Points Interview: Stephen Snelders

Stephen Snelders Points Interview card

Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Dr. Stephen Snelders, the author of Drug Smuggler Nation: Narcotics and the Netherlands, 1920–1995 (Manchester University Press, 2021). Snelders is a Research Fellow at University of Utrecht, and is a member of the Intoxicating Spaces project. He has written books on seventeenth-century Dutch piracy, leprosy in the Dutch colony of Suriname and LSD therapy in the Netherlands. The interview was conducted by Contributing Editor Peder Clark.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The recreational use of illegal drugs is quite common and a more or less accepted leisure activity in the city where I (and my bartenders before and after the lockdown) live. Just as common is media coverage of violence executed by “organized crime,” trials against “drug lords,” new record drug seizures in Dutch port towns, police raids on underground drug laboratories, and the “subversion” of the democratic state by organized drug gangs. Fifty years ago, all of these phenomena seemed to exist to a much smaller degree. The whole concept of “organized crime” was then unknown to the Dutch judiciary and police force. Furthermore, a hundred years ago, there were no laws against illicit drugs in the Netherlands. Since then, the Netherlands has become a key hub of the international drug trade.

My book basically asks the question, how did we get ourselves in this situation, and, especially, why did Dutch drug smuggling become so big and important? The book researches histories of smugglers and smuggling networks: drug users, criminal entrepreneurs, idealists from the hippie and XTC (ecstasy or MDMA) drug undergrounds, brokers from pharmaceutical companies, sailors, and others. They could all thrive in a social and cultural climate of what I call “criminal anarchy:” embedded and rooted in Dutch society, connected to a legal “upperworld.” Crucially, they were NOT organized in large hierarchical crime syndicates that would have been relatively easy targets for police activities, but rather the groups and networks were often transitory, vertically organized, and only seldom competing with each other. In short, the book shows why cutting off one head of the hydra of drug smuggling only led to the growth of new heads in new places.

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Addiction Lives Interviews: Betsy Thom and Harry Shapiro

Editor’s Note: With this post, Points is pleased to inaugurate a new regular feature highlighting interviews from the “Addiction Lives” interview project, a print and online collaboration between the Society for the Study of Addiction and the journal Addiction.

Society for the Study of Addiction logo

The journal Addiction’s long-running interview series, “Addiction Interviews,” was reintroduced in 2017 as “Addiction Lives,” a joint print/web collaboration with the Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA). The new series, under the editorship of Professor Virginia Berridge, was introduced in an Addiction editorial by Jean O’Reilly and Robert West in December 2017.

The original “Addiction Interviews” ran for 36 years (from 1979–2015) under the editorship of Professor Griffith Edwards. The series provided wide-ranging conversations with more than 100 people who had contributed to the field of addiction studies at local, national, and international levels. It focused in particular on the field’s scientists and those who developed links with policy.  A virtual issue of Addiction available in the Wiley Online Library provides links to the full series of 111 interviews and includes a reflection from Thomas Babor about the series.

The new interviews continue the same mission as the original series and focus on the views and personal experiences of people who have made particular contributions to the evolution of ideas in the field. The full interviews are posted online on the SSA website and a summary is published in Addiction. The original interviews were largely unstructured, and the interviewers remained anonymous. The online platform now allows for the inclusion of enhanced content such as audio and video recordings and linked short bibliographies of the interviewees’ work. Addiction continues to commission the series and suggestions for interviewees are always welcome! Please email any suggestions to jean@addictionjournal.org.

Today’s featured interviews are with Professor Betsy Thom and Harry Shapiro.

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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.
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Pablo Cáceres Corrales: “Narcotics Trafficking is Just Another Superstructure of Globalization”—Part I

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. 

The intellectual, political, social, economic, environmental, and cultural ideas behind narcotics trafficking are front-loaded with Western constructs. This vision has often been imposed by force across the world and more particularly in developing countries directly tied to the geopolitics and international political economy of narcotrafficking. Dr. Pablo Cáceres Corrales, a Colombian scholar and expert in comparative law, is a refreshing voice—a revisionist who points the finger not at supply-and-demand debates but at the nature of the business of narcotics and its interdependence and interconnectivity with market globalization.

From his perspective, narcotrafficking is an essential part of the deregulated dynamic that allows the global capitalist system to navigate the thin line between formality and informality. Narcotics trafficking, he argues, is just one of the many superstructures allowing the global market system to operate on all cylinders. Narcotrafficking provides the ability to move money globally while at the same time laundering resources from the informal to the formal market.

As president of Colombia’s Superior Council of Judicature during the deadliest phase of the 1990s War on Drugs, Dr. Cáceres witnessed first-hand the intricacies of the international business world of narcotics trafficking. Understanding criminality and criminal organizations became an intellectual passion that led him to study its global history. During the pursuit of his doctoral degree, soon after retiring from the judicial branch, it became clear to him that the explanation for Colombia’s violent reality rested on the broader superstructures of globalization.

