drug Abuse (grants R01 DA018645 and 3P50
DA07705). The author is entirely responsible for the research and results reported
in this paper, and her positions or opinions do not necessarily represent those of
the University of Miami, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
or the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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