Starting Points

Points (n.) 1. marks of punctuation. 2. something that has position but not extension, as the intersection of two lines. 3. salient features of a story, epigram, joke, etc.:  he hit the high points. 4. (slang; U.S.) needles for intravenous drug use.

Teaching Points: History as a Resource for Understanding Drugs Today

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Marco Ramos and Tess Lanzarotta. Ramos is an MD/Ph.D. candidate in the History of Science and Medicine program at Yale University focusing on the production and circulation of scientific knowledge during the Cold War in the global south. Lanzarotta is a Ph.D. candidate in the same department focusing on the ways that contemporary interactions between biomedical researchers and indigenous populations are shaped by their historical antecedents. Together, Ramos and Lanzarotta are teaching a course on the history of drugs in the twentieth century and we’ve invited them to contribute to our “Teaching Points” series. Enjoy! 

ClassroomThe idea for our course on the history of drugs developed out of a conversation a few years ago concerning the medical management of opiate addiction in our community of New Haven, CT. We are both graduate students in the Program in the History of Science and Medicine at Yale University, and Marco is also a medical student at Yale School of Medicine. Having recently completed a clinical rotation at the hospital, Marco reflected on the patient-blaming and suspicion that often accompanies discussions of opiate prescription among physicians. During his rotation, he heard physicians and residents bemoan their patients who requested, and often demanded, opiate prescriptions. He watched as physicians speculated about whether patients were “feigning” their pain to acquire drugs and realized that physicians made judgments about who should receive opiate prescriptions based on imperfect, biased assumptions about what “addicts” looked like racially and economically. Given the large body of medical evidence that demonstrates addiction is not a matter of voluntary choice or individual responsibility, Marco wondered why physicians continued to blame and shame patients for their struggles with addiction.

Tess pointed to the utility of history in understanding opiate addiction in the United States today. She discussed the pharmaceutical companies’ role in this story, as the industry downplayed the addictiveness of opiates and encouraged their widespread use for profit in the medical community throughout the 1980s and 90s. A long history of inadequate consumer protections from the Food and Drug Administration did not safeguard patients from the rapid circulation of this dangerous class of drugs during this period. Though the pharmaceutical industry and a weak federal regulatory body were largely to blame for the growing incidence of opiate addiction across the country, drug enforcement held individual patients responsible for their addictions.

As the conversation progressed, we began to reflect on the importance of history for understanding dilemmas — like opiate addiction — presented by drugs today. We imagined a course that would focus on the history of drugs as a way of generating “useful pasts” that could inform how our students thought about drugs and drug policy in the present. As our thinking evolved, we drafted an application to co-teach a course that centered on the categorization of drugs across the twentieth century. Rather than using drugs as a lens to understand social, cultural, legal, or political history in the Unites States, we hoped to use history to reflect on drug categories themselves. We were interested in how lines dividing chemically active substances into categories and classes, such as illicit and licit or medical and recreational, have shifted across the twentieth century. Historically shifting boundaries between drugs have hinged upon changing cultural norms surrounding the characterization of “use” versus “abuse,” the prescribed treatments or punishments for drug users, and the labelling of drug use as an individual or social problem. Such beliefs continue to be wrapped up in socially-mediated understandings of identity — along ethnic, racial, gender, class, and religious lines — and in opposing ideologies of health and governance.

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Pointscast Episode 2

Today, Alex Tepperman and Kyle Bridge bring you the second installment of the new podcast from Points.

On the second episode of Pointscast:

* Kyle and Alex open with a discussion of Bernie Sanders’s proposals for far more lenient drug re-classification, including a near-decriminalization of marijuana.

* They then shift their focus to Maine Governor Paul LePage, discussing how the continued rhetoric about black drug dealers and white victims speaks to the role of racism in the nation’s drug war as it exists today.

* Later, Kyle interviews Points contributing editor Adam Rathge, whose PhD research at Boston College looks at the century-long road to federal marijuana prohibition in the United States.