In his latest and thoroughly researched book, Las Formas Cambiantes de la Criminalidad [The Changing Forms of Criminality] (Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2016) Cáceres introduces us to the broad magnitude and expansive tentacles of contemporary criminal organizations and their interconnectedness to the world-wide market system.

Pablo Cáceres Corrales
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Review of A Drunkard’s Defense

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. 

In A Drunkard’s Defense: Alcohol, Murder, and Medical Jurisprudence in Nineteenth-Century America (University of Massachusetts Press, 2021), Michele Rotunda has written a significant contribution about the history of alcohol consumption that will appeal to students of numerous fields, most notably scholars engaged in legal, medical, and cultural studies. Drawing from an impressive array of primary sources, Rotunda’s taut narrative, tracing the complex evolution of juridical precedents beginning in the colonial era that established the culpability of defendants accused of often gruesome crimes while intoxicated, is revelatory.

Rotunda’s extensive use of court documents, in particular, illuminates in exquisite detail the highly contested nature of judicial concepts like intention and responsibility, and how they considerably influenced verdicts in cases of alcohol-induced criminality. Did murder commissioned under the influence of alcohol constitute a deliberate, voluntary, and premeditated crime? If not, was the accused nevertheless at fault for willfully partaking in a vice that could disorder the mind and facilitate the perpetration of murder—an idea resting on deeply entrenched beliefs in American society about the immorality of drunken indulgence that knowingly caused mental derangement? Or, as physicians who were increasingly concerned with the physiology and psychology of intoxication proclaimed, was the impetus for murderous behavior exhibited by defendants vastly more complicated, requiring nuanced diagnoses that only practitioners’ scientific expertise and empiricism could provide?

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“Buried Alive in a Chemical Tomb”: The Story of the “Trip or Trap” Anti-Drug Playing Card Deck

Editor’s Note: From the Collections highlights articles, artifacts, images, and other items of interest from publications and historical collections of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP). In this post, Points Managing Editor and AIHP Head Archivist Greg Bond investigates the story behind the unique “Trip or Trap” anti-drug playing card deck from 1970.

Trip or Trap Decl Cards
Playing cards from the “Trip or Trap” deck. Images courtesy of the Brodeur Playing Card Collection, American Institute of the History of Pharmacy.

“This Trip or Trap Card Deck is an attempt to educate through facts and ridicule,” wrote public health advocate Dr. Wayman Rutherford Spence about his anti-drug set of novelty playing cards. Published in 1970 by his business, the Spenco Medical Company, the “Trip or Trap” deck was one of many quirky Spenco products that combined humor with pop culture ephemera to educate the public about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and other intoxicants.

The “Trip or Trap” deck adopted a prohibitionist attitude towards drugs, demonized the recreational use of intoxicating substances, and denied the legitimate medical or pharmaceutical use of drugs like cannabis. On an informational card accompanying the deck, Spence explained that “drug abuse has many faces.” Using a common gendered understanding of substance abuse, he wrote that “it is the lady starting her day with a diet pill for a pick-up and ending it with a sedative for sleep, [and] it is the man habitually unwinding with several drinks.” He also linked together “the chain smoker unable to quit… the twelve-year-old experimenting with glue sniffing… the teenager smoking pot… and the hard-core addict shooting heroin.”

Despite the substantial variations among these very different drug-use scenarios, he wrote that each case represented “a threatened person retreating from reality.” Concluding dramatically, Spence informed users of the “Trip or Track” deck that “drug abusers are not blissfully composed, rather they are often deadened, deprived of personality, and all but buried alive in a chemical tomb.”

The “Trip or Trap” playing card deck is one of several hundred pharmacy-themed playing cards in the Donald Brodeur Playing Card Collection at the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy. This post is a short investigation into the story behind the “Trip or Trap” deck and its creator Wayman R. Spence, a now mostly forgotten drug warrior and public heath advocate.

