Starting Points

Points (n.) 1. marks of punctuation. 2. something that has position but not extension, as the intersection of two lines. 3. salient features of a story, epigram, joke, etc.:  he hit the high points. 4. (slang; U.S.) needles for intravenous drug use.

Review: “Drug Use For Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University.

Cover of Drug Use For Grown Ups

Dr. Carl Hart’s timely Drugs for Grown-ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear attempts to ignite a shift in our collective consciousness—much like the psychoactive substances he chronicles. Credentialed academics and other elites tend to deny using drugs, or, if they want to pass as authentic for political reasons, they might admit to a few youthful indiscretions (e.g., then-candidate Barack Obama’s “inhaling was the point” comment in 2007).

Defying this taboo, Hart, Chair of the Department of Psychology at Columbia University, owns up to his affection for an expansive medicine chest. He reveals dabbling in amphetamines, discloses his use of the unfairly-maligned drug heroin, and discusses sampling 1990s club drug—and soon-to-be FDA approved medication—MDMA, along with other more obscure compounds like 2C-B, which was popularized by virtuoso, chemist, and psychonaut Alexander Shulgin.

Hart’s self-doctoring is reminiscent of nineteenth-century medical ethics, embodied by such titans of the time as William Halstead and Sigmund Freud. His self-prescribing bridges the gap between his knowledge and his experience, which helps him better understand subjects visiting his Columbia University lab. Drugs also filtered into his other extracurricular activities, figuring into adventures with his wife and enhancing their relationship and strengthening their marriage.

Who Are Drug Users?

Hart considers himself the rule not the exception in terms of drug use. Drug users are not zombies, he emphasizes; they are not the flesh-eating monsters sometimes depicted on highway billboards accompanied by inane anti-drug slogans. Drug users are not unwashed psychos or crime aficionados who inexplicably love doing evil. No, most drug users are typical, normal, average Americans, gainfully employed and living undetected—maybe you or your neighbor. And that’s okay.

Generally speaking, Hart’s ideas are easy to understand, and he gives primacy to the crucial observation that most people’s experiences with drugs are positive. Drugs offer insight, increase euphoria, and provide pleasure. Drugs act as social lubricants, making social interactions easier to bear or more enjoyable; and drugs break down barriers, allowing some individuals to be more vulnerable than they otherwise would be. People use drugs to soften the edge after a stressful day working a job they hate, and, conversely, drugs can help those who love their jobs be more productive and work long evening hours.

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Sensationalism in Defense of Anti-Narcotics is no Vice: Revisiting the Cinematic History of Reefer Madness

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. 

In a recent appearance on the Fiber Nation podcast, I was asked about the significance of Reefer Madness: Tell Your Children, the cult-classic film from the 1930s. As readers of Points are probably aware, the film follows the exploits of young Mary (played by Dorothy Short) and Bill (Kenneth Craig) as they get introduced and eventually fall victim to the ravages of “Marihuana,” the “Assassin of Youth.” Rediscovered in the 1970s, the film stands as a monument to the ignorance and hysteria surrounding the so-called Reefer Madness era of the 1930s, and it remains a frequent topic of popular discussions about marijuana. In addition to the discussion on Fiber Nation, an episode of Bong Appetite, a show I recently reviewed for Points, featured the film in its “Pothead Sleepover Party” episode (S1E5).

But the single-minded focus of drug reformers or historians on this one movie obscures the richer history of marijuana-themed films in the pre-World War Two period. Analyzing newspaper coverage of two other films, the appropriately titled Marihuana (1936) and Assassin of Youth (1938), adds a layer of complexity to our understanding of contemporary debates about censorship and the value of sensational films. Press reporting about these two lesser-known films highlights the, perhaps, surprising willingness of local newspapers and authorities outside of major cities to harness the sensationalism of these movies to communicate and educate the “real” dangers that this “new drug” posed to naïve youth.

Advertisement for the film Marihuana from the June 9, 1936, issue of the Modesto Bee (California)

Marihuana, written by Hildegarde Stadie and directed by Dwain Esper, was released in 1936. The story follows Burma “Blondie” Roberts (played by Harley Wood), who becomes ensnared by the dope trade, gives up her child to adoption, and turns to a life of crime. The film’s first showing (that I have been able to document) appears to have been in March 1936 at the Broadway Theater in Oakland. The Oakland Tribune touted the film as an “authentic study of the Marihuana menace,” “made in conjunction with Federal and State narcotic agents.”[1] Similar reviews followed its run into El Paso, Texas, in June, and Galveston in July.