* Finally, Alex tells Kyle about former pro wrestler and current yogi Diamond Dallas Page, whose work in drug counseling and life coaching has had mixed success in saving the lives of fellow grapplers.

Enjoy! And you can let Alex and Kyle know what you think at pointscast@gmail.com.

 

Politics & Poison: Government Sanctioned Murder During Prohibition

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Liz Greene, a history geek and an anxiety-ridden realist from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can follow her latest misadventures on her blog, Instant Lo. Enjoy!

When it comes to failed social experiments in U.S. history, Prohibition takes the cake. Far from ushering in the utopian society promised by the temperance movement, Prohibition only succeeded in making matters much worse.

The new law was met with outright rebellion. Bootleggers made a fortune distilling and selling alcohol. Thousands of speakeasies popped up, serving a thirsty population who cared little for the legality of the situation. Organized crime rose to the forefront, distributing booze, warring with rival gangs, and taking out innocent bystanders in the process. Murder became a familiar headline. [1]

But the mob and unskilled bootleggers weren’t the only ones causing death and destruction during Prohibition. The federal government had a large role to play as well.

Green 1

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Touring Tilray: Navigating Canada’s New Marketing and Selling of Medical Cannabis

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Cynthia Belaskie and Lucas Richert. Richert is a lecturer in history at University of Saskatchewan and Belaskie is a senior advisor at McMaster University. Enjoy!

We weren’t left to wait in the B.C. rain. After presenting our IDs at the security station outside Tilray’s medical cannabis facility in Nanaimo, and once we were confirmed as being on the official “list,” it took less than a minute to enter the recently constructed $30 million, 65,000 square-foot facility.

There were four of us taking the tour of Tilray, one of Canada’s licensed producers of medical marijuana. We were part of a SSHRC-funded conference in the history of drugs and alcohol at Vancouver Island University, and this was one of the activities available to us as participants in the event.

GNM
Philippe Lucas VP of Tilray a medical marijuana business is seen here in the grow room in Nanaimo August 14, 2014. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Our guide was Phillipe Lucas, Vice-President of Patient Services at Tilray. He walked us through the electric gate and led us into a cozy holding room filled with bottles of San Pellegrino, a weigh scale, and a flat screen TV flashing images of the building’s construction. A former city councilor in Victoria, an expert witness on marijuana in Canada, and one-time dispensary owner, Philippe was handsome. He spoke quickly, laughed easily, and possessed an air of mischief, too.

Over the past ten years, Phillipe has published peer-reviewed articles on cannabis’s therapeutic effects on patients in top academic journals around the world. In particular, as a PhD student at the University of British Columbia, he has been working on a concept called the cannabis substitution theory, which seeks to understand the behaviours and choices of marijuana-using patients in the medical marketplace. Besides this, he helped co-found a Canadian chapter of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

We deposited our belongings on the leather chairs in the cozy waiting room, leaving our phones and cameras behind, and Phillipe explained the building was a Level 9 security complex. Level 10 was reserved for nuclear products and the facility has been described by Charlie Smith as “a vault wrapped by Fort Knox wrapped in a castle.” No pictures allowed. No videos, either.

With security passes on display around our necks, we set off. We engaged in an intricate dance as we tapped in and out of each fortified and sanitized room. Our graceless choreography, made ever more awkward as we stood outside each room and robed and disrobed to prevent contaminating the delicate crops, was all caught on internal security cameras – lots and lots of cameras, in fact. It is understandable, isn’t it? Just imagine what would happen if this stuff made its way on to the streets.

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Special Issue: Intoxication, New American Notes Online

Two of our favorite contributors at Points, Dr. Ingrid Walker and Alexine Fleck, have recently co-edited a special issue of NANO, New American Notes Online, a publication of the New York City College of Technology. The issue, released last month, deals with the theme of intoxication, and features articles from our assistant managing editor Kyle Bridge and contributor Michelle McClellan. There’s also a great interview with Craig Reinarman and a discussion if sugar is actually a drug.

