The Marijuana Experiment

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. 

It is difficult—and perhaps impossible—to judge whether or not marijuana use is good or bad. Much research is yet needed before we can draw any definitive conclusions. Ask the daily or the occasional consumer, and you will get one set of answers. Ask a person who has had a bad experience, and you might get a negative take. And ask the anti-marijuana moral champion, and you will possibly hear “the gateway to other drugs” story. In fact, there is no concrete answer;  the judgment is personal and deep inside the brain and soul of each individual.

Yet, the law continues to punish and ruin the lives of thousands of American citizens who do not have the luxury to live in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal or partially legal. One thing is clear, though, the marijuana map is changing with each election cycle, and, like every federal policy, the weight of the majority will force the minority of states to change when the right time comes. That time might be now—under the Biden administration—but it is not yet clear. Especially so, after the recent firing of five White House staffers for “past marijuana use.”

Marijuana Legalization Map
Map of marijuana legalization status by state (from disa.com).
Read here for more information about the state-by-state status of marijuana.

The United States, like many other countries around the world including Canada and Uruguay, seems to be transitioning towards a federally legal world of marijuana. But the American process is slow, because individual states still have leverage and power over the federal government. South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Kansas, Wyoming, and Idaho— where marijuana is fully illegal—may be holding the nation back, but they are now clearly in the minority. Perhaps the millions of dollars of tax revenue each of these states leaves on the table will eventually force their leaders and their communities to the negotiating table. Perhaps the first big victory will be the federal decriminalization of marijuana.

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Review: “Commodifying Cannabis: A Cultural History of a Complex Plant in the Atlantic World”

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. 

Borougerdi book Commodifying Cannabis
Cover of Commodifying Cannabis

I’ve been reading about pot since before my formal history training. I’ve always been fascinated by the inclusion of the standard story about the “long history” of cannabis that seemed to appear in the introduction to just about every book or article on the subject. As a teenager/young adult first experimenting with cannabis after a childhood of “Just Say No” sobriety, I was somehow comforted to know that I could tap into the wonders of a cannabis high in the same way that many ancient societies had in India, China, or the Middle East.

I have since learned a lot more about the plant, and it is clear that my assumptions had been based on problematic conceptions of “other” cultures. The growing historical literature about intoxicants has further challenged my formerly overly simplistic understandings about how societies manage drug use and about how drug policies and public opinion interact to shape beliefs about drugs. I’ve been struck, though, that the connection between ancient uses of cannabis and our more recent social and cultural contexts have often been missing from these analyses. Such a long-term historical perspective could help us better understand the dynamic flows of drug knowledge across time and place.

Bradley J. Borougerdi’s 2018 book Commodifying Cannabis seeks to make these types of connections. Borougerdi focuses on the Anglo-American Atlantic World and describes the plant as a “triple-purpose” cultural commodity. He builds on previous work by scholars like Isaac Campos who has previously investigated how re-interpretations of Spanish and indigenous knowledge influenced the circulation of information about cannabis in Mexico. Borougerdi, here, examines how orientalist assumptions shaped knowledge about the plant as it moved through the Anglo-American world. He argues that the different meanings of cannabis—attached to its different modes of use—dictated the trajectory of cannabis commodification in the early modern period, the prohibition of cannabis in the nineteenth century, and the recent re-commodification of cannabis.

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The Points Interview: Holly M. Karibo and George T. Díaz

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Holly M. Karibo and George T. Díaz, editors of the new book Border Policing: A History of Enforcement and Evasion in North America (University of Texas Press, 2020). Karibo is an assistant professor of history at Oklahoma State University. She is the author of Sin City North: Sex, Drugs, and Citizenship in the Detroit-Windsor Borderland (University of North Carolina Press, 2015). Díaz is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He is the author of Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling across the Rio Grande (University of Texas Press, 2015).

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

(Holly M. Karibo, left, and George T. Díaz, right)

The book is a series of essays on how efforts to police the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico border have often failed. We’d tell our bartender that all this talk in the news about securing the border is both misleading and misinformed. Neither the U.S.-Canada or U.S.-Mexican border have ever been effectively secured.  The essays in the book show that border people have always found ways to subvert laws they didn’t like and the government’s best efforts often end up hurting innocent people.   Women used to smuggle liquor up their skirts in order to get around border agents and today it is something else.  The book shows the long history of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico trying numerous ways to police the border, and accomplishing some, but nowhere near all, the governments’ wanted.  

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Points Interview: “Sacred Places, Sacred Plants, and Sacred People: Carving Out an Indigenous Right amid the Drug Wars,” with Alexander Dawson

Editor’s Note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Alexander Dawson. Dawson holds a PhD in Latin American History from SUNY Stony Brook, and is an Associate Professor of History …

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Points Interview: “The History of Inhalant Use in Mexico City, 1960–1980” with Sarah Beckhart

Editor’s Note:We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Sarah Beckhart, a doctoral candidate in the history department at Columbia University. For a short while, you can read Beckhart’s article for free here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to any other article from SHAD’s history.

Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

Screenshot 2020-06-08 at 7.19.02 PMI was born and raised in Mexico City and lived there until I left for college. When I got to college, I felt I was always missing Mexico. I took a Latin American history class to feel closer to home. I also thought that I already knew everything about Latin America, and so the class would afford me an easy A. I was wrong. I realized I wanted to learn more about Mexico and Latin America. I have followed that passion and will soon be graduating with a PhD in History that focuses on Latin America from Columbia University in the Fall. 

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

It was an archival accident.  I was in Mexico City doing preliminary research on what was going to be a dissertation on urban history in Mexico City in the 1960s and 1970s. In the archives I came across boxes full of files on drug use among Mexican minors in this period. I was surprised that there was so much concern on behalf of Mexican authorities for Mexican drug use and I wanted to know more. Of course, the reality of my country also made me more interested in understanding how domestic drug use shaped Mexico’s current drug policy. 

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Points Interview: “Taking the War on Drugs Down South: The Drug Enforcement Administration in Mexico (1973–1980),” with Carlos A. Pérez Ricart

Editor’s Note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. Carlos A. Pérez Ricart. Ricart is an assistant professor in International Relations at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Economicas, CIDE) in Mexico City and a postdoctoral fellow at the Latin American Centre, University of Oxford. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the Freie Universität Berlin and a degree in International Relations from El Colegio de México, Mexico City. His research has been published or is forthcoming in journals such as Global Governance, The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, Historia Mexicana, Foro Internacional, Frontera Norte, Contextualizaciones Latinoamericanas, Kriminologisches Journal and others. His forthcoming book (Penguin Random House) explores the activities of US drug law enforcement agents in Mexico.

You can see Ricart’s article here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to any other article from SHAD’s history.

Tell readers a little bit about yourself

Screenshot 2020-06-03 at 2.26.59 PM
Dr. Carlos A. Pérez Ricart

I was born in Mexico City in 1987. I am currently assistant professor in International Relations at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Economicas, CIDE) in Mexico City and have been working as postdoctoral fellow at the Latin American Centre, University of Oxford for the last three years. I hold a PhD in Political Science from the Freie Universität Berlin and a degree in international Relations from El Colegio de México, Mexico City. 

I consider myself a political scientist with a strong interest in history. While I haven’t had any formal training as an historian, I have been working with archive documents for more than a decade. I also prefer to get involved in historical discussions rather than in finding statistical significance in regression models. And I prefer drinking beer with historians rather than political scientists.

Having said that, I am a fervent follower of the idea of placing politics in time described by Paul Pierson. I believe that the Historic Turn in Social Science should mean not only the “study of the past” or the “hunt for illustrative material” but the “exploration of the temporal dimension of social processes”. This exploration can’t be done without some degree of political science theory. In that sense, I am happy to balance on the line between politics and history. 

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Points Interview: “Serrano Communities and Subaltern Negotiation Strategies: The Local Politics of Opium Production in Mexico, 1940–2020,” with Nathaniel Morris

Editor’s Note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. Nathaniel Morris, whose article you can see here. Dr. Morris is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow attached to the History department at the University College London. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to this article, or any other article from SHAD’s history.

Tell readers a little bit about yourself

Screenshot 2020-06-01 at 7.34.59 PMI’m a historian, and sometimes I pretend to be an anthropologist, I suppose. I’m from London, England – or Great Britain, or whatever else this strange old island is calling itself at the moment. I’ve been interested in Latin American history, politics, cultures and all the rest of it since I was an undergraduate – which I now realise is way longer ago than I would like! – and I’ve always been drawn to Mexico in particular. I’m halfway through a 3-year postdoc at University College London, researching the history of indigenous militia groups in Mexico and trying to work out the links between armed community guard units that emerged during the Revolution in the 1920s and 30s, and the contemporary ‘autodefensa’ militias that are playing a key role in the ‘Drug War’ ongoing in many parts of the country. This research has followed on from an earlier project on indigenous relations with the Revolutionary state in a particularly rugged, diverse and beautiful bit of western Mexico, which – completely shameless plug alert – is coming out as a book with Arizona University Press this autumn. It’s called ‘Soldiers, Saints and Shamans: Indigenous Communities and the Revolutionary State in Mexico’s Gran Nayar,’ and you can pre-order a copy here.

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SHAD Interview: “A Small Distinction with a Big Difference: Prohibiting “Drugs” but Not Alcohol, from the Conquest to Constitutional Law,” with José Domingo Schievenini

Editor’s Note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. José Domingo Schievenini, whose article you can see here. Schievenini (PhD, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2018) is an assistant professor of history at the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro (UAQ). His research focuses on drug policy in Mexico and the history of drugs in Latin America. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to this article, or any other article from SHAD’s history. 

Tell readers a little bit about yourself and what got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

Screenshot 2020-05-27 19.20.12
Dr. José Domingo Schievenini

I am a Mexican historian. When I was an undergrad, a decade ago, my thesis attempted to explain why the use of medical marijuana was treated as a crime in Mexico. At that time, four states in the U.S. had already legalized the medical use of cannabis, and the scientific evidence in support of such use was overwhelming. Among other things, I chose this subject because it seemed irrational to me that the use of cannabis for medical purposes was a crime in Mexico. Undoubtedly, it was an injustice. There were even arguments to affirm that this prohibition was a crime, but not on the part of those who consumed marijuana, but rather an unconstitutional act on the part of the Mexican state. 

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