The film did not elude criticism and censorship. Later in July in advance of a three-day run at the Rialto Theater, The Humboldt Standard (California) called the film “daring” but also warned that it was not recommended for children. Perhaps to assuage local critics, the theater screened Marihuana along with a filmed lecture entitled “Crime and Sex Fools” and the short film, “March of Crime in 1936.”[2]

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Help Manage Points! SHAD is Hiring a Digital Editor

Call for Applications: Digital Editor Position
SHAD Cover Big

The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs: An Interdisciplinary Journal (SHAD), published by the University of Chicago Press, is seeking a Digital Editor with a primary responsibility of co-managing its associated scholarly blog, Points. The Digital Editor has an opportunity to shape our field by curating the content of a widely read blog and creatively building synergies between the blog and the journal of record in the field. In addition to encouraging submissions to SHAD and Points, the Digital Editor will co-manage a team of contributing editors who write regularly for the blog and will oversee the progress of posts from the time they are submitted through publication. The Digital Editor is responsible for substantive editing of a post (when required), generating content that links SHAD and Points, and maintaining the production schedule. The Digital Editor will also solicit timely posts, from contributing editors or others, in response to relevant contemporary news. The Digital Editor, who must be a member of the Alcohol and Drug History Society, has final responsibility for all blog content. The position will be filled by March 1, 2021. 

SHAD publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed original academic research, reflection essays, and reviews in the field of alcohol and drug history, broadly construed. SHAD publishes under the auspices of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society (ADHS) twice annually. The Points blog was established in 2009 and will be jointly administered by ADHS and the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. AIHP also publishes History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals, a University of Wisconsin Press journal.

SHAD has limited funds to support Points. So that these funds can be reserved for paying contributing editors, the Digital Editor position will be unpaid. We thus expect that it will be filled by a scholar with a regular academic position. The Digital Editor should receive enough release time from their employer to ensure that they have sufficient time to carry out their duties, which amounts to roughly 2-3 hours per week.

The ideal Digital Editor will:

  • Have a clear, directed ambition to (a) have an impact on the field of drug, alcohol, and pharmaceutical history, and (b) help the field have a public impact on debate and policy;
  • Be intellectually nimble and temperamentally suited for the pace, rhythms, and culture of social media and
  • Be able to manage others (contributing editors).
  • Familiarity with WordPress is helpful but not necessary.

Applications submitted to shad@press.uchicago.edu should include:

  • 1-page discussion of the applicant’s vision for Points and how it can creatively build on and improve the blog’s relationship with SHAD;
  • 2-page curriculum vitae; and 
  • 1-page max statement about the applicant’s demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Maine’s 2020 Marijuana Market Report

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School. 

In the year 2020, the State of Maine officially legalized the sale of recreational marijuana—good timing for the industry, considering that the pandemic restrictions put in place by the administration of Governor Janet T. Mills provided an opportunity for medical and recreational users to sit back in their homes, relax, and partake in the consumption of cannabis. Initial sales of recreational marijuana in October 2020 set high expectations, but the opening boom was followed by an oversupply in local markets that hint at potential problems for the industry in years to come.

In the past, illegality kept marijuana prices high and supply low but not anymore. The legal market now faces the structural challenges of supply and demand, and, like any new rising commodity, cannabis must experiment with market adjustments, which will result in winners and losers. Unfortunately, it is small businesses that must confront these challenges in the middle of a pandemic. It is not all bad news for the consumer, though, since these are good times to enjoy the highest quality and abundant variety of “flower” in the state’s market history. Overall, there are good omens for the years to come.

In a tight November 2016 referendum that ultimately required a recount, the citizens of Maine voted to legalize medical and recreational marijuana production and consumption. The medical marijuana industry was quickly established and was up and running with little delay. The takeoff for recreational marijuana, however, was not as smooth. Opponents of legalization used legal and political tactics to delay the process with hopes of ultimately blocking recreational marijuana in the state. Nevertheless, the voters had spoken, and there was no turning back. In October 2020, almost four years after the legalization vote, Maine’s market for recreational marijuana finally launched.

One month after the first eight licensed recreational marijuana businesses opened their doors to customers, Maine authorities reported cannabis sales of $1.4 million, which brought the state $140,945 in sales tax collections. Initial data showed that smokable products represented 76% of total sales, while concentrates (14%) and cannabis-infused products (10%) made up the rest of the market.