You can check the issue out here, and we hope that you enjoy it as much as these Washington state grandmothers enjoyed smoking pot for the first time!

Intoxication

African American Agency and (Anti-)Prohibition

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Brendan Payne, a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. History at Baylor University finishing his dissertation, “Cup of Salvation: Race, Religion, and (Anti-)Prohibition in Texas, 1885-1935.” Enjoy!

It is no secret that African Americans have received modest scholarly attention when it comes to alcohol prohibition. Some historians have gone so far as to omit African Americans from a significant role in the issue altogether. In his 2010 book Jesus and Gin, Barry Hankins argued that African Americans “either took a pass or were not allowed to participate” on a white culture war issue such as prohibition due to their social marginalization and legally enforced segregation (p. 170). It is true that African Americans were often barred from full political engagement on the issue, especially during his focus on the 1920s, yet many works on prohibition have managed to incorporate African Americans. Most of these works have treated them as peripheral to the narrative, usually either as victims of a prohibition movement arrayed against them or as followers of reformist whites seeking racial uplift through mutual striving. One recent example of the latter perspective is Robert Wuthnow’s 2015 study of religion and politics in Texas, Rough Country. He described prohibition as a policy “of special interest to white churches” and reduced African American ministers’ support for the reform as reactive to white initiative (p. 171). While some attention on prohibition is better than none, such marginal treatment can have the effect of stripping African Americans in the past of their agency, essentially framing them as pawns in a white man’s (and woman’s) game.

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Introducing Pointscast, our new Podcast!

Points is incredibly excited to announce that our assistant managing editor Kyle Bridge and Alex Tepperman, PhD candidate in history at the University of Florida, have launched a new podcast called, naturally, Pointscast.

Deputing here is the first episode, which discusses drugs and alcohol in the news, and features interviews and some really excellent sound effects.

You can reach Alex and Kyle at pointscast@gmail.com if you have any questions or comments, or if you want to be featured on a future episode.

And, after you’ve tuned in, let us know what you think! Hopefully we’ll have many more episodes of Pointscast to come.

The Role of Drug History in Interdisciplinary Study

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Leanne Horinko, the interim director of the office of graduate admissions at Drew University’s Casperson School of Graduate Studies. Enjoy!

As academic history continues to expand, incorporating interdisciplinarity and meeting the needs of public history, areas of history previously overlooked by scholars are becoming new spaces for exploration. Counter-cultural history is no exception. Scholarly inquiry of these new interdisciplinary subjects can lead to interesting challenges in understanding the subject matter without sacrificing academic rigor. Those interested in contributing original research to interdisciplinary fields like counter-cultural history or alcohol and drug history can find themselves neck deep in historiography from multiple fields and trying to piece together a framework for their work. These challenges are perhaps best illustrated in my own research.

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Points on Spring Break

This week Points will celebrate spring break – an annual celebration, quite often, of such drug- and alcohol-fueled debauchery that it has already warranted multiple films. But, luckily for us, Points will just be taking the week off, and we’ll be back on Tuesday, April 26.

We look forward to providing you with more drug and alcohol history then!

Spring Break

“Doubleplusungood” – NORML’s Prisoners of War on the Front Lines of Sentencing Reform

In the early nineties, a woman from Alabama, responding to a prisoner survey conducted by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) on behalf of her incarcerated husband mused, “…someday, [marijuana] will be legal. Maybe there will be a lot of non-violent people released from the Government and bac [sic] to their families.” The statement has proven remarkably prescient, as recent events surrounding both legalization and sentencing reform have shown. It is also clear that despite these promising new steps, obstacles and controversy remain.

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We’re getting there

On January 12, 2016, Wendell Callahan brutally murdered his ex-girlfriend and her two children in Columbus Ohio. The story in The Columbus Dispatch quickly informed readers that Callahan had “twice benefited” from retroactive reductions in federal sentencing guidelines. This was in reference to a 2014 decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent commission in the judiciary, to first reduce federal sentences for non-violent drug offenses, and later under intense public pressure, to make these changes retroactive.

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