Rev. Robert Kramer, Ex-Pothead, Crusades Against Drug Merchants Aiming for Preteen Consumers
02/11/1980 at 01:00 AM EST
A felt-tipped pen, a Frisbee, a soft drink can—none seems out of place in a child's room. But look again. The pen is really a roach clip for holding burned-down marijuana joints; the Frisbee is a "Buzzbee," with a built-in pot smoker's pipe; the soda can is a camouflaged container for drugs. Each of these innocent-looking novelties is aimed at preteenage America—the newest market for the $3 billion-a-year drug-paraphernalia industry. "In the late '60s drug use was primarily associated with college students," says Robert G. Kramer, a Presbyterian minister who is drug and alcohol coordinator for Anne Arundel County, Md. "Now we see it as a problem at even the fourth-grade level. By 12 or 13 most children have had to decide whether or not to use drugs." Then he adds an ominous quote from Maryland's Sen. Charles Mathias: "I doubt there is a household in the country which hasn't had a marijuana problem—whether the parents know it or not."
Kramer, 30, speaks from personal experience. Disillusioned by the student movement he had been a part of, he dropped out of Harvard in 1969 and tried marijuana, LSD, hashish and mescaline. "Eventually I reached a point where I stopped using the heavier drugs because I had a sense that I wouldn't come back," he says. "Later I became a Christian, began to realize that marijuana absorption was self-absorption and that it prevented me from really helping others." Returning to Harvard in 1970, he went on to Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, then into the ministry. For two years he did parish work before becoming a spokesman against teen and preteen drug use. "The profile of the youthful drug user today is of a multiple drug abuser," he says, "and the problem is getting younger and younger. Whatever the constitutional rights of a 20-or 30-year-old to take whatever substance he wants into his body, I think as a society we're making a grave mistake if we extend those rights to the 10-or 12-year-old."
His statistics seem inarguable. "Studies in Maryland show that 27.3 percent of eighth graders have used marijuana, and they began using it at the median age of 11.9 years," he reports. "Some head shops open at 3 p.m. on weekdays—when the kids are heading home from school. The new paraphernalia romanticizes drug use, particularly among the young. It's a game, and kids love to play games," he continues. "Gadgets like hidden cartridges and writing pens that double as marijuana pipes are the new version of James Bond or cops and robbers, and the bad guys are Mom, Dad and the teacher."
Kramer's crusade has persuaded the Anne Arundel county council to prohibit such drug-related merchandise, and he has testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee in favor of restrictive federal legislation. Ultimately, however, he believes it is up to parents to be firm with their own children. "You have a right—and a responsibility—to affect your child's behavior," he contends in a statement that ought to be obvious but isn't any longer. "Parents have got to say no. Otherwise, children are sent defenseless into a peer group situation, where the pressure is to think that drug use is fun, fine and harmless. I don't know how many times I was grateful to my own dad because he was such a convenient fall guy," Kramer recalls. "When the peer group wanted me to do something I didn't want to do back in junior high, like drinking or 'borrowing' someone's car, I could say, 'Sorry guys, my dad will tan my hide.' " (His father was Robert Kramer, an assistant attorney general in the Eisenhower administration and, until his recent retirement, dean of the George Washington University Law School.)
Kramer and his wife, Diane, have two daughters, Daria, 3, and Sonya, 1—and he realizes the importance of "not laying a guilt trip on parents." He finds that mothers and fathers who sometimes appear apathetic are, in fact, frustrated to the point of despair by their own sense of helplessness. But unless they stand up to the problem, warns Kramer, the U.S. will pay a grim price. "If an adolescent gets high as a regular habit, he doesn't learn to cope as an adult—he cops out," says Kramer. "That spells disaster for our society, because we're going to produce an unmanageable number of emotionally, intellectually and socially immature individuals—people, to use their own terminology, who are wasted."