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The State of Drug and Alcohol History Pedagogy: Teaching Challenges and Innovations (Teaching Webinar Roundtable, 1/8/2021)

Tune in this Friday, January 8, 2021, at 1:00 PM EST (12:00 Noon CST / 10:00 AM PST) for a Teaching Roundtable, The State of Drug and Alcohol History Pedagogy: Teaching Challenges and Innovations,” sponsored by the American Historical Association and the Alcohol and Drugs History Society. The free streaming online webinar will bring together teaching faculty to discuss the challenges (and rewards) of drug and alcohol history pedagogy and the unique approaches, methods, and tools they employ for responding to these challenges.

Click here to access the Zoom link for the panel.

The Roundtable Participants will be:

  • Chair: Robert Stephens, Associate Professor of History, Virginia Tech
  • Presenter: Aileen Teague, Assistant Professor of International Affairs, Texas A&M: “Using Experiential Learning to Understand the Opioid Crisis
  • Presenter: Lucas Richert, Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy: “Pharmacy Education & Psychoactive Substances in History”
  • Presenter: Kenneth Faunce, Associate Professor of History, Washington State University: “Using the History of Drugs to Examine the Processes of Globalization and Imperialism
  • Presenter: James Bradford, Assistant Professor, Berklee College of Music and Adjunct Lecturer, Babson College: “Professor, Therapist, or Clinician?: Teaching the History of Drugs to “Users” Amidst an Evolving Legal and Social Environment”
Webinar Abstract:

Over the past decade, cutting edge scholarship has opened new frontiers in the study of drugs and alcohol. At the same time, popular interest in these topics continues to motivate undergraduates to enroll in courses that help them better understand the history of psychoactive substance use and addiction and how it has shaped the current landscape of drug and alcohol issues in our society. But also, such popular interest in these topics is itself a tool for helping faculty engage students in broader subject matter in our society, culture, and politics.

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Mothers on the Frontlines: The Addict’s Mom

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Michael Brownrigg. Michael recently received his PhD in US history from Northwestern University, where he studied the relationship between emotion, white masculinity, and capitalism to explain the emergence of an antinarcotic consensus in America at the turn of the twentieth century. 

“Nobody is more determined or more affected by the disease of addiction than a mother,” ardently declared Leisha Underwood, the Executive Director of The Addict’s Mom (TAM) at a “Fed Up” event in Washington, DC, in September 2016. Seeking to raise awareness about drug addiction and the urgent need for legislative reforms, Underwood continued: “Nobody will ever fight harder to save a child. The societal stigma and misunderstanding experienced by mothers simply trying to save their children can be crippling.” 

Underwood’s impassioned speech captured the emotionally fierce reformist spirit and steadfast determination of the more than 150,000 members of the grassroots movement that is TAM. The group practices a unique version of passionate politics in which aggrieved mothers (hence “fed up”) voice their discontent sorrowfully and tearfully. As one paper noted, “The Addict’s Mom may be walking into stiff headwinds, but there’s strength in numbers. And as groups like MADD [Mothers Against Drunk Driving] have taught us, there’s nothing more powerful than a mom on a mission.”

Members of The Addict’s Mom participate in a “Lights of Hope” event in 2016

Barbara Theodosiou, the founder of TAM, is illustrative of the groundswell of emotional politics practiced by the burgeoning army of mothers tenaciously and mercilessly opposed to current forms of drug control. Theodosiou took to Facebook to form the online group TAM in 2008 upon learning that two of her children were addicted to drugs. After suffering from severe bouts of depression that psychologically, and, to an extent, physically paralyzed her, Theodosiou channeled her emotional pain toward productive ends.

She created a community where mothers could, as she explained, “share without shame.” The stigma of drug addiction deeply troubled Theodosiou, and she believed that shame impeded progress toward a more enlightened and compassionate approach to treating addicts. “Society views addicts as dirty and ugly,” she asserted in analyzing the social stigmatization of addiction within an idiom of disgust. Such feelings of shame led to isolation and despair, and she sensed that thousands of mothers in her situation also experienced emotional repression detrimental to their personal well-being.

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Goodbye 2020, Goodbye Emily Dufton; Hello 2021, Hello AIHP!

Editor’s Note: This is me — Emily Dufton — signing off.

2020. What a year.

What was it for you? The pandemic? Teaching remotely? Learning a whole new way to interact with family and friends? The total disruption of normalcy?

