Elizabeth Bass, The G-Woman at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics – Part 1

Editor’s Note: In the first of two posts which offer new additions to former ‘Points’ feature ‘Hidden Figures of Drug HistoryBob Beach explores the colorful career of Elizabeth Bass prior to her role as a G-Man within the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

Read more

The Tragedy of George Schlichten; Or Reconsidering Cannabis Conspiracies

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.  

There are a lot of conspiracy theories in the story of cannabis. The long, confusing, complex, and politically charged history of the plant in the United States, coupled with the absurdity of its current legal status at the federal level—and in a rapidly dwindling number of states—perhaps lends itself to this kind of thinking among American observers.

One alleged conspiracy involved the newspaper industry and the tragedy of German-American inventor George Schlichten. Schlichten made his name in the fiber industry, and he worked on improvements to decortication, the process of stripping the outer layer of fibrous plants prior to their further processing. But, the conspiracy theory alleges, his bid to manufacture hemp for newspaper production was sabotaged by scheming industrialists.

Schlichten Decorticator Machine 1919
Schlichten Decorticator Machine from George W. Schlichten’s 1919 patent.

Read more

On the Clock: Minding the Equity Gap in New York’s Legal Weed Era

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 March, the former Governor of New York signed legislation legalizing adult-use cannabis in New York. In a previous post, I introduced the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), and I discussed some of the important points in the legislation regarding the issues of equity and reinvestment in those communities overpoliced in the war on drugs (full details can be found on the state’s website).

Indeed, if the provisions of the MRTA are fully implemented as written, half of available retail licenses will be granted to specific targeted communities, including over-policed neighborhoods, women-led businesses, and disabled veterans. The dynamics discussed in this short post, however, demonstrate that many of these targeted groups will face an uphill battle to compete with other, more established license holders.

Cannabis Dispensary in Washington
Legal cannabis coming soon to New York? But will the industry live up to the state’s equitable promises? Image of legal cannabis products from a dispensary in Washington state courtesy of Beverly Yuen Thompson on Flickr.

Read more

Dropping the Facade

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.  

When I went to college (the first time), I left my home in Central New York to attend a Franciscan College near Albany, the state capital. With a scholarship in hand—and a career in the medical field on my horizon—I was confident in my ability to succeed in the classroom. Being away from home for the first time, however, forced me to confront a much bigger fear: negotiating a safe, healthy, and productive college social life. My biggest worries were alcohol and drugs.

Nancy Reagan
Nancy Reagan revealing. the inevitable consequences….

Fearful of parental reprisals, school sanctions, and, of course, a life of crime and addiction—all lessons that had been reiterated ad nauseum during the “Just Say No!” era, I had sworn off all substances during high school. But, facing college and the culture of college drinking made me rethink that approach. I decided that I was going to have to try alcohol at some point, and I didn’t want it to be my first week on campus. So, a week before my arrival, I had my first alcohol experience with a friend at a different college.

I really enjoyed myself.

Read more

Teaching Points: Transforming a Survey Course and Improving Student Research

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.  The Teaching Points series investigates the role of alcohol, drug, and pharmaceutical history in the classroom.

When I first started teaching in 2009, I assigned my class a research project. With absolutely no classroom experience beyond my own, I naively assumed that students just kind of knew how to do research, and I quickly grew frustrated with the poor results. From that point on, I decided to forego “independent” research entirely in my classes and instead to focus on providing a “guided tour” of the material, providing students with textbooks, articles, and/or primary sources and requiring a mix (over the years) of exams, quizzes, analytical essays, and/or source analyses. Unable to spend sufficient class time explaining the research process or troubleshooting issues, I reasoned that the efficacy of a research project in a survey course would always be undermined by my students’ limited exposure to proper research methods.

In subsequent years, I continued teaching under this assumption. But, coinciding with my transition to a PhD program at Albany and my TA responsibilities, I also increased my efforts to explore how others instructors taught their survey courses, and I continued to make adjustments to my own teaching based on knowledge gained at conferences and in professional journals, newsletters, and magazines. I encountered two appealing strategies. The first is the idea of the flipped classroom, where the activities that typically take place in a classroom and those activities usually occurring outside the classroom are flipped. The second are strategies that stress digital literacy (a topic covered recently on Points by Stephen Siff) to help future citizens confront the information dump that they see every day online.

Combining these two strategies, I thought, would provide the ideal model for teaching real-world “research skills” during class time. On this forum (so long ago) I dreamed of one day flipping my classroom, but I lamented the prep-time required—particularly for a doctoral student and later an adjunct. I could, and did, adjust for prioritizing digital literacy, but the flipped classroom remained just that, a dream.