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The Points Interview: Daniel J. Robinson

Points Interview Daniel RobinsonCard

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Daniel J. Robinson the author of Cigarette Nation: Business, Health, and Canadian Smokers, 1930–1975 from the Intoxicating Histories Series at McGill-Queen’s University Press edited by Virginia Berridge and Erika Dyck. Robinson is a historian and associate professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University in London, Ontario. He is currently researching historical tobacco use in Indigenous Canada and cigarette smoking and vaping among North American youths.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

For most of the last century, bars like this were filled with cigarette smokers. So, too, were restaurants, bowling alleys, physician waiting rooms, workplaces, and countless other public and private spaces. In the early 1950s, six in ten Canadians regularly smoked cigarettes—which were touted for enhancing sociability, psychological well-being, and productivity. By then, smoking had become a key marker of self-identity and social belonging. So, my book asks, how did these smokers react to news in the 1950s that cigarettes caused lung cancer? How did the tobacco industry respond? Some smokers, mostly older men, managed to quit, but the majority carried on, and lots of new smokers joined their ranks. For decades, smokers downplayed tobacco-cancer science and viewed their own mode of smoking as less risky. The industry promoted this thinking with a strategy of “Hope and Doubt.” “Hope” came in the form of health reassurance marketing, seen, for example, with light and mild brands which smokers believed were safer. The industry promoted “doubt” with a long-running disinformation campaign that attacked the medical science linking cigarettes to cancer and other serious diseases.

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My last 4/20 “Celebration”: Reflections on New York Legalization on a Bittersweet Tuesday Evening

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. 

Reefer Madness Talk Poster
Reefer Madness screening poster. Image courtesy of the author.

Two nights ago, I was in my car, headed to Utica College for a film screening and discussion. Earlier in the day, I had presented a conference paper for this past year’s cancelled American Historical Association meeting, which has been holding virtual online sessions over the past few months. I was thinking back to when Colorado passed its state referendum legalizing adult-use cannabis in 2014. At the time, I had wondered how I would celebrate if New York ever got around to legalizing marijuana. Since it was April 20, I imagined my first “legal” celebration of the so-called high holiday. I certainly didn’t imagine spending the entire day preparing for two public talks and abstaining.

I actually chuckled to myself for a bit. But then, immediately, my thoughts shifted as my phone rang and my brother informed me that the jury in the case of Derek Chauvin had come back with three guilty verdicts. When I had left the house, the jury was still in deliberations, and, so, it caught me a little off guard. Finally, some justice. But what sort of justice? Just then I pulled into the Utica College lot and checked in with Covid screener. The awareness hit me that I was about to lead a potentially whimsical screening of Reefer Madness, the absurd 1930s exploitation film, and discuss the arrival of legal weed in New York as part of the post-film discussion. I reckoned with the fact that this ridiculous film, along with all of the other absurdities in the war on drugs—even as we chuckle—has had really significant consequences that have been building for generations.

At that moment, I became certain about something I had felt for some time: legal weed has stopped being celebratory. I’ve never had to worry about my relationship with cannabis, even though I’ve had plenty of times when it could have caused serious problems. I’ve had no fewer than FOUR police interactions either while weed was in plain sight or with marijuana actively burning in my car. Yet, I have no marijuana-related infractions or arrests on my record, and I’ve never been mistreated by police. By contrast, when defending the police’s use of deadly force in the 2014 killing of Michael Brown, far too many people (including members of my own community) justified murder, in part, by highlighting Brown’s past relationship with marijuana.

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2021 Summer Kreminar—Opiates & Opioids

2021 Kreminar Social Card

Mark your calendars for the 2021 Edward Kremers Seminar in the History of Pharmacy & Drugs. The Summer 2021 “Kreminar” explores the theme of Opiates & Opioids and will feature six virtual seminars, presentations, and discussions by scholars and practitioners researching and writing about the history and the contemporary status of opiates, opioids, and addiction.

The Summer 2021 Kreminar will consist of streaming online Zoom presentations from 1:00–2:30 Eastern time (12:00–1:30 Central time) on six consecutive Thursdays in May or June. Kreminar presenters will be Dr. Benjamin Breen (May 13th), Dr. Diana S. Kim (May 20th), Dr. Daniel Skinner with Kerri Mongenel (May 27th), Dr. Nancy Campbell and Dr. David Herzberg (June 3rd), Dr. James Bradford (June 10th), and Maia Szalavitz (June 17th).

Participants are required to preregister for each presentation. Visit the 2021 Kreminar home page or see below for more information and registration links for all six Kreminars.

The hosts and sponsors of the 2021 Kreminar are:

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Make a Nomination for the 2021 George Urdang Medal!

Urdang Medal

Do you know a scholar, researcher, writer, or author who deserves recognition for a long and distinguished record of scholarship and achievements in the field of the history of pharmacy and pharmaceuticals? Please nominate nominate them for the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy’s 2021 George Urdang Medal!

The George Urdang Medal recognizes the lifetime achievements of a person who, over a sustained period, has made important scholarly contributions to the field of the history of pharmacy and pharmaceuticals. It is awarded without regard to citizenship or nationality, and AIHP will be accepting nominations until June 1, 2021.

Nominations must include at least one letter of nomination outlining the nominee’s scholarly contributions to the field. Nominations must also include the nominee’s curriculum vitae (or similar biographical information) and any other documents or supporting materials for the panel to consider. Please email nominations to aihp@aihp.org by the deadline.

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