There were highlights: the election of Joe Biden (a fellow Pennsylvania native — hello Scranton, my father’s hometown!) comes to mind. National protests over racial justice, a problem that certainly isn’t new but took on a sudden and disturbing relevancy this year. And there’s the unprecedented wave of democratic participation in the presidential and down-ticket elections, which is amazing and, I hope, repeated in 2024.

There were the obvious lowlights as well: the deaths from Covid. The deaths from overdose and suicide. The unemployment numbers rising and businesses closing. The children lost as social structures broke down.

Continue reading “Goodbye 2020, Goodbye Emily Dufton; Hello 2021, Hello AIHP!”

Biden’s Opioid Plan: Punishment Disguised as Treatment

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University.

Last summer, Joe Biden attended a ritzy fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel for New York donors, where he promised the ultrarich “nothing would fundamentally change.” Since then, his decisions have reflected this sentiment, honoring past administrations’ allegiance to revolving-door-politics, handing out cabinet seats to a who’s who of corporate America, and plucking various candidates from private equity, the arms industry and K-Street. Even his continuation of Trump’s herd immunity, open-everything-up strategy for coronavirus indicates he will keep that promise of “nothing will fundamentally change,” apparently content to preside over the country’s long-term decline.

Throughout the election, media outlets largely avoided scrutinizing Biden’s record, especially as it related to drug policy, with reporters acting much closer to campaign surrogates than journalists, often playing defense for the Biden team. The Washington Post, Vox, Politico, and the New York Times all made the preposterous assertion that Biden apologized for his cruel, single-minded focus on prison and punishment during his time in the Senate. But apart from giving a couple half-hearted non-apology apologies that sounded reminiscent of “mistakes were made,” Biden has never fully taken responsibility for the lives he destroyed, or the incalculable harms he inflicted on millions of Americans.

Equally unwarranted was the positive attention that Biden’s opioid proposal received. Outlets falsely claimed Biden views “addiction” as a health issue and no longer wants to pursue punitive approaches to drugs. German Lopez, senior reporter for Vox, even went as far as labeling Biden’s opioid plan as “ambitious.” To be clear, Biden’s agenda doesn’t guarantee treatment, doesn’t end punishment, and doesn’t include the most effective evidence-based methods for reducing overdose deaths. His plan isn’t ambitious; it’s not even good.

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Teaching Points: Lessons from Drug History for the Classroom

Editor’s Note: In a recent post, contributing editor Bob Beach previewed his course offering for this past term and argued for the urgency of the moment in his decision to snap-adapt his 100-level survey courses into a survey of the history of public health and public safety, conceived loosely around an historical exploration of timely current events (the pandemic, and policing). In this post, he shares his experience this term.

The first time it happened was during an ADHS conference. David Courtwright, during a talk on non-food addictions, offered an interesting idea for managing student cell phone use in class, drawing on harm reduction strategies from drug addiction studies. For the first five weeks of my next term, I started administering a “maintenance dose” of cell phone use about half-way through each session. While the experiment outlived its usefulness in short order, I started to see my field of study reflected in my work as an instructor in ways that went beyond the history.

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This is Your Brain on Critical Consciousness: Countering Drug War Propaganda with Critical Information Literacy

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the first in a three-part series on “Teaching the Drug War” that will run throughout this month and into January 2021. It comes from Sarah Baranauskas, who works at the University of Colorado Boulder and lives in Lyons, Colorado. You can follow her on Twitter @sandequation or check out the podcast she co-hosts What the Folk Pod.

There’s a famous quote from former Nixon administration advisor John Erhlichman that serves as a stark illustration of how a major aspect of the U.S. “war on drugs” has been a war on information. As he was quoted in Dan Baum’s 2016 piece in Harper’s:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” [emphasis added]

As misinformation (and outright propaganda) have been features of the drug war from day one, as well as the suppression of research resulting from prohibition, I see clear intersections between my work as an academic librarian and as an advocate for drug policy reform. For starters, two of the major ethical foundations of my profession are intellectual freedom and access to information. These ethics inform all aspects of librarianship, from front-line circulation services to collection development. In my role providing undergraduate information literacy instruction, which includes supporting classes that study drug policy and the therapeutic or medicinal applications of psychoactive substances, I see opportunities not only to uphold these professional ethics, but also to provide pedagogical resistance to the (mis)information tactics of the drug war.

Continue reading “This is Your Brain on Critical Consciousness: Countering Drug War Propaganda with Critical Information Literacy”
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