“Global Histories of Drugs: Why and What’s Next?”—Reflections on the Cannabis: Global Histories Workshop

Editor’s Notes: Today’s post by Eron Ackerman reflects on his participation in the “Global Drug Histories: Why and What’s Next?” workshop held jointly this past October at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy and the British Library. Dr. Ackerman recently completed his dissertation, “Cannabis and Colonialism in the British Caribbean, 1838–1938,” at Stony Brook University and is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Albion College.

When Lucas Richert invited me to attend the joint US-UK meeting, “Global Histories of Drugs: Why and What’s Next?” at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy on October 6, I jumped at the chance—even if it meant having to cancel some mid-week classes. The meeting was inspired by the release of the new collection of essays Cannabis: Global Histories (MIT Press, 2021), which intersects so closely with my own work about the history of Caribbean ganja that I couldn’t miss it. The organizers used Zoom to link our group in Madison to a larger group of book contributors and guest panelists “across the pond” at the British Library.

Participants were asked to reflect upon the book in connection to four questions:

  1. Why think about the histories of intoxicants and psychoactive substances on a global scale?
  2. In what ways does research into such substances provide novel perspectives on globalization and related processes?
  3. How do national, transnational, international, and global histories of these substances relate to one another?
  4. What’s next for global histories of intoxicants and psychoactive substances?
Ackerman Title Card

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“Contested Cannabis: A History of Marijuana in Wisconsin and the Wider World”—Digital Exhibit and Online Roundtable Discussion

The American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP) is pleased to announce the completion of its digital exhibit, “Contested Cannabis: A History of Marijuana in Wisconsin and the Wider World,” funded in part by a generous grant from Wisconsin Humanities.

Contested Cannabis Social Card

Drawing upon AIHP historical collections as well collections at the Wisconsin Historical Society, the exhibit uses objects and items—including children’s anti-drug coloring books, pro-marijuana festival posters, archived World War One-era medicinal cannabis correspondence, and other artifacts and texts—to investigate and analyze the history of cannabis, marijuana, and hemp in the state of Wisconsin and in the United States.

“Contested Cannabis” is designed to advance public debate by examining the legal, regulatory, and cultural history of cannabis—particularly in the Badger State. The exhibit explores and explains the history of cannabis, hemp, and marijuana through five themes: Taxonomy; Hemp Agriculture; Pharmacy & Medicine; Propaganda & Education; and De/Criminalization. “Contested cannabis” is hosted by the AIHP Digital Library, which features digitized versions of items, artifacts, and objects from AIHP historical collections.

In conjunction with the digital exhibit, AIHP will be hosting an online Zoom roundtable on the topic of “Contested Cannabis: A History of Marijuana in Wisconsin and the Wider World” on December 8, 2021 from 1:00–2:30 PM Central Time (2:00–3:00 Eastern Time). Free registration is available on the project home page.

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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.

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Delta-8 THC: The Latest Cannabis Conundrum

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Nick Johnson, a historian and editor based in Fort Collins, Colorado. His book Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West (2017) is a history of cannabis agriculture that explores the environmental and social dynamics of the nation’s most controversial crop. He also blogs (and occasionally podcasts!) about all things cannabis on his website, Hempirical Evidence.

Traditionally, cannabis has been understood as a plant of dualities and contradictions. It comes in varieties that produce either fiber or drugs, for example. It grows tall and straight or short and bushy, with broader leaves or narrower ones. At various points in its history, it has been held up as a medicine and demonized as a menace. For centuries, cannabis has had its fun confounding humanity with its ambivalent identity.

Lately, however, modern technology and new laws are helping to blur the plant’s historic binaries and show us that—for all we have learned about cannabis over the millennia—we may not know as much as we think we do. Hemp, for instance, was rarely considered a medicinal plant in Western or American cultures until the advent of the CBD craze in the 2010s. Cannabidiol (CBD), a substance that “healed without the high,” broke the cannabis plant’s industrial-medicinal binary—turns out hemp could be both, after all. But we still knew one thing for certain, and this fact provided one of the most convincing arguments for the 2018 re-legalization of hemp in the US: hemp plants cannot get you high.

Delta New Hand

Well, we were pretty sure of it, anyway. Then the CBD boom went bust, and American farmers were left with fields full of CBD-rich hemp plants they could not sell. As it often does, need begot innovation. Starting in 2019, some CBD producers leveraged modern extraction technology to pull a psychotropic rabbit out of the hemp hat. Delta-8 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a molecular cousin of Delta-9 THC, the main psychoactive compound in traditional marijuana. Delta-8 THC produces essentially the same effects as Delta-9 THC, except far more subdued—and, through chemical reactions, it can be created from hemp-derived CBD.

Delta 8 Joints
Delta 8-THC Joints. Image courtesy of Elsa Olofsson at CBD Oracle.

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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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Maybe Next Year: The Failure to Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis in New York

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach, our resident New Yorker who provides insights into the his state’s twisted path to potential cannabis legalization. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY.

On August 28, 2019, New York State officially decriminalized marijuana. Most saw decriminalization as an important step toward the even more equitable legalization measure that failed to pass the Democrat-led state legislature this year, but which seems inevitable given recent trends in legalizing (with the recent addition of Illinois this year). Particularly in light of the inevitable comparisons to Illinois, others are making connections to the “eerily similar” debates over decriminalization in New York in 1977 at the height of the state-level decriminalization wave that was then spreading throughout the country. During that year the New York State legislature passed, and then-Governor Hugh Carey signed, what was at the time the ninth state-level decriminalization measure in the country.

(Current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and then-Governor Hugh Carey)

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From Taboo to Veneration: Marijuana, Canada, and the New Social Construct

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

In January 1968 the Winnipeg Free Press reported that marijuana was “the biggest mass floating of the law since prohibition.”[1]  Back then the urban myth said Lebanese cannabis was the most potent, but Canada, like the U.S. market, was limited to Mexican cannabis; “Acapulco Gold” was the common preference among “local users.”[2]  This new generation of consumers was juxtaposed against the anti-marijuana initiatives on both sides of the border that had, by that point, constructed the idea among sectors of civil society and policy makers that the drug led to mental disorders, violence, degeneration, addiction, and that it served as a gateway to other more dangerous narcotics.  It was from the late 1960s onward that a pro-marijuana movement across both sides of the border was spearheaded by young rebellious Baby Boomers in order to clarify the facts and debunk the old myths. Fifty years later the construct of the “thin, sunken-eyed individual slowly starving himself to death” has been replaced by the image of the radiant millennial stoner.[3] Within that transformation of the constructs of marijuana, Canada’s Federal and Provincial governments were able to build a government-business partnership that positioned the nation and its private sector as the pioneers of a new global business that might even surpass the global market for coffee.  A half century ago possession in Canada could cost you seven years in prison; today it represents an entrepreneurial opportunity.

Screenshot 2019-06-25 at 7.51.45 AM
Director, Louis J. Gosnier. “Tell Your Children,” 1936.

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Cannabis Legalization in New York: State of the State

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, and our resident New Yorker. Here he comments on the state of cannabis legalization in the Empire State.

Back in January of this year, legalization of adult-use cannabis seemed inevitable in my home state of New York. Last month, during a recent public talk at Utica College, which we celebrated the stoner-holiday of 4/20 (on 4/25), I commented on the possibility of next year’s talk occurring under a legal system.

Screenshot 2019-05-14 at 8.07.11 AM

But maybe I spoke too soon. Yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo, the champion of equitable legalization in January, declared it all but dead. At least for this year.

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