Cannabis and Sugar: A Bittersweet History Makes Reparative Legalization a Must

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Nick Johnson. Johnson is a historian based in Fort Collins, Colorado. He is the author of Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West (Oregon State University Press, 2017) and associate editor of the Colorado Encyclopedia. He blogs about all things cannabis at HempiricalEvidence.com.

Whether it’s gummies, cookies, brownies, or even soda, it is hard to imagine today’s cannabis culture without edibles. Many of these stony treats offer the delectable pairing of cannabis and sugar, two of the world’s most popular indulgences. Yet most people do not know that the two commodities share a historical relationship as well as a culinary one—and that historical relationship is rooted in oppressive labor regimes.

Over the last two decades, changing cannabis laws around the world have brought renewed scholarly attention to the plant. Together with older work, recent books have helped us piece together the bigger picture of cannabis history, giving us a better idea of how the plant traveled the world, for instance, or how large-scale cannabis cultivation affects the environment. Research on the plant’s history in previously overlooked areas, such as Mexico and Africa, help us see the true depth and extent of trends that earlier scholarship only partly exposed.

One of the most significant of these trends is that cannabis traveled across the Americas within oppressive systems of agricultural labor—in particular, the sugar industries that developed across the Atlantic World after 1492.

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Enhanced Confections: Then and Now

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

I recently had occasion to think about an interesting diversion in my very early dissertation research. I was reading Martin Booth’s history of cannabis, and he mentioned “The Arabian Gunje of Enchantment,” produced by the Gunjah Wallah Company of New York. While the focus of my dissertation has slowly moved the research out of the 19th century, my deep personal interest in candy, coupled with a recent trip to a Massachusetts dispensary, gave me reason to revisit this mysterious “hasheesh candy.”

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Points Bookshelf: “The African Roots of Marijuana” by Chris Duvall

Editor’s Note: Today’s book review comes from Nick Johnson. Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University and a master’s degree in American history from Colorado State University. A former freelance journalist in his home state of Illinois, Johnson now lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, and works as associate editor of the online Colorado Encyclopedia. He is the author of Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West.

Screenshot 2019-07-02 at 8.52.56 AMDespite a vast and ever-growing scholarly literature on cannabis, the African experience with the plant is too often glossed over or entirely neglected. One gets a sense of this reading some of Chris Duvall’s earlier work, including the global history Cannabis (2015). But in his most recent book, The African Roots of Marijuana (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019), the geographer hammers this point home with an infallible rigor that should convince other cannabis scholars to more closely examine the biases reflected in their own work.

Duvall’s most pervasive and important argument in the book is that Europeans’ historic preference for hemp over drug cannabis was rooted in racist interpretations of cultural ecologies, and those interpretations became the foundation for much of what is known (or assumed) about the plant today. In Europe, where ecological conditions favored hemp, cannabis was known as the fiber-yielding plant of productive industrialists; in South Asia and Africa, where ecological conditions favored drug-producing cannabis, “the plant was valued principally to supply psychoactive drugs” (103). When nineteenth-century Europeans began traveling Africa under the oppressive shadow of colonialism, they saw the use of cannabis drugs as an unnatural corruption of the plant itself as well as an indicator of Africans’ supposed backwardness and inferiority (10-11). This perspective then became embedded in Western understandings of cannabis and remains lodged there today, despite a robust academic literature on the role of racism and colonialism in the development of scientific thought.

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Marijuana History: A Bibliography

It’s been a big month for cannabis legalization news.

On May 31, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana use, and did so via state legislature (making it only the second state, after Vermont, to do so in this manner). But earlier this week, a movement to legalize in New York fell flat. Meanwhile, the federal government continues to debate whether the Justice Department should be allowed to interfere with state and territorial legalization laws.

Like I said, a big month, with, many predict, more news to come.

As drug and alcohol historians, our question is always, “How did we get here?” It turns out that the folks at MarijuanaDoctors.com were asking the same question. They put together a bibliography that covers the culture, politics, history, horticulture and science of cannabis (as well as a section on the “Best Reads While High,” which might be slightly more subjective), and it could be a useful starting place for those hoping to understand our strange new cannabis world. You can check out the full list here, and what follows are some highlights.

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L’Affaire Sarah Halimi and “Reefer Madness” in Postcolonial France: Part I

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. 

In early April 2017, Kobili Traoré, a 27-year old Malian immigrant, murdered an elderly Orthodox Jewish woman named Lucie “Sarah” Attal-Halimi in the Belleville neighborhood of northeastern Paris. Neighbors who witnessed the attack told police that Traoré appeared “crazed,” repeatedly called Halimi a “Jewish devil,” and shouted “Allahu Akbar” and Koranic verses as he violently beat her, then threw her from a 4-story window to her death. After his arrest Traoré claimed he remembered nothing from the night in question and felt “possessed by a demonic force” after “smoking too much cannabis” throughout the day leading up to the assault.

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Sarah Halimi, from The Times of Israel

In the now over two years since Halimi’s murder, the French court has wavered in its official opinions on Traoré’s sanity and thus criminal culpability. Initially, François Molins, prosecutor in Paris’s second district, argued that the attack did not constitute an anti-Semitic hate crime and declared Traoré unfit for trial as a result of an acute episode of cannabis-induced psychosis, a decision he largely based on an initial and somewhat ambiguous psychiatric evaluation produced by Dr. Daniel Zagury, the same psychiatrist who established the legal culpability of Salah Abdselam, mastermind of the November 2015 Paris attacks, and dozens of other ISIS-inspired and -trained terrorists detained in France.[1] In his report, Zagury wrote, “Today, it is common to observe, during delusional outbreaks…in subjects of the Muslim religion, an anti-Semitic theme: The Jew is on the side of evil, of the devil. What is usually a prejudice turns into delusional hatred.” Traoré’s murder of Halimi, he thus concluded, “constituted a delusional if anti-Semitic act.”[2]

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Points Interview: Bradley Borougerdi

Editor’s Note: Today we have an interview with Points and ADHS friend Dr. Bradley Borougerdi, an associate professor of history in the Department of Global Studies at Tarrant County College in Arlington, Texas. Dr. Borougerdi is the author of Commodifying Cannabis: A Cultural History of a Complex Plant in the Atlantic World (Lexington Books, 2018).  Describe …

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SHAD Interview: “Legalización o Represión”: How a Debate in Colombia Steered the Fate of the “War on Drugs” with Lina Britto

Editor’s Note: Today marks our last interview with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, which focuses on the intersection of drugs and US foreign relations. Today we’re talking to Dr. Lina Britto, an assistant professor of History at Northwestern University where she teaches on the history of the drug …

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