Then the pandemic came, and everything changed.

Beach August Teaching Points Title Card
Left: Sample student research subject, “Why did the Reagan Administration show Just Say No Ads with the likes of NFL and MTV Stars?” Image of Nancy Reagan accepting a “Just Say No” jersey from quarterback Doug Williams in 1988 courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library.

Read more

Watch “A Century of American Drug Use” Virtual AHA Panel

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. 

The annual gathering of historians for the American Historical Association’s yearly meeting is set to resume in January 2022 in New Orleans, barring a major resurgence of Covid due to the delta variant. The pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2021 meeting slated for Seattle, Washington, but the AHA selected several panels to present at its virtual AHA colloquium, which started early this year and will wrap up this month. Panels not selected for the main colloquium were still encouraged to hold sessions, and the AHA generously offered space on its YouTube channel for recordings of Zoom meetings to be uploaded.

I was part of such a virtual AHA panel entitled “A Century of Drug Use: Psychoactive Drugs Among Native Americans, Hippies, and the Working Poor” that met on the most appropriate day possible for such a thing—April 20, 2021. We gathered together on Zoom with a group of 50 friends for a very productive 90-minute panel.

Virtual AHA Panel

Read more

Crazy Cows, Flea Detectives, and Protesting Songbirds: Exploring the “Animal Turn” in Cannabis History

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. 

The study of non-human animals has become an exciting new direction in history and the broader humanities. In a 2016 issue of Perspectives on History, environmental historian Dan Vandersommers has gone so far as to label this new development “the Animal Turn.” He argues that the impact of animals on human history defies sub-field categorizations, because the very development of organized human societies has been so reliant on intimate human/animal relationships that intersect with too many different fields to ignore.

In my own research, I’ve seen limited examples of these non-human relationships in the history of cannabis in the United States. The brief discussion that follows will demonstrate a range of roles and limited agency for non-human animal actors in these stories. We can also see how human observers have exploited (directly and indirectly) these non-human animal actors in various ways

As discussed in Isaac Campos’s book Home Grown (see pp. 208–17), the accuracy of many newspaper stories reporting on the supposedly hazardous effects of the cannabis plant on cows, horses, goats, and hogs are questionable. These tales arose from a confusion in the Mexican press during the 1920s between marijuana and several other types of “locoweeds.” The stories then spread across the border into the United States in subsequent years. The articles I’ve found, indeed, fail to clearly establish whether or not marijuana was the plant ingested by animals, but the stories do reflect official efforts to pursue and eradicate wild (and clandestine) growth of cannabis throughout the United States after the 1930s.

Featured Image Animals + Drugs

Read more

Drawing the Peddler: “Reefer Madness” in Four Editorial Cartoons

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. 

Everyone loves a good editorial cartoon. They dramatize contemporary issues in newspapers, in magazines, and, increasingly, in online publications. They routinely engage in a visual form of incisive social critique. And they can be funny—although over the years some of the “humor” has come from degrading caricatures of racial and gendered stereotypes.

For all of these reasons, editorial cartoons are useful teaching tools for historians, and they routinely appear in history textbooks, historical websites, and even on history exams. Currently, some of my students in a semester-long guided research project are using political cartoons to explain aspects of US drug history. (Others in the class are analyzing advertisements or newspaper reporting, and I will share more about the course in a future post).

Given the press bonanza around cannabis during the “reefer madness” era of the 1930s, I have been surprised during my research and teaching to have found only four cartoons from the period that specifically mentioned marijuana. To be sure, there were plenty of cartoons that focused on related issues like “narcotics” control—which often included cannabis—and the Uniform State Narcotic Act. Such cartoons, however, tended to focus on heroin (usually represented by snake imagery) and have not been useful for my marijuana research. There was also another interesting 1940 cartoon that mentioned marijuana in a very different context. This image depicted South American countries being stupefied—like a “Mexican” marijuana user—by “Nazi Propaganda” [1]

Despite spilling less editorial cartoon ink than might be expected given the sheer volume of press generated on the subject during the 1930s, these four identified cartoons present a specific and surprisingly nuanced take on Reefer Madness. They illustrate that the marijuana peddler was often the central focus of the evolving American war on cannabis. Drawn by four different cartoonists in four different cities, the four peddler characters were remarkably similar. In each image, the peddler was not only the source of the drug, but also seemed to be the source (perhaps more than the drug, itself) of all the problems associated with the drug trade.

Left: “Idol of Both,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 5, 1930; Right: “One Place to Get Tough,” Cleveland Press, November 13, 1936. Click on image above for to see larger version.